Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

There’s No Place Like CounterPunch

There's no place like CounterPunch, it's just that simple. And as the radical space within the "alternative media"(whatever that means) landscape continues to shrink, sanctuaries such as CounterPunch become all the more crucial for our political, intellectual, and moral survival. Add to that the fact that CounterPunch won't inundate you with ads and corporate propaganda. So it should be clear why CounterPunch needs your support: so it can keep doing what it's been doing for nearly 25 years. As CP Editor, Jeffrey St. Clair, succinctly explained, "We lure you in, and then punch you in the kidneys." Pleasant and true though that may be, the hard-working CP staff is more than just a few grunts greasing the gears of the status quo.

So come on, be a pal, make a tax deductible donation to CounterPunch today to support our annual fund drive, if you have already donated we thank you! If you haven't, do it because you want to. Do it because you know what CounterPunch is worth. Do it because CounterPunch needs you. Every dollar is tax-deductible. (PayPal accepted)

Thank you,
Eric Draitser

Pragmatic Idealism


Troops in Afghanistan and Iraq; drones flying over Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen Pakistan, special ops assassins in 70 countries; aid to Israel, Turkey, Columbia, Pakistan  and over 700 bases around the world.  All these actions are a result of policies conceived in the U.S. foreign policy and defense communities based on specific objectives and created on the basis of foreign policy axioms which have guided it at least since World War II.  These axioms, which are euphemistically defined as an applied practical approach to foreign policy decisions based on whether policy solves the problem rather than on what is legal, ethical or moral, are rarely discussed in public discourse.

These axioms are the key to understanding an American foreign policy that regularly violates international law such as the Geneva Conventions, Convention on Torture, Genocide Convention, the Inhumane Weapons Convention and the UN Charter and to questioning the rationalizations and normalizations of these violations.

This pragmatic approach is grounded in a long history of intellectual deliberations emanating from the works of William James, John Dewey, Charles Sanders Pierce, Walter Lippmann, Hans Morgenthau and Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr.  According to William James: “Ideals are an imaginative understanding of that which is desirable in that which is possible”.  Similarly, Niebuhr wrote that “The task of world organization must be attempted from the standpoint of historical realism.  The conclusion could be justified by the simple fact that no historical process has ever, even remotely, conformed to the pattern which the idealists have mapped out for it.”  In other words, foreign policy must temper idealistic sentiments with pragmatic or realistic considerations.  One implication of a politically realistic philosophy is the dismissal of human rights and international law as absolutes which shouldn’t necessarily interfere with foreign policy decisions whose objectives are to protect American interests.

James Baker, Chief of Staff in the Reagan George H. W. Bush’s administrations and Under Secretary of Commerce under President Ford succinctly elucidated the philosophy of political realism in 2007 when he stated that: “The principles that guide American foreign policy during the coming years will determine how successful the United States will be as it addresses the complex global challenges that confront us.  A foreign policy simply rooted in values without a reasonable rationale of concrete interests will not succeed.”

There is an expansive dichotomy between the essence of the ideas espoused by these men and the actual application of their principles in practice by foreign-policy decision-makers.  According to the philosophy of “political realism”, values including human rights and international law must be sacrificed to “concrete interests” in the name of “political realism”.

One critical flaw in this philosophy is that human rights and international law are indivisible and compromising them in the interests of some ostensibly higher cause renders them meaningless.

Another critical flaw is characterized by the so-called “concrete interest” which in almost all cases is an action to serve exclusively American interests by violating human rights or international law.  “Military humanism” was nothing more than a euphemism rationalizing actions that were, in fact, war crimes, such as the bombing of Serbia.

For example, President Carter stated in an address to Notre Dame in 1977 that: “I believe that we have a foreign policy that is democratic, that is based on fundamental values and that was [the] power and influence which we have for humane purposes.”

On the other hand, Carter supported brutal dictators such as the generals in Argentina and Brazil, Pinochet in Chile, Mobutu in the Congo, and Somoza in Nicaragua whom he protected from the Sandinistas and General Suharto in Indonesia whom he rearmed when more weapons were needed to slaughter more East Timorese.

Where were the ideals in his support of General Suharto who was committing genocide in East Timor?  The pragmatic arguments centered on the abundance of oil off the southern coast of East Timor and the deep water passages in Timorese waters that were suitable for travel by American nuclear-armed submarines.

By supplying weapons to General Suharto who was committing genocide against the Timorese, Carter was complicit in that genocide.  Complicity in Article III of the Convention can include supplying arms, advice, training, intelligence or any direct military support.

Supporting the aforementioned brutal, corrupt dictators served no “concrete interest” other than to maintain American-friendly governments in power.  In many cases such as Mobutu and Pinochet, democratically-elected governments were overthrown in the name of pragmatic idealism.

President Clinton described the bombing of Serbia as a humanitarian intervention and propagated a number of myths to create the illusion of bombing a country in the service of lofty objectives.  For example, the myth about the Bosnian prisoner behind barbed wire in a concentration camp, photographed by British journalists, was completely fabricated but rallied public opinion behind the humanitarian cause.

Targets in Serbia, notwithstanding the propaganda, included towns, schools, hospitals, factories manufacturing non-military products, utilities needed by the Serbian people to survive and shockingly, rescue workers who were attending to the wounded.

President Obama revealed his foreign policy philosophy when he won the same Nobel Prize as Henry Kissinger and in his speech disclosed that: “To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason”.  His words could have been written by Reinhold Niebuhr whom Obama proudly admits is his favorite philosopher.

Obviously, for President Obama, concrete interests embrace assassinations by special-ops forces, assassinations by drones, torture and sending more troops to Afghanistan to ensure the death of more Americans and Afghanis.

To understand the permanent framework in which foreign and defense policy operate requires a familiarity with the philosophy of “pragmatic idealism” that offers the luxury of rationalization and the reduction of cognitive dissonance.

DAVID MODEL teaches at Seneca College in Ontario. He is the author of State of Darkness: US Complicity in Genocide Since 1945, Lying for Empire: How to Commit War Crimes with a Straight Face, People Before Profits: Reversing the Corporate Agenda, and Corporate Rule: Understanding and Challenging the New World Order. He has just completed his fifth book Selling Out: Consuming Ourselves to Death. He can be reached at:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians