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When it comes to crafting policy even the most realist of American statesmen fail to remember that foreign alliances are built on the shifting sands of expedience rather than on any lasting — let alone permanent — ideological or “friendship” foundations, even when they do recognize and admire this same clarity of vision in their foreign counterparts and opponents. Political realism does not end with perpetual attachment to balance of power politics. As Bismarck, among other great practitioners of realpolitik, has shown, it sometimes means taking opportunities presented to damage or destroy dangerous opponents by war, or else fomenting war amongst them. Expressing a bare hope that successive leaderships will always choose a peaceful policy — especially when a policy of strategic confrontation becomes attractive in the service of vital national interests — should be beneath a first-rate strategic mind.

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