Despite Truman’s mistakes, even his expanded containment doctrine was more realist-minded than the Republican plan of rollback, a more aggressive, forward-leaning policy than mere containment of the Soviets.
Smith is right that a policy of rollback would have been much worse from a realist perspective. However, rollback was never really implemented, at least not in Europe, and its own nominal adherents in the Eisenhower administration were forced to recognize that there was no way to make it work in Europe without triggering a major war. Rollback was an unfortunate piece of political sloganeering run amok, which Eisenhower had the good sense to ignore once in office. Unlike rollback, Truman’s expanded containment doctrine was not only implemented, but it defined what containment meant in practice during the remaining decades of the Cold War. There is a direct connection between Truman’s expanded containment doctrine and the “crusading liberalism” of the Kennedy and Johnson years.
Smith also describes the exodus of realists from the GOP:
Meanwhile, figures from the first Bush administration, such as Brent Scowcroft and James Baker, are nowhere to be found in the Party of Palin. “The realist community has not been at the forefront of the debate in the party’s evolution,” admits Stefan Halper, who worked in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush I administrations. Jack Matlock, ambassador to the Soviet Union during the Reagan administration, says he is no longer a Republican: “Where the GOP leadership has gone has just been appalling.” Matlock, who worked for the first President Bush as well, points to resistance to President Obama’s New START arms-reduction treaty with Russia as a striking example of the Republican Party’s un-realist turn.
I agree with Matlock that the opposition to the treaty shows how little influence realism has among Republicans, and the party line on the treaty is absurd. That said, partisanship and anti-Obama rejectionism shouldn’t be overlooked as causes. Most of the same Republicans vehemently opposed to New START happily supported the Moscow Treaty negotiated by George W. Bush. This fits the modern pattern of fairly reliable Republican support for Republican Presidents’ arms control agreements and equally strong opposition to any similar agreements reached by Democratic Presidents.
As for Obama’s overall record, Smith makes this judgment:
But there are at least elements of realism in the Obama administration, which is more than can be said for today’s GOP.
That is a fair assessment. Daniel Trombly made a related observation yesterday:
There’s merit to the point that the U.S. isn’t pursuing a fully realist policy – and it isn’t – because liberal internationalist ideas do hold strong sway in some quarters of the administration. However, the policies which Saunders criticizes have largely been policies that realists would support.