Want someone to blame for Iraq and Afghanistan? Blame the purveyors of “liberal hegemony,” whose blunders paved the way for Donald Trump.
The 2016 election, argues Walt (International Affairs/Harvard Univ.; Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy, 2005, etc.), went to dark-horse candidate Trump because voters had sensed, somehow, that something was wrong with the way American foreign policy was being conducted. By his account, the establishment against which Trump railed was invested in the idea that America was the primary superpower and responsible for policing the rest of the world. The end of the Cold War allowed the U.S. to pursue ambitious foreign policy objectives “without having to worry very much about the consequences,” some of which would manifest themselves in the rise of Islamism and other reactionary movements. Walt’s arguments against “liberal hegemony”—the adjective meaning not leftist in orientation but instead something that “seeks to use American power to defend and spread the traditional liberal principles of individual freedom, democratic governance, and a market based economy”—are coherent if sometimes strident, and his descriptions match what appears to be happening on the ground, such as the emergence of China as a foreign policy rival to the U.S. The author is not altogether against that emergence, for the arrival of a “true peer competitor” provides powerful incentive to overhaul the system and impose greater accountability for unsuccessful outcomes. In the place of the failed grand strategy followed by both Democratic and Republican administrations in the past few decades, Walt proposes a program of “offshore balancing” that would emphasize American interests and promote world peace. Among its tenets is the abandonment of threats of regime change, as with those recently directed against North Korea. Writes the author, “countries usually seek nuclear weapons because they fear being attacked and want a powerful deterrent, and U.S. efforts at regime change heighten such fears.”
Walt’s call for a greatly reduced military presence overseas will appeal to many readers, though his book will find many critics inside the Beltway and his own Harvard Yard.