Small Wars Journal

Exemplar, Not Crusader

Thu, 01/24/2013 - 8:30am

Many of you have already seen this, but for those who haven't, I discussed warfare, foreign policy, and America's way ahead in a changing world with Time's Mark Thompson the other day


No matter what portion of the ideological spectrum Americans come at world problems from, their views are shaped in a way by the idea of the “end of history.” We think that political development has a single endpoint, that being liberal democracy.

I'm not arguing that there's a better endpoint. Instead, I’m arguing that America cannot get the world to that endpoint in the near term. America needs to be more humble in its foreign policies, more realistic than its current expectation of instant modernization without any instability, and more cognizant of the significant challenges it faces in getting its own house in order.

In a phrase, I argue that America should focus more on being an exemplar than a crusader.

First, the world is undergoing a massive wave of change, bringing rapid development and modernization to more people than ever before. I show that this change is intensely destabilizing. It took the West centuries to progress from the corrupt rule of warlords to liberal democracy.

There is no reason to believe that America can remake the world—or even a corner of it—in its image in the course of a few years. We are going to face a period of intensifying instability in the developing world and we need to understand that some things just cannot be neatly managed, much less controlled. We can’t bring on the end of history by using war to spread democracy and the welfare state (used in the academic, not pejorative sense).

Second, and perhaps more importantly because it affects us domestically and internationally, the welfare state is facing a crisis in the world’s leading democracies. This defies the notion that history is teleological—marching toward a determined end point. It would be no surprise, however, to the ancients who saw all governments as fallible and saw history as more of a cyclical thing.

You can read the rest here.


Bill C.

Thu, 01/24/2013 - 11:22pm

Consider something of a different theory and title, such as:

"War, Globalization and Welfare"

Herein, to accommodate globalization, the desired end state is an international order whose chief characteristic is "openness."

"Enhancing openness has long been a central aim of American statecraft."

With this specific goal, US foreign policy (and the use of military force) is directed toward creating a more-open and more-integrated world and, therefore, toward removing the barriers, blocks and borders (for example, non-western values, attitudes and beliefs) which would tend to hinder the creation of wealth via vast new and expanding markets.

The drive is to sustain domestic prosperity (and, thereby, the welfare state) by creating a world that is open to exports, investments and ideas -- most specifically, our own.

In this context, "liberal democracy" is to be seen simply as a subset of this initiative -- which has less to do with political development as a goal in-and-of-itself -- and more to do with a process which is designed to, in varying ways, enhance global economic growth and to, thereby, sustain the western world's current way of life.

(The words and ideas above regarding "openness," etc., are significantly not my own and can be found, instead, in Andrew Bacevich's 1999 "Policing Utopia.")

Thus, the question becomes: Can the desired/required end state (an open, integrated world) be achieved via exemplar alone? Or does the achievement of this goal/necessity, instead, require some form of aggressive crusading (to assist in removing resistant blocks, barriers, borders, etc.)?