Realism Is an Attitude, Not a Doctrine

Realists agree that power is what drives international politics, but they disagree about exactly when and where it should be unleashed or husbanded.

Issue: September-October 2015

FROM TIME to time pundits and professors find themselves enmeshed in remarkably testy disputes about the validity of “realism” in foreign policy. As someone usually seen as a realist, though an inconstant one, I have argued the matter as dutifully as any academic colleague. But is there any good reason for actual policy makers who have to get things done to be concerned with it? Many seem to think so. In the past few years, a number of commentators have pondered whether President Barack Obama fits the mold of realist or idealist.

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