Restraint, a conception of statecraft, challenges principles that have shaped U.S. foreign policy for decades. Counterattacks are therefore unsurprising. They may even be a compliment, however inadvertent. The latest critique, by John Ikenberry and Daniel Deudney, two prominent self-declared liberal internationalists, appears in Survival, a global politics and strategy magazine published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Their analysis misunderstands and misrepresents restraint. Also, it exemplifies liberal internationalism’s obsolescence.
Deudney and Ikenberry tout liberal internationalism’s unmatched acuity and utility for the twenty-first-century world. The theory’s devotees, they aver, have exposed the superficiality of reducing international politics to state-centered balance of power competition. They have revealed the value of international law and institutions and human rights. They have discerned that interdependence reduces sovereign states’ freedom of action. Thanks to them, people are aware that global problems—like pandemics and climate change—necessitate collective action. For these blinding insights, the unenlightened owe them a debt.
Deudney and Ikenberry did not set out to provide a tutorial on liberal internationalism. Their true purpose was to pillory restraint’s architects, the “Quincy coalition,” which is their shorthand for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank comprised of libertarians, realists, and progressives—“strange bedfellows” united solely by opposition to the Iraq War. Yet they tie this ensemble to Donald Trump’s denunciation of far-flung military interventions; disdain for international institutions, human rights, and international organizations; disavowal of the Paris climate change accord; and dismissal of arms control. Resorting to a smear belied by the evidence, they paint Trump’s “America First” foreign policy as a crude rendition of the Quincy coalition’s “core vision.”
They reassure us that the world has been returned to safe hands. Trump has departed. Joe Biden has arrived. Liberal internationalism has been resurrected. Toward the end, their essay resembles a job application to the new administration.
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