The contrast between Hillary the realist and Obama the idealist only works because of the haziness of the concept of "realism." Used popularly, of course, "realism" usually means, simply, realistic. People can be realists about anything from love to the use of steroids in sports.
But in international relations theory, "realism" actually means something quite specific. Realism holds that the world is anarchical, that states are always out to maximize their power regardless of their rhetoric or internal composition, and that if one country becomes too powerful, the others will gang up on it no matter how well-intentioned it is. Canonical realists including John Mearsheimer, Kenneth Waltz, Samuel Huntington, Barry Posen, Robert Pape, and Stephen Walt all opposed the Iraq war, and they all prioritize solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the best way to ameliorate America's terrorism threat.
Today's Democratic Party is overwhelmingly a party of realists. And in the current presidential race, realist positions are most often espoused by Obama. This is why Zbigniew Brzezinski, the foremost realist statesman in the Democratic party, is advising Obama, not Clinton. Look at the breakdown: Richard Clarke, Bruce Reidel, Robert Malley -- all prominent realists, all Obama supporters. Clinton has more idealism-oriented people such as Richard Holbrooke, Martin Indyk, and Michael O'Hanlon, who all supported the Iraq War or strongly favor Israeli actions against the Palestinians. Her initial support for the Iraq war and her positions on talking to hostile foreign leaders and on nuclear weapons have much less attraction to realists than Obama's. Obama is not a by-the-book realist by any means, but of all of the contenders for the presidency, he is the closest thing.
This isn't just intellectual gossip; it points to what the candidates' respective foreign policies would look like. Dershowitz writes, "When I cast my vote, I look not only at the candidate but at who is supporting him or her. Elections empower not only the winning candidate but the constituencies that helped to elect that person." I couldn't agree more. And from that perspective, Barack Obama's idea of a more restrained American foreign policy is looking a bit less naive than his critics think. Almost realistic.
--Jordan Michael Smith ="http:>