There is a toxin coruscating through the international body politic that resembles Woodrow Wilson’s commitment to a world order based on global government. Among contemporary Wilsonians like Anne Marie Slaughter and Harold Koh of the State Department, there is a belief that international law and a web of common enforcement mechanisms will enhance order and stability in a world fraught with chaos and violence.
As was the case with Wilson’s naïve conception of the League of Nations as a body that can maintain international stability, the present-day Wilsonians hold out the hope that global linkages will inspire cooperation and rational decision-making among nations. Presumably national interest, even sovereignty, will be subordinated to international councils.
Aligned with this Wilsonian conception is a declinist perception: a belief that the United States must shift from its hegemonic global role to a member of the international institutions designed to promote world order. Presumably a less robust economy than the U.S. has generally experienced and fatigue with the unilateral maintenance of global equilibrium have been the catalysts for this transition.
But in every essential way, this conception is faulty.
To cite one example, the Security Council at the United Nations invariably frustrates directions in American foreign policy. Whether it is “sanctions with teeth” directed at Iran’s nuclear program or issues related to Taiwanese security, Russian and Chinese vetoes militate against the realization of U.S. interests. Moreover, even though the United States provides 22 percent of the expenditures at the United Nations, it is isolated by voting blocs such as the 57 Muslim nations, the European Union, and the non-aligned nations (usually aligned against the U.S.).
It is also the case that the traction gained by Muslim extremists represents a new and insidious challenge to the very existence of Western civilization. It seems obvious that a religion with imperial goals that denies individual rights and recognition of other faiths is in inevitable conflict with the presumptive principles of the West.
On the economic front, China is in competition with the United States and Europe and appears to be unwilling to foster international rules of commerce, much less regional cooperation. While the World Trade Organization is designed to advance common understanding about trade, the body is adhered to selectively by the Chinese when it is in their interest to do so. At the Copenhagen climate summit the Chinese made it crystal clear that they would not agree to carbon dioxide reduction that diminished economic growth, no matter what the rest of the world thought or confirmed.
Meanwhile, U.S. policy makers ignore the obvious as they continue to plow ahead with their quixotic dreams for global cooperation. However, as I see it, this pursuit will only lead to the waste of resources, undermining our standing and challenging U.S. legitimacy. Of course, there are Europeans with visions of sugar plums dancing in their imagination who embrace this Wilsonian romance. But with each day that passes, Islamists, Chinese leaders, Latin American dictators, and African potentates act to undermine faith in the dream. The Wilsonian vision died in the twenties and thirties and was interred in World War II, but like a phoenix it has risen with a new generation of internationalists as devoted to the idea as their ancestors were and just as naive.
Where this internationalist surge will ultimately take us in not clear. But on one point there cannot be any confusion: contemporary Wilsonianism is undermining our national sovereignty. From accounting rules, to Law of the Sea, to trade agreements, to nuclear arms agreements, the U.S. is losing control of its own destiny. This is the brave new world where naiveté runs headlong into national ambition — a place where American dreams turn into a recurring nightmare.