I recently read the following in a New Yorker article:
Scowcroft is a protégé of Henry Kissinger—he was his deputy when Kissinger was Richard Nixon’s national-security adviser. Like Kissinger, he is a purveyor of a “realist” approach to foreign policy: the idea that America should be guided by strategic self-interest, and that moral considerations are secondary at best.
What on earth does this mean? It implies a world in which foreign policy is a zero-sum game. The US can only succeed at the expense of others. Now, I think most reasonably intelligent people would agree that the world is not like this, that we are better off if our neighbors are better off as well. But I want to focus on the oft-repeated refrain that the dog-eat-dog view of the world attributed to Kissinger requires eschewing “moral considerations.”
This too doesn’t hold up. It is impossible, in fact, to define US self-interest without making moral considerations. It requires asserting what the goals and aims are of our nation. Are they to protect the wealth of our corporations? The well being of all (or just some) of our citizens? Etc. However you choose to answer that question, it is ultimately a moral consideration.
Of course, Kissinger and others can pretend that it is not a moral choice, because they already presume the answer to the question is fixed and undebatable: “What’s good for GM is good for America.”