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The Rose Report: Trump’s Deal for Rogue States

Binyamin Rose

Principled realism and maybe a dose of hypocrisy

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

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A n argument often advanced against using force to topple despotic regimes is that the next despot might be worse. Israel has generally followed that line of reasoning, declining to destroy Hamas and remaining neutral in Syria’s civil war.

But is this always the right policy? Or is there a value to conquering evil now and dealing with the consequences later? The thought arises following President Trump’s UN General Assembly address, interpreted in some quarters as a direct military threat against North Korea and Iran.

Such an understanding is premature. It’s unlikely that Trump has decided to instigate a war against either rogue nation. However, we do see signs that Trump’s foreign policy is beginning to crystalize around the “principled realism” worldview he invoked in May on his visit to Saudi Arabia.

When he repeated the “principled realism” idea during his UN speech, Trump said: “We are guided by outcomes, not ideologies.” Principled realism, Trump said, forces world leaders to confront dangers today with strength and pride so that citizens can enjoy peace and prosperity tomorrow.

In a conference call following Trump’s speech, Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, contended that Trump’s principled realism is a marriage of opposites, aimed at two competing streams within the Republican Party: neocons, who want the US to exert more force globally and isolationists, who have no appetite for foreign adventures. “As a result, you’re going to see a huge amount of selectivity, and already, you can see a lot of hypocrisy when that doctrine is unveiled,” Patrick said.

Well, as Ronald Reagan might have said, political scientists have been studying the role of hypocrisy in foreign policy for ages, with some arguing that the ability to act hypocritically and get away with it can be a key strategic resource, provided the hypocrisy stems from sincerity. But sincerity is elusive in politics and the public rarely knows the factors politicians consider in framing policies that appear contradictory. For instance, the US consistently supported some very repressive Latin and South America regimes, while enforcing a strict embargo on Cuba for 50 years.


Two days after Trump’s UN speech, Senator Bernie Sanders thought he spotted another inconsistency. He told an interviewer from The Intercept that US support for Saudi Arabia, a leading sponsor of global terror, is hypocritical given America’s daily condemnations of Iran for the same crimes.

A little hypocrisy sometimes goes a long way. Daryl Glaser wrote in the Review of International Studies in 2006 that hypocrisy alone is not a good reason for opposing a US policy or military intervention abroad, “in particular those that might yield locally desirable outcomes at an acceptable human cost.”

It will be enlightening to see how President Trump uses hypocrisy as a tool of foreign policy and if the president, and his advisers, view a military confrontation with North Korea, and perhaps Iran, as battles that could yield a locally desired outcome at an acceptable human cost. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 679)

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