The American Interest

Strategic Crossroads

The aftermath of the Cold War has seen the emergence of what Robert Kagan and William Kristol have called “benevolent global hegemony.”  The leaders of both major U.S. political parties have asserted that America’s unchallengeable military might is essential to the maintenance of global order.  This period of “primacy” was marked by military interventions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.  The exercise of hegemony was validated by the rhetoric of “promoting democracy,” “protecting human rights,” “confronting aggression,” and by the invocation of American exceptionalism: In world affairs we are supposedly motivated by values, rather than interests.

That bipartisan consensus has been codified in official strategic doctrine.  George W. Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy declared that the U.S. would “extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent” and bring about an end to “destructive national rivalries.”  The Obama administration’s 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, still in force, claims that the task of the United States is to “confront and defeat aggression anywhere in the world.”  This continuity of utopian objectives reflects the chronic refusal of the policymaking community in Washington to establish a rational correlation between strategic ends...

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