John Bolton: Neocon or Realist. Does It Matter?

John Bolton: Neocon or Realist. Does It Matter?

I agree that Bolton is a strange appointment, and not just because he doesn’t appear to like the U.N. very much. It is also strange because if Bolton hates the U.N. so much and thinks it is useless, it isn’t likely he will accomplish very much in his new job. In other words, this appointment almost suggests Bolton is being kicked upstairs so that Secretary of State Rice can keep control of the State Department to herself.

I do disagree with Peggy’s characterization of Bolton as a “neocon” in the sense that I don’t see his views as being that different, as a theoretical matter, from the famously realist Rice (or her chief policy guru Stephen Krasner). Maybe a realist would be less aggressive about promoting democracy or liberal values, but both realists and neocons share an increasingly severe skepticism of international law and institutions. Compare this quote from John Bolton, the supposed “neocon”, as documented in Slate:

It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so—because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrain the United States.

Now recall this quote from uber-realist Stephan Krasner:

But the deepest problem with the ICC and with other efforts, like universal jurisdiction, is that international politics is not something that you can deal with adequately using judicial reasoning. Judicial reasoning has to be based essentially on absolute rules, or at least more or less on absolute rules. It has to be deontological or Kantian. You have to have a set of rules and you have to honor the rules.

But in the international level, that kind of thinking is utterly irresponsible, because the critical issue at the international level is how you can maintain order, ideally have justice, and save lives.

I think that both realists and neocons share is this skepticism toward international law and institutions. Indeed, one might argue this skepticism is a glue that holds the foreign policy team of this administration together.

What divides the neocons and realists are their foreign policy goals. Neocons (like Paul Wolfowitz) are interested in spreading liberal values and ideals (their only difference with most liberal internationalists is over methods, not goals). Realists are more hard-nosed and tend to talk a lot about “national interest”. What is odd about critics of the Bush team’s foreign policy is that the liberal internationalists critics seem to have the greatest scorn for the neocons, with whom they actually share more common values and goals

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.