FOREIGN POLICY IDEOLOGY
In a neat ideal-type world, you would have some realists arguing for some kind of obviously immoral policy (say, we should be working behind the scenes to provoke a nuclear war between India and Pakistan because that would enhance America’s relative share of world power) thought to be in the national interest, while your idealists (or neocons or whatever) would be arguing for something moral, but clearly contrary to the national interest, like an $87 billion grant for economic development in Chad.
In practice, however, people identified with non-realist policies tend to argue not that realist neglect of human rights, etc. is simply immoral, but that it’s also shortsighted and, fundamentally, that their analysis of the national interest is wrong. Invading Iraq and transforming it into a model Arab society isn’t just supposed to be some nice favor we do for the Iraqis, it’s also supposed to be the best way to make the US safe in the long-term. Realists, similarly, argue that their opponents are being unrealistic in the ordinary-language sense and that their schemes will fail. Doing something moral and idealistic isn’t actually moral unless it works, so the realists don’t actually concede anything on this front.
An interesting point.
While I agree with Dan’s implied premise that the so-called neo-conservatives (who argue we have a moral obligation to export democracy) aren’t Realists (who, by definition, think foreign policy is amoral), there were surely a lot of Realists who supported the war. This, of course, depends on one’s rationale. If one believed that Saddam was dangerous to US vital interests and that using force to topple his regime made us safer, then clearly that is the ultimate Realist rationale for war. If one was motivated primarily by a desire to end the suffering of the Iraqi people, that was a Liberal or Idealist motivation. Indeed, there were Realist and Idealist reasons for and against this war.