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Foreign policy realists distinguish themselves from foreign policy liberals by placing greater emphasis on the power of international actors in an ammoral way, as opposed to being concerned with whether international actors support desirable policies.

A foreign policy realist would look at the alliance of the Soviet Union and the United States to defeat Hitler in World War II as a classic example of the benefits of realist approaches to foreign policy. A liberal foreign policy outlook, in contrast, would be far more conflicted over the alliance because by allying with a country that did not share U.S. values, a fifty year Cold War resulted.

Likewise, in the context of the Cold War, realists would tend to look at the U.S. policy of supporting right wing dicators to prevent communist regimes from taking hold in Latin America and other parts of the Third World as a basically sound one, with some problems in implementation, while Liberal foreign policy analysts would see this approach as a profound policy failure.

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