What Sort of Realist Was Reinhold Niebuhr?

Feb. 25 2015

The great mid-20th-century Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr developed a political theory, dubbed “Christian realism,” that sought to synthesize the demands of Christian ethics with the demands of conducting foreign policy in a dangerous world. Decrying the utopian thinking that led some devout Christians to pacifism, Niebuhr supported American efforts in World War II and the cold war. Taking on the master’s mantle, some of today’s foreign-policy realists appeal to his critique of the notion that democracy can be spread easily across the globe, which they use as an argument against democracy promotion itself; according to Paul D. Miller, they lack a proper understanding of Niebuhr’s ideas:

[The] flaw in the realists’ reading of Niebuhr is that they elide his Christian sensibility, and so are unable to see the entire scope of his thought. . . . Niebuhr is strident, unapologetic, and explicit in his defense of democracy—a defense that suggests democratic ideals have universal applicability and should be the aspiration of all societies.

[And] Niebuhr goes further, in a direction that should make today’s libertarians and conservatives uncomfortable. Government, he wrote, “must guide, direct, deflect, and re-channel conflicting and competing forces in a community in the interest of a higher order. It must provide instruments for the expression of the individual’s sense of obligation to the community as well as weapons against the individual’s anti-social lusts and ambitions.” No autocracy can anticipate, invent, or create all the things that every individual might if given the chance. Autocracy shuts the door on human potential. Democracy opens it up.

Read more at American Interest

More about: Cold War, Democracy, History & Ideas, Reinhold Niebuhr, Religion and politics, U.S. Foreign policy


The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship