Liberal internationalism should end with all its manifestations
Azhar Azam
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., November 15, 2019. /VCG

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., November 15, 2019. /VCG

Editor's note: Azhar Azam works in a private organization as market and business analyst and writes about geopolitical issues and regional conflicts. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, the U.S. described its role in four key elements: global leadership; defense and promotion of the liberal international order; defense and promotion of freedom, democracy and human rights; and prevention of the emergence of regional hegemons in Eurasia.

All these essential components of U.S. foreign policy are closely intertwined with each other. Washington claims the liberal international order respects territorial integrity, and values international law. America actually has used the clumsy mechanism of liberal internationalism or liberal hegemony for military intervention in remote areas to impose its democratic form of government and control the world.

Washington's invasion of Kabul to topple the Taliban government – and offensive on Baghdad, where the U.S. intelligence agencies found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction or Saddam Hussein's prewar links to al-Qaeda – was the last vestige of liberal internationalism that sought to bring democracy by force.

The U.S. falsity about forced political change in Afghanistan and Iraq was revealed by George W. Bush in 2004, when the former American president clearly expressed his goal in Baghdad and Kabul under the pretext of "democratic" allies. Behind delivering on the neocons' democratic demands, Washington's display of brute power had hegemonic ambitions as well.

Some U.S. officials thought restricting retaliation to Afghanistan could be dangerously "limited" and wanted a flamboyant victory. The purpose was to intimidate defiant Syria, Libya, Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and reassert the U.S. waning hegemony in the region by trying to turn all Mideast countries into liberal democracies.

Notions about American exceptionalism are age-old and have been embedded in post-Cold War U.S. administrations. Even before the September 11 attacks, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1998 arrogantly stated "we are the indispensable nation" and declared to "put force behind the diplomacy" as she was making the case for a possible strike on Iraq.

Donald Trump was contemptuous of the liberal international order and criticized China's ticket to the World Trade Organization, which his predecessors thought would help to turn China into a liberal democracy. He also needed big arms and diplomatic deals with the Mideast kingdoms to showcase in the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.

But Trump wasn't solely responsible for the downturn in liberal internationalism. When he took over, although proponents didn't accept the "death" of the doctrine, they agreed America's authority as the hegemonic leader of the liberal world order had slid into deep crisis. 

Realists have been calling for less militarized and more cooperative U.S. foreign policy. They believe America should learn from its practical and moral failures to unilaterally shape the destiny of other nations by force. Putting emphasis on military restraint, diplomatic engagement and cooperation with all nations, they urge changes at the grassroots level of the U.S. overly-militarized foreign policy.

Afghanistan's then-President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani (C) meets with the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (7th L) in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 21, 2021. /Xinhua

Afghanistan's then-President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani (C) meets with the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (7th L) in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 21, 2021. /Xinhua

U.S. President Joe Biden's appointments, after Trump's global tumult, signaled a return of normalcy; even then a belief of American supremacy in his team challenged hopes to tweak behavioral change in the White House to ensure "greater military restraint" in the use of military forces.

A total bust of liberal internationalism and rising clout of realists across the U.S., such as those at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, have unnerved liberal internationalists and pressed them to come out in support of liberal internationalism.

Liberal internationalists say the "Quincy Coalition" ideology is driven by common adversaries rather than liberal internationalism. They argue the Coalition offers a "woefully weak response of the undeniable reality" about Beijing's alleged expansion and hegemonic ambitions and its agenda, if implemented, would harm fundamental U.S. interests, dominance and influence.

In response, Anatol Lieven intrinsically linked liberal internationalism to the U.S. hegemony and one form of American ideological nationalism. The senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute opposed liberal internationalists' view that "selective cooperation" with China on climate change should accompany "wider U.S. geopolitical and ideological confrontation." He called for a systematic cooperation with Beijing on a range of key issues, alluding to the fact that the U.S. and allies' share in global GDP had halved and Chinese economy was roughly at par with the U.S.

Biden's speech defending his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan may be a "decisive break" or "one of the most eloquent repudiations" to liberal internationalism. Nevertheless, his policy to gang up alliances against China follows the very similar objectives enshrined in liberal internationalism: push the U.S. partners in confrontation with China and reestablish America's hegemony on both allies and rivals.

However, the world is waking up and decoding the cloaked message. The Alliance of Democracies' poll in May indicated majorities in 53 countries saw the U.S. as a bigger threat to democracy and an overwhelming majority in China approved of the democracy they had. The findings suggested nations were mistrustful of the U.S. strategy to trigger internal chaos overseas and advance America's hegemonic ambitions.

The U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and several other countries have cost Americans and global people dearly in terms of both treasure and life. The myth, economics and Western democracy are reciprocal, crumbles as 95 percent of Chinese citizens are quite satisfied with the government in Beijing, according to a poll launched by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in last year. With a new Cold War causing significant losses to the U.S. and the global economy, Biden's idea to rally democracies around China is doomed to fail and it's time to end the liberal internationalism with all its manifestations.

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