The Pros And Cons Of Realism In Vietnam

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Foreign policy is often analyzed through seemingly competitive lenses. On the one hand, idealism seeks to understand the motivations of and the cultural context in which foreign policy makers carry out decisions. On the other hand, realism portrays states as unified actors, relentlessly and rationally pursuing their own security interests. Historians view the relationship between these two major lenses as inherently antagonistic. One focuses on intangible, amorphous ideas, while the other focuses on fixed realities of a state’s particular situation. However, more careful analysis leads a different conclusion. American foreign policy has often been shaped by idealism and realism working in tandem.
One major example of idealism and realism working
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The US interest in Vietnam originated with realist concerns. It was thought that if all of Vietnam would fall to communism, it would act as “domino,” spreading communism to the rest of Southeast Asia and threatening U.S. interests in the region. Once again, realist concerns were complemented with ideological concerns. Kennedy and Johnson worried that a communist victory in Vietnam would damage the U.S. image abroad and incite conservative criticism of a Democratic administration (Lawrence 68). Kennedy had won the election on the premise that he would fight communism globally, garnering wide support from the American …show more content…
Gorbachev first had to restructure his country from an ideological basis. By focusing on the triumph of socialism at home, not abroad, Gorbachev dismantled the ideological need of the Soviet Union to be combative with the United States. He then did the same from a realist perspective, dismantling the powerful military apparatus of the U.S.S.R and allowing the geopolitically integral Eastern communist bloc to be dismantled (Leffler 427). Bush did the same. He forced Gorbachev to concede on ideological grounds when Gorbachev acknowledged that the Germans should have the right to determine their own allegiances (Leffler 445). Bush then made some realist concessions to further allow the dismantling of the Soviet Union. He pledged that NATO would become more of a political, rather than military, alliance and that NATO troops would not enter East Germany for a number of years (Leffler 444). It was with a combination of realist and idealist considerations that the Cold War ended.
Finally, this potent combination continued to serve the United States after the Cold War. George W. Bush advocated a relentless pursuit of terrorists after September 11th. However, as a realist would, he had trouble moving past seeing the state as the main actor on the world stage. He fought Al-Qaeda, but also the state (Afghanistan) that enabled the group. He then justified this pursuit of terrorism from an ideologically perspective,

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