It is difficult both to be good and to be powerful. This seems to be the common view among statesmen, sages, poets and thinkers. A core thesis among thinkers of the realist persuasion has been that in foreign affairs, being good may in the end be bad for the people you serve, and that moral ends may best be served by thinking in terms of power and how it should be preserved, instead of aiming to do directly what seems morally good. This lesson is repeated in the works of Machiavelli, Morgenthau, Kissinger and many others. Realism is about power, and though barren and inadequate as a description of the way international society functions, it is at least consistent. Likewise, liberal internationalism, though its proponents have sometimes mistaken aspiration for reality, is also consistent. But the attempt to combine the two, as Charles Krauthammer did in these pages ("In Defense of Democratic Realism", Fall 2004), presents difficulties in both theory and practice.
One difficulty with democratic realism is the problem of power in a democratic age. Once, we knew what power looked like. It possessed a big army and a big navy. You exercised power by beating someone else's army and taking their land, their money, their women. Sometimes you took over their territory and ruled it and them. In the last decades, these habits have died out among democracies: In an advanced industrial society, land is more a burden than an asset. We have left behind the static aristocratic society in which wealth appeared to be fixed, so that you could become rich only by robbing others. Today, peace and trade provide a better return than war and looting. From the point of view of wealth creation, war is a double negative. It destroys assets and does so at great expense.