Is America's national interest served by the spread of democracy? Realist critics have repeatedly chastised the Bush Administration for its "utopianism", arguing that, in using American power to spread political liberty around the world, the president is at best wasting America's resources and at worst wooing disaster. These sentiments were clearly on display in the essay by Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson in the Fall 2005 issue of The National Interest and in the symposium that followed in the Winter issue. Many of the critics subscribe to the proposition that the promotion of democracy and the preservation of American power are contradictory goals; that the choice is either to embrace principle by promoting democracy (and paying a huge cost as a result) or to follow a self-interested policy and let other countries work out their domestic affairs with no guidance or interference from the United States.
In contrast, those who define themselves as "principled realists" (or "pragmatic idealists") believe that there is a close connection between the growth of American power and the spread of democracy. The United States reaps what economists term "efficiency gains" from the extension of democratic capitalism around the globe. Democracies conduct their affairs with a greater degree of transparency and reliability, making them more predictable partners for the United States. Because settled democracies do not fight wars against one another, America ends up with fewer enemies. As countries open up their economies, the United States gains more trading and investment partners. New democracies--particularly those in unstable regions of the world or those who find themselves located near powerful authoritarian neighbors--tend to forge much closer links with the United States.