"Political realism"?

From 1940 until 1942 the United States government officially recognized the Vichy regime and had full diplomatic relations with it. The policy of recognizing a fascist, collaborationist regime set up at gunpoint was much criticized then, against the weak objections that it allowed the Allies to keep tabs on the fascists and to prepare for the counteroffensive against them, all the while helping maintain the spirits of the French citizenry. In her article Hindsight on Vichy (1946), Ellen Hammer skewered these claims. She questioned the value of the information gathered this way, but even more, showed that what was needed to free France was not moral ambivalence but frankness.

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The existence of Vichy, supported by the United States, obscured what might have been a clear alternative between the cause of French nationalism and the Allies, on the one hand, and that of the Axis, on the other. It put off a choice that many would otherwise have been forced to make.


What is important is that, in 1940, France was confused, divided, even apathetic, and our relations with P├ętain perpetuated that demoralization.

Let's be wary of "political realism" in the future.

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Hard to see the realism here

The foremost requirement of political realism is that it be realistic. It's hard to see where actual reality comes in in this case.

I am a firm believer in the principle -- a traditionally realist tenet -- that a country should maintain diplomatic relations with its enemies. Diplomatic relations need not confer legitimacy or recognition, indeed this is why recognition is an entirely different diplomatic notion (the US maintains relations with Taiwan, for instance, which it does not recognize, and recognizes Iran, with which it does not have diplomatic relations).

That "realism" demands recognition of puppet, illegitimate, or short-shelf-life regimes, in the absence of tangible benefits, is a fairly nasty characterization of realism, and not wholly justified. It is true that notions of realism have often served as a fig-leaf for all manner of ridiculous and counterproductive policies, but then the same could be said of nearly any named belief.