FDR's Children

FDR's Children

Mini Teaser: The Democratic rebirth of the virtue of FDR's realism.

by Author(s): Nikolas K. Gvosdev

Of course, the world is not easily divided into "democratic" and "non-democratic" camps. Hachigian and Sutphen point out that leading democracies-among them India and Japan-have dealt with and supported unsavory regimes in Sudan and Burma in pursuing their own interests just as readily as China. They are also quite blunt about the unlikelihood of the United States bringing substantial pressure to bear on Moscow and Beijing:

America has little direct leverage to promote individual rights and political liberalization in Russia and China. This is especially true considering that large majorities . . . appear willing to accept the implied trade-off between economic stability and greater political and civil rights.

Hachigian and Sutphen understand this is less than ideal. Yet they also point out that neither Russia nor China is trying to impose its system on other states, that the "balance of power" among the C-6 still tilts in favor of established democracies and, most significantly, they state quite plainly that the rollback of democracy in Russia and its largely nonexistent presence in China pose no threat to the continuation of robust, vibrant democracies anywhere else in the world.

Finally, Hachigian and Sutphen, echoing Ross and Etzioni, stress the importance of any U.S. administration being able to set down priorities and to accept compromises in what Washington expects from others. In assessing the U.S.-China relationship, Hachigian and Sutphen write:

Over the past year, America has asked China . . . to revalue its currency, pressure the regime in Sudan, grant more religious freedom to its citizens, curb intellectual property violations, be more transparent about its military buildup and help solve the North Korean and Iranian nuclear problems. These are all valid, important demands, but America is less likely to get movement on any of them, and may send confusing signals about what it takes to have a constructive relationship with the U.S., if all are given equal weight.

They admit, however, that it may prove difficult for the executive branch, not to mention Congress, to rank these issues in some sort of coherent order-something they view as a major hurdle to moving forward on any agenda of strategic collaboration with the other pivotal powers. But this doesn't negate the need to try.

In contrast, the belief of the current administration that the rightness of our ideals would lead to success has boomeranged. Etzioni says bluntly, "Democratization as the rallying cry of America's mission in the world has essentially failed, and global respect for American power has dwindled." Will it take a new Roosevelt to reverse this trend? Starobin awaits his heir: "The savior who can extract America from its foreign-policy entanglements may be the one who expressly does not practice the idealism that he (or she) preaches. But maybe, after all, that's just a rough definition of statecraft."1


Nikolas K. Gvosdev is the editor of The National Interest and the senior fellow for Strategic Studies at The Nixon Center.


1Paul Starobin, "The Realists", National Journal, September 15, 2006.

Essay Types: Book Review