GLOBALIST PROGRESSIVISM’S FOREIGN POLICY DELUSION

The American Conservative on September 24, 2018 reviewed John Mearsheimer’s latest book ”The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities”, John J. Mearsheimer, Yale University Press, 328 pages. For excerpts see below:

John J. Mearsheimer, the prominent exponent of foreign policy realism, is no stranger to controversy. The University of Chicago professor seems to home in on it like a heat-seeking missile.

His latest book, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, is a dagger pointed at the heart of America’s governing philosophy, progressive liberalism. His central thesis is that this philosophy has distorted U.S. foreign policy since America’s post-Cold War emergence as the world’s only superpower. The core of the problem, writes Mearsheimer, was America’s post-Cold War resolve to remake the world in its own image. The predictable result has been chaos, bloodshed, an intractable refugee crisis besetting the Middle East and Europe, and increased tensions among major powers…

The [United States] today enjoys the luxury of not having a single adversary capable of challenging its existence or global standing.

[Mearsheimer’s offensive realist theory] consists of: First, the world is “anarchic,” meaning there is no central authority or night watchman to step in when a nation is threatened. Therefore, nations must rely upon themselves for protection from any hazard, immediate or prospective. Given that they can’t know precisely the plans and ambitions of real or potential adversaries—he calls this “the uncertainty of intentions”—the imperatives of survival dictate that they do whatever they can to maximize their power based on what they can discern—namely, the military capabilities of potential rivals.

In other words, it’s…about the hierarchy of power among nations. Stability comes through an equilibrium of power, and great nations should foster diplomatic actions designed to maintain a power balance in key strategic locations.

…while progressive liberalism dominates American politics, including the country’s foreign policy, realism and nationalism ultimately are more powerful ideas. Mearsheimer notes, for example, that while liberalism and nationalism can coexist in any polity, “when they clash, nationalism almost always wins.” He adds that “liberalism is also no match for realism.”

Progressive liberals, [dominating thinking in the field of foreign policy] by contrast, have great faith in governmental activism that not only promotes individual rights but also pursues expansive social engineering programs.

…progressive liberals are the political heirs of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, and, more recently, of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.

There is no doubt, says Mearsheimer, that progressive liberalism has triumphed…when it dominates a nation’s international relations, he emphasizes, it inevitably breeds disaster.

[Mearsheimer] makes clear he doesn’t believe progressive liberalism accords with human nature much at all.

Mearsheimer posits what he calls “two simple assumptions” about human nature. The first is that man’s ability to reason is limited, particularly when it comes to mastering the fundamental questions of existence.

The second assumption, related to the first, is that “we are social animals at our core.” Given that there can be no reasoning to core principles, there will always be disagreements on these fundamental and often emotional matters. That inevitably raises prospects for violence. For protection, mankind must divide itself into a great number of social groups, and the most fundamental of all human groups is the nation. “With the possible exception of the family,” writes Mearsheimer, “allegiance to the nation usually overrides all other forms of an individual’s identity.”

And this leads to Mearsheimer’s view of the essence of social groups—and, most particularly, of nations. He identifies six fundamental features of nationhood:

1) a powerful sense of oneness and solidarity

2) a distinct culture, including such things as language, rituals, codes, music, as well as religion, basic political and social values, and a distinct understanding of history

3) a sense of superiority leading to national pride

4) a deep sense of its own history, which often leads to myths that supersede historical fact

5) sacred territory and a perceived imperative to protect lands believed to be a hallowed homeland

6) and a deep sense of sovereignty and a resolve to protect national decision-making from outside forces

[The] universalist ideology has always been there, lurking in the liberal consciousness. Until recently it was seen most starkly in the humanitarian interventionism of Woodrow Wilson—hence the universally understood term “Wilsonism.”

This Wilsonian impulse was kept in check through most of the 20th century by the imperatives of realism and the ideological force of nationalism. That ended with the conclusion of the Cold War, when America emerged as the unchallenged global hegemon. The inevitable result was the rise of liberal hegemony. What’s interesting is how explosively it arrived on the scene, almost immediately gaining dominance over American foreign policy and positioning itself to stamp out any troublesome counterarguments. The universalist ideology presents a powerful allure, often leading to feelings among foreign policy liberals, per Wilson, that they are engaging in a monumental struggle of good and evil.

The result is that America has waged seven wars since the Cold War ended and has been at war continuously since the month after 9/11.

Bill Clinton embraced liberal hegemony from the beginning of his presidency in 1993, and it led him to military actions in Bosnia and Serbia, motivated largely by the humanitarian impulse. George W. Bush took it to new levels after 9/11 with his invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and his rhetoric that “the freedom we prize…is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind.” Barack Obama suggested as he was leaving office that he understood that the “Washington playbook” was “deeply flawed,” as Mearsheimer puts it, but he couldn’t seem to break away from it. “He was ultimately no match for the foreign policy establishment,” writes Mearsheimer.

[President Trump has] challenged almost every aspect of liberal interventionism, particularly the goal of spreading democracy around the world. But he predicts that the “foreign policy elites will tame him just as they tamed his predecessor.”

…consider Mearsheimer’s emphasis on “a sacred territory.” Today’s progressive liberals, particularly among the elites, don’t care a whit about the country’s borders, as Mearsheimer notes. “In the liberal story,” he writes, “state borders are soft and permeable, because rights transcend those boundaries.” Then there’s sovereignty. Mearsheimer writes that “liberalism undermines sovereignty.”

These and other related issues are tearing America apart, and they have been introduced into the political cauldron by the same progressive liberals who have been pushing America’s drive to spread liberal hegemony across the globe. Indeed, it is almost incontestable that these domestic and foreign policy issues, along with the progressive liberal push for free trade and supranational institutions that undermine American sovereignty, contributed significantly to Trump’s presidential election.

Although Mearsheimer doesn’t discuss the American elites in detail, he sprinkles into his argument several references to elite and establishment thinking as often being distinct from broader public impulses and sensibilities. “[I]t is important to note,” he writes, “that liberal hegemony is largely an elite-driven policy.” In another passage he notes that America’s foreign policy elites tend to be “cosmopolitan,” which isn’t to say, he adds, that most of them are like Samuel Huntington’s caricature of those Davos people “who have little need for national loyalty” and see “national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing.” But, adds Mearsheimer, “some are not far off.”

Yes, it’s the progressive liberal elites who are driving America’s push for humanitarian hegemony, and Mearsheimer’s book calls them out brilliantly. But those same elites are also driving wedges through the American polity on powerful domestic issues, thus poisoning our politics and fostering an ongoing crisis on the definition and meaning of America. Mearsheimer’s pungent critique of the elite’s foreign policy recklessness could provide a sound foundation for a broader critique of its destructive folly in a host of other civic areas as well.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington, D.C. journalist and publishing executive, is a writer-at-large for The American Conservative. His latest book is ”President McKinley: Architect of the American Century”.

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