If we are asked to be pragmatic, we are asked to consider the practical consequences of our actions. This can be seen as a positive quality. Pragmatism is in fashion among commentators decrying the ideological gridlock which paralyses US politics. But ‘pragmatic’ is also a term favoured by politicians searching for a grubby compromise. It is often followed by a sentence to the effect of ‘you’ve got to see the bigger picture’ – one where the needs of the powerful outweigh those of the weaker.
The Kremlin claims to pursue ‘pragmatic national interests’, particularly in relation to the countries around its border. It is actually pursuing international goals at the expense of countries whose interests must be sacrificed to assuage the former superpower, perhaps in exchange for assistance in other areas or for a little ‘give’ commercially. At least the Russians are open about their pragmatism. Much of the West may be more scrupulous, but it is also more underhand. Again with reference to Russia, the US has a ‘Magnitsky List’ – named in honour of a whistle-blowing lawyer who died in a Moscow prison – which bans Russians involved in human rights abuses from entering the US.
Unlike the US, Britain does not have an official list of banned Russians. The current government claims it could adversely affect jobs and money flowing into the City. Actually, we are told by Whitehall, the individuals on the Magnitsky List would probably not be able to gain entry to the UK if they tried to do so. So there is a list, but it is apparently better not to be open about it.
Pragmatism is not a policy. It is an expedient means to a morally vacuous realpolitik, which will probably not work anyway.