mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
The Wilsonian World Order Has Once Again Been Postponed

Thanks to what China and Russia perceive (accurately, if that matters) as NATO overreaching in Libya, there will be no UN-blessed intervention in Syria. There will be no no-fly zone, no targeted financial sanctions, no arms embargo, not even a resolution to “consider” unspecified “measures” against Syrian President Assad. As the WSJ reports:

Mr. [Vitaly] Churkin [Russia’s UN ambassador] said Russia couldn’t consider the resolution without taking into account the council’s actions in Libya.

Opponents of the resolution have pointed to what they call the abuse of a Security Council resolution they supported to set up a no-fly zone over Libya in February that was ostensibly to protect civilians against the repression of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

This is payback for NATO. Armed with a UN resolution written to protect Libyans from regime retaliations, NATO stretched the intended meaning to the breaking point, bombed Qaddafi’s forces and shifted to the offense to help the rebels defeat the regime.

No tears for the Great Loon here, but one Security Council resolution a Wilsonian world order doth not make.  Russia and China will not fall for that trick again, especially in Syria, where the Russians in particular have strong ties.

The UN-supported intervention door is closed and we are if anything farther from enshrining the duty to protect in international law than we were six months ago.

As I wrote at the time, if you play your cards cleverly and all the stars align, from time to time you can have a Wilsonian war.  What you can’t get is Wilsonian peace: a Kantian world order based on liberal values and the rule of law.

If we are going to bomb Syria, it will have to be the way we bombed Serbia, or worst case the way we invaded Iraq: with cheaper, lower grade holy water sprinkled by the less sacrosanct NATO priests on the bombs as in Serbia, or with just some Potomac water hastily and unconvincingly sprinkled by Pentagon chaplains on the bombs as in Iraq.

But for the foreseeable future, as long as he is reasonably discreet and possibly even if he isn’t, President Assad can murder as many of his subjects as he wants with no fear that the UN will do anything about it. We stopped a relatively small scale massacre in a country that posed little threat to our interests (and from which we were getting some excellent intelligence cooperation I am told) at the cost of enabling what looks ultimately like a much larger bloodbath in a country where our vital interests are much more engaged, and whose government actively supports some of our most dangerous enemies in the region.

I am so glad we are all protected by the mighty force of international law in the beautiful liberal internationalist order our Wilsonian policy masterminds have brought us.  Can you all feel the love?

Features Icon
show comments
  • stan boon

    obama is the worst president ever !!!! his forien policie is a joke

  • yochay ds

    the real problem in the war in libya is that we handed al- kaida some of the country. the claim that there is a central rebel goverment is a fib.not to speak of the weapons we delivered it to the hands ot terorists.

  • Toni


  • Toni

    WONDERFUL essay! Thank you, Dr. Mead!

    Would you please sometime address the beautiful liberal internationalist judicial case for intermeshing US laws with foreign and internationalist laws?

    I refer to the practice of Living Constitutionalists on the Supreme Court whereby they include(d) citations of non-American laws in support of their opinions. Ours is a republic, in which citizens are the sole valid source of law and power. We don’t get to vote on foreign and internationalist laws, and those laws should therefore play no role in American judicial decisions. No?

    Well. Forgive me. That was a rant and a distraction. But it did strike me as related.

  • Jim.

    If other countries are playing to win, they’re the ones that will probably win, under any mortally-devised system of rules that allows for any freedom at all.

    That simple fact is the reason why Leftism is so dangerous; either it establishes tyranny, or it arranges that we’re on the losing end of every contest.

  • CatoRenasci

    Uncharitably, I remind you that you supported this clown in 2008.

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    “What you can’t get is Wilsonian peace: a Kantian world order based on liberal values and the rule of law.”

    And furthermore, because the Wilsonians always overplay their hand — which is maybe a pair of 5s — attempts at Wilsonian peace will (once again) bring forth a Jacksonian war.

    Out here in the heartland you can hear the Jacksonian simmer, like a pot not yet at the boil.

    What the Wilsonians, Jeffersonians, and Hamiltonians always forget is that in America the Jacksonians significantly outnumber them … combined.

    They mistake our patience and fervent desire simply to be left alone, for some sort of acquiescence. And should they also mistakenly believe Jacksonian fury is only directed outward? Good Morning. There’s a Mr. Sherman on the phone for you.

  • huxley

    WRM: Well, you called that one. I admire your modesty in not citing your earler article on Libya, but for readers here it is worthing checking out. (No sarcasm intended.)

  • Michael K Pate

    By any objective measure, Bashar Assad is far greater threat to both his own people and the world than Muammar Gaddafi. But because of a ridiculous lack of planning and forethought, Assad, who only came to power by inheriting his father’s position, gets to continue to be a menace. This has got to be a new low point in International Relations, and bought us to by the people who promised to restore prestige to America.

  • John Bragg

    Not to mention guaran-damn-teeing that the Administration’s preferred policy for dealing with hostile nuclear states, diplomatic agreements to disarm a la Qadaffy 2003, will be laughed off the table by our enemies.

  • Robert Sendler

    Since Assad was careful enough to not do anything rash…say like threating to cut off oil exports to Europe…like the good Colonel did, he should be perfectly safe to continue Daddies hobby of killing his own people.

  • Frederick Davies

    Do you laugh, do you cry, do you bury your face in your hands…? US foreign policy is so messed up you really do not know what to do.

  • Mauther

    To be fair, China and Russia were never going to sign off on an interdiction in Syria. They are way too concerned about setting precedent for foreign intervention on humanitarian grounds. What the Libya over reach did was provide them with convenient cover.

  • Greg R. Lawson

    Ultimately, Thucydides and Machiavelli got it right about human nature. We all want to aspire to things transcending our own parochial interests, but we usually are not.

    Given that context, policy should be made based on strategic necessities. Libya was a sideshow and a joke. Syria was always more meaningful as a way to isolate Iran and counteract the boon handed to them form the removal of Saddam Hussein and the failure to get a half way decent government up and running in his place.

    Of course, we failed at that too while throwing long -time allies like Mubarak (love him or hate him, he followed Sadat’s policies which were better for the U.S. than not).

    We have a dearth of strategic thinking in the higher echelons of our government.

  • steve

    can someone give me the cliff notes on what a “Kantian world order” is?

  • Mike

    Consider this: if your nieghbor kept taking his broken car to the same mechanic who kept not fixing it, indeed made it worse, would you value highly your nieghbor’s judgement about auto mechanics? Yet that is what our elites want us to do: they keep failing and they keep expecting us to keep trusting them. But what do I know? I just work for a living.

  • Buck O’Fama

    Obama’s foreign policy has been a study of how to fight the last war. It did nothing to encourage the rebels in Iran when doing so might’ve helped. So, they encouraged the rebels in Egypt, a decision which looks to have brought about the worst possible outcome. They’ve intervened in Libya where it looks to have done no good and will now ignore Syria where action might actually help. Good gravy, instead of consulting the Magic 8 ball for decisions, maybe they should try evaluating options, gauging possible outcomes… you know, thinking things out and making decisions that way.

  • Pat Rich

    Foreign policy. Diplomacy. State Department. Hillary Clinton.

    My how diligently everyone avoids mention of the amazing invisible Secretary of State. Unless she runs for President. Then we’ll hear what an important “credential” she acquired by “managing” the State Department. Meanwhile?

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    Steve #15 … Genghis Khan, but Immanuel Kant.

    More seriously, Kant — late 18th C Enlightenment philosopher — proposed that objects and systems ought best conform to the cognition of enlightened men, rather than the other way about.

    It is the philosophical foundation of the Wilsonian proffer that elite intellectuals are the best ones to order the manner in which the world works.

    Enter Genghis Khan, and many, many others.

  • anon

    Professor Mead,

    No worries.

    The Russians and the Chinese certainly won’t
    veto the PLO’s application to make the West Bank a Palestinian State.

    President Obama’s urbane and thoughtful leadership and diplomacy, backed 100%
    by the equally wise and experienced
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
    will ensure that Russia and China
    would never be so brash as to do that!

    So there you go an criticize our elected
    leaders for no good reason. Don’t you
    realize your place as an academic is to
    unthinkingly fully support the policies
    of the Democrat party? That’s what
    those brilliant (and we know they are
    because they tell us that they are)
    colleagues of yours do!

  • Peter

    The Libya Campaign is a total success for the Obama Admin. They managed to give a bazillion weapons of various sorts to Islamist loonies, they managed to further cripple our options in the Mideast and, best of all, they managed to throw away hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars worth of our weapons without replacing them further crippling the next Administration for when Iran gets nukes. For this bunch in Washington, SCORE! Please do not ask why they did this, just know they did.

  • teapartydoc

    As an abstracted human being that is a nameless, faceless member of a mass of others of similar socioeconomic status, race, and gender, I think I might feel a certain tingle that could possibly represent a feeling of love from the abstract Wilsonian world order, but I should probably undergo a functional MRI while experiencing this tingle in my leg, just to be sure. Maybe a psychiatric and neurological evaluation, too.

  • richard40

    To Burt Hall, #7
    Please do not lump Jefferson together with Wilson. Jefferson supported smaller gov and mostly wanted gov to leave the population alone. Wilson was the first real progressive, and wanted gov to get into everything, including reordering the rest of the world.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service