Americans’ distaste for the prevailing grand strategy should come
as no surprise, given its abysmal record over the past quarter century.
In Asia, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are expanding their nuclear
arsenals, and China is challenging the status quo in regional waters. In
Europe, Russia has annexed Crimea, and U.S. relations with Moscow
have sunk to new lows since the Cold War. U.S. forces are still fighting
in Afghanistan and Iraq, with no victory in sight. Despite losing
most of its original leaders, al Qaeda has metastasized across the region.
The Arab world has fallen into turmoil—in good part due to the
United States’ decisions to effect regime change in Iraq and Libya and
its modest efforts to do the same in Syria—and the Islamic State, or
isis, has emerged out of the chaos. Repeated U.S. attempts to broker
Israeli-Palestinian peace have failed, leaving a two-state solution further
away than ever. Meanwhile, democracy has been in retreat worldwide, and the
United States’ use of torture, targeted killings, and other morally dubious practices
has tarnished its image as a defender of human rights and international law.
The United States does not bear sole responsibility for
all these costly debacles, but it has had a hand in most of them. The
setbacks are the natural consequence of the misguided grand strategy
of liberal hegemony that Democrats and Republicans have pursued
for years. This approach holds that the United States must use its
power not only to solve global problems but also to promote a world
order based on international institutions, representative governments,
open markets, and respect for human rights. As “the indispensable
nation,” the logic goes, the United States has the right, responsibility,
and wisdom to manage local politics almost everywhere. At its core,
liberal hegemony is a revisionist grand strategy: instead of calling on
the United States to merely uphold the balance of power in key regions,
it commits American might to promoting democracy everywhere and
defending human rights whenever they are threatened.