In This Review

Realism and Democracy: American Foreign Policy After the Arab Spring
Realism and Democracy: American Foreign Policy After the Arab Spring
By Elliott Abrams
Cambridge University Press, 2017, pp

Abrams’ experience in U.S. foreign policy stretches back to the Reagan years, but he is best known as a neoconservative who advised President George W. Bush. In the fascinating introduction to this book, Abrams traces his intellectual development and explores the roots of his worldview. He presents U.S. foreign policy as a Manichaean realm, split between leaders committed to spreading and strengthening democracy and human rights (Ronald Reagan, Bush) and those who believe such concerns to be peripheral to U.S. strategic interests (Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Barack Obama). Abrams’ view makes sense only if one embraces the idea of U.S. exceptionalism—or at least believes that, on balance, the United States is a force for good in the world. Abrams forcefully rejects the argument that the so-called war on terror compels Washington to countenance Arab autocracies that join in the fight. To the contrary, he points out, the autocracies fuel the extremism that in turn drives terrorism. Abrams implies that Bush understood this and thus put pressure on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to reform, whereas Obama turned on Mubarak only after massive protests broke out in Cairo in 2011—and then did little as Mubarak’s eventual successor, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, ramped up repression after taking power in a military coup in 2013. On this point, Abrams and some of his liberal critics may well agree.