Anyhow, Dan Drezner does a nice job of destroying the canard that realists have not been influential in American foreign policy without even mentioning Kennan (Dan provided a couple of realists a chance to respond).* Drezner even mentions how oppressed realists have often felt. As Steve Martin would say, well, excuuuuuuuse meeeee! Why? Because the realists have, as good secret Marxists, held some of the commanding heights and means of production in the academic economy: a journal (International Security), post-doc suppliers (less so of late with the decline of Olin), and jobs at a variety of desirable academic outposts. They are not alone in that--Peter Katzenstein complained on one panel how oppressed constructivists were, at a time where they seemed to be getting heaps of post-docs, the best jobs, and publications in the best journals and presses.
* Yes, the realists can take credit for being right on Iraq in 2003, but, then again, so can nearly every other IR scholar.The reason why Realists often feel that they are victims is due to their success--that they have been able to define their approach as the baseline to which any and all competitors must compare. If states do not maximize their interests (defined as security or power, depending on the realist), then why do they behave as they do? Thus, anyone who either wants to explain deviations from this baseline or argue that the baseline is wrong has to take on Realism. So, even if only 15% of IR folks or pubs are avowedly realist, probably 75-90% of the work in the field presents a realist argument even if it is presented as a strawman [Updated: Mike points out that the real data, as opposed to my imaginary data, indicates that 20-50% of non-realist stuff presents a realist argument of some kind--see comments below].
This in sharp contrast to liberal or constructivist arguments--they are not seen as the baseline and are not required to be invoked somewhere along the way when writing something for an IR journal or press. I say this from much experience. Even with the latest project on NATO and Afghanistan, where there is much variation among the allies in how they behave, even non-realists push me/us at talks to specify how this is not a tale realists can explain. So, we dedicate space in our intro, juxtaposing various ways to think about threats and security concerns and show how the cross-national and cross-temporal variation do not jibe with realist expectations. Of course, realists can quibble with how we operationalize realism, but since there are many flavors of realism, this will always be the case.
Let me conclude with what I think are Realism's biggest weakness and biggest contribution:
- Realism is indeterminate. That is, there is usually more than one way to maximize one's security. This is why realists can often engage in heaps of arguments with each other, and not just between offensive realists (who focus on maximizing power) and defensive realists (who focus on security). The international system rarely provides a single best way to defend oneself. Folks are still arguing, for instance, whether British appeasement of Germany in 1938 was a good idea or not.
- Realism is right to remind us to focus on power--not in terms of interest but in terms of outcomes. Power matters greatly in determining outcomes, although not entirely as the insurgents of the world can beat the stronger countries. I tend to buy into the Moravcsik view of Liberalism telling us much about why conflicts of interest emerge, but Realism via power can usually tell us much about who wins.