Political commentary

Unrealpolitik and the Zero Sum Doctrine

It's a policy of the “community” against The Man. But when you're The Man, that policy only means self-destruction.

by T. Nelson

Political Commentary

Unrealpolitik and the Zero Sum Doctrine

W e're living in a time where both foreign policy and domestic politics are dominated by emotions and wishful thinking.

Dominique Moïsi, writing in the Moscow Times, calls it “unrealpolitik.” In his book The Geopolitics of Emotion, he says a culture of humiliation in the Middle East is devolving into a culture of hatred. In a world governed by unrealpolitic, your goals are not defined by logic, but by feelings. Your adversary responds, not with schemes of his own, but emotionally. There's lots of wailing, gnashing of teeth, meaningless gestures, and name-calling.

But as descriptive a term as Unrealpolitik is, a better term may be the Zero Sum Doctrine, which is exemplified by the zero-sum ideas of the quasi-Marxist writer Thomas Piketty and the economic illiterates in the short-lived OWS movement. In economics, zero-sum means the only way to make the poor richer is to make the rich poorer. Innovation, which invalidates zero-sum economics, doesn't count, because Marxists are, at heart, destroyers, not innovators.

(As an aside, Democrats adore Piketty, not because they're closet Marxists, but because he advocates what they're all thinking: a wealth tax. Taking half our income is not enough. Sooner than you think, they'll be taxing and maybe seizing our bank accounts, which is what a wealth tax really means. And they'll call us unpatriotic for resisting: “the country” needs your money desperately!)

Where was I? Oh yes. In foreign affairs, where power really is a zero-sum game, Zero Sum Doctrine means making all countries the same, regardless of whether they're freedom-loving democracies or mass-murdering dictatorships: geopolitical egalitarianism.

G. W. Bush's plan for the Middle East was to implant the seeds of democracy, on the theory that a democratic Middle East would stabilize global trade and undermine the oppression that produces Islamic terrorism. Bush thought terrorism was caused by feelings of powerlessness among the people, and would continue to arise and pose a threat as long as their self-determination was being crushed.

This, for those who have forgotten, was the Bush doctrine, and for a brief moment in the so-called Arab Spring, it seemed as if it was about to work. Despite all the complaining about Neocons, Bush and his advisors were actually following Realpolitik to its logical conclusion: when the system stops working, as 9/11 unambiguously demonstrated, you replace it with something better. For Bush, that meant getting rid of their dictators.

Realpolitik is unemotional, non-ideological, and pragmatic: an attempt to understand political power as if it were a force of nature. It uses terms like balance of power and power vacuum. Today we rarely speak of power vacuums any more, unless we're talking about the Shark Navigator (which, I'm told, is a really good one).

By contrast, the benefit of Unrealpolitik is that it doesn't require intelligence, only the ability to react and feel. Bush's plan was too complex to fit in a sound bite, so the media turned to the easy, emotional stuff: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the missing WMDs, and the protests at home. Bush delayed the surge too long, giving them a chance to convince everyone the invasion was really about finding WMDs and stealing oil, and gave his successor a chance to do the only thing he knows: destroy whatever his forebears had sacrificed so much for. They've been so successful that even right-wingers now criticize the neocons.

Today, both sides believe that democracy is impossible in the Middle East. The Right are convinced that, thanks to Islam, the people aren't culturally sophisticated enough to handle it; and the Left, mainly, still hate Bush. Emotional feelings about political adversaries, about the poor, or about people in other countries override the cold calculations that people used to make.

The goal of the Zero Sum Doctrine seems to be, as Clarice Feldman puts it, “stirring the various Moslem sects to murder each other and leave the rest of us alone.” Our current Boss-In-Chief may or may not favor encouraging democracy in the Middle East, but he has little understanding about how it might be accomplished. Unlike his predecessors he seems motivated, not by an understanding of the clockwork intricacies of geopolitics, but by personal emotions and wishful thinking. For example, it's been suggested that the main reason he wants to close Guantanamo is that he's worried that he'll end up there (which is possible but probably not likely). We'll probably survive him, but as a global voice for freedom America will be wounded, perhaps for decades.

This is Unrealpolitik, the zero-sum strategy of the community organizer: to create big, unsolvable problems that the Powers That Be cannot solve, thereby discrediting them and paving the way for “the people” to take over. It's a policy of the “community” against The Man. But when you're The Man, that policy only means self-destruction.

In only six years we've gone from installing democracies in the Middle East to almost total impotence. Such is the destructive power of the government's emotional policies and the doctrine of zero-sum, which thrives by dividing us, and gains its strength by making us weak.

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