The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Ideas That Didn’t Drive Our Foreign Policy

A few weeks ago, Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) offered his thoughts on how U.S. foreign policy had gone wrong.

When the Berlin Wall fell 30 years ago this month, more than a few experts predicted the end of history: Communism was dead and democracy triumphant. Now U.S. power would remake the world, which would come to look a lot like America. George H.W. Bush famously called for a “new world order” of “open borders, open trade and . . . open minds,” a new era of international peace and harmony, all to be achieved by American exertion.

But history refused to end. Russia and China conspicuously pursued their own agendas and, in other regions and other places, ancient rivalries flared. None of this stopped American policy makers from pursuing their new global order. All these years later, we are living with the results: the longest war in American history, in Afghanistan; trillions of American dollars expended on failed nation-building; exhaustion at home, aimlessness abroad; and a newly dangerous world.

In our latest issue, Elbridge Colby makes a more muted version of this case. And much of what he has to say, like much of what Senator Hawley had to say, strikes me as sensible. It seems to me, though, that both of them are overstating the role that an ideology of bringing market democracy to the world has played in U.S. foreign policy.

President George H. W. Bush did not, in fact, call for a new era of peace and harmony, “all to be achieved by American exertion.” We did not go into Afghanistan because of our dedication to opening minds abroad. We didn’t go into Iraq for that reason, either. President George W. Bush’s second inaugural address was an after-the-fact rationale for what we were doing in Iraq after it turned out the U.S. government (and many other governments) had been wrong about its nuclear weapons program.

Hawley and Colby are making a welcome call for realism in foreign policy. It ought to include some realism about our recent past.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

Elections

The Media’s Bernie Sanders Makeover Begins

Just you watch: By the time Election Day rolls around in November, liberal columnists will be telling us that Bernie Sanders is the “real conservative” in the presidential race. Many among the center–left commentariat are struggling to come to terms with the likelihood that the Democratic Party will ... Read More
Elections

The Media’s Bernie Sanders Makeover Begins

Just you watch: By the time Election Day rolls around in November, liberal columnists will be telling us that Bernie Sanders is the “real conservative” in the presidential race. Many among the center–left commentariat are struggling to come to terms with the likelihood that the Democratic Party will ... Read More

Socialism . . . But?

For once, conservatives were ahead of the curve. American conservatism functioned as a political mass movement in the postwar era not because of the rhetorical gifts of its chief expositors (William F. Buckley Jr. et al.) nor because of the intellectual prowess of its best and most creative minds (ask George ... Read More

Socialism . . . But?

For once, conservatives were ahead of the curve. American conservatism functioned as a political mass movement in the postwar era not because of the rhetorical gifts of its chief expositors (William F. Buckley Jr. et al.) nor because of the intellectual prowess of its best and most creative minds (ask George ... Read More
Religion

Getting Real About Christianity

Charlotte, N.C. -- There were women weeping in a chapel here. One woman named Veronica was nearly inconsolable. She was talking about the crucifixion of Christ as if it was happening right then and there. She was feeling it. She was seeing it as the consequences of her sins. She was overwhelmed by the love of a ... Read More
Religion

Getting Real About Christianity

Charlotte, N.C. -- There were women weeping in a chapel here. One woman named Veronica was nearly inconsolable. She was talking about the crucifixion of Christ as if it was happening right then and there. She was feeling it. She was seeing it as the consequences of her sins. She was overwhelmed by the love of a ... Read More
NR Webathon

This Is Not a Drill

We may be months away from the most radical major-party nominee in American history. Bernie Sanders doesn’t belong on the Burlington City Council, let alone on the cusp of the American presidency, but that’s where the Democratic nomination would bring him. NR has jousted with socialists over the years ... Read More
NR Webathon

This Is Not a Drill

We may be months away from the most radical major-party nominee in American history. Bernie Sanders doesn’t belong on the Burlington City Council, let alone on the cusp of the American presidency, but that’s where the Democratic nomination would bring him. NR has jousted with socialists over the years ... Read More