In an eye-opening article for Foreign Policy in Focus entitled Why Doesn’t the Foreign Policy Establishment Take World Peace Seriously?, Didier Jacobs writes of U.S.-Iran relations that the U.S. “foreign policy establishment is susceptible to groupthink.”
“Very few people in the establishment challenge the threat to use force if Iran reneges on the [nuclear] deal. No one questions whether Iran should be considered an enemy in the first place.”
In other words, U.S. foreign policy is realist to the point of cynicism. In the National Interest, the Cato Institute’s Ted Galen Carpenter (one of those libertarians who makes common cause with progressives over non-interventionist foreign policy), maintains that the United States tends to be all too willing to back despots and regimes that have seriously compromised themselves on human rights. He writes:
The convenience standard for backing corrupt, thuggish rulers is especially worrisome given Washington’s excessively interventionist foreign policy. Indeed, there are many initiatives that are considered necessities within the context of that policy that would come nowhere close to clearing the bar if the United States had a more restrained and cautious policy largely confined to the defense of vital American security interests. While there may be times when, for legitimate security reasons, it is necessary to make ethical compromises, it is nonetheless imperative to establish some standards to determine when a situation warrants making that sacrifice and when it does not. Three factors must be considered. First, how crucial is the U.S. interest at stake? Second, how seriously is that interest threatened? Finally, just how odious is Washington’s prospective partner?
In trying to halt Islamist extremists …
U.S. leaders sometimes seem inclined to make similar, casual compromises of fundamental American values. … That is unfortunate for two reasons. On a practical level, crawling into bed with the likes of the Saudi royal family or the Pakistani military leadership risks incurring serious blowback from angry populations. Indeed, Washington’s willingness to back such corrupt and brutal elites provides fodder for the very terrorist movements we seek to neutralize.
… the practical foreign policy and security considerations, those kinds of relationships create a moral rot within America’s own polity. It is not merely hypocritical; it is destructive to America’s values and sense of self-worth to betray fundamental principles for anything less than compelling reasons.
The most practical way to minimize the temptation to back clients needlessly, and incurring the likely unpleasant consequences, is to adopt a policy of ethical pragmatism. … there is a great deal of territory between adopting cynical, Machiavellian practices and adhering to starry-eyed idealism that cannot work in the real world.