Addendum on the Liberal International Order

The 115th post from the Journal of American Greatness originally published in June, 2016.


While we’re smacking around Robert Kagan, it’s worth clarifying a point raised but not fleshed out in our recent foreign policy post.

We believe, or speculate, that the reader who wrote to us asking if we disdain the “liberal international order” was (perhaps without fully realizing it) basing his question on a misunderstanding that originates with Kagan.  Or if Kagan did not originate it, he has done more than any single writer to retail it.

The misunderstanding—which, on Kagan’s side, is deliberate—has two parts.  First is the conflation of the post-World War II “liberal international order” with some kind of permanent truth about America’s role on the world.  Second, and related, is its usage to justify and even require whatever it is that the neocons want to do in the here-and-now.

The pose, in other words, is: it’s always been this way and it must always be this way.

Conservatives who’ve studied the American Founding should recognize this as identical to the left’s tactic of taking (for instance) “all men are created equal” and insisting that its logic has always pointed toward, even demanded, socialism.

But both halves of Kagan’s formulation are false.  First, it’s just obviously not true that the post-war liberal international order represents some sempiternal embodiment of American interests.  Its creation was a response to the challenges of a particular time, its burdens not ones we sought to take up but felt we had no choice.  Are those challenges permanent and unchanging?  The world looks a lot different than it did in 1945.  So why must American foreign policy be preserved in amber?

Second, and more important: in what way does the Present at the Creation era point to, much less require, anything like the democratization of Afghanistan or assisting al-Qaida take over Libya or Syria?  These are acts of plain lunacy.  If we could exhume and reanimate all six of Isaacson and Thomas’ Wise Men so that they could see what we’ve wrought in the name of their liberal international order, they’d have us committed.

In short, objection to neocon idiocies is not rejection of the liberal international order’s original purpose or still-useful elements, any more than admiration of that order requires embrace of said idiocies.

—Decius

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