Writing at the New York Times David Brooks paints a rosy picture of the old, longed-for days of foreign policy idealism:
The postwar order was a great historic achievement. The founding generation built a series of organizations and alliances to fight communism, create a stable trading system, combat global poverty and promote democracy.
But the next generation lost the thread.
European elites were so afraid of nationalism that they fell for the illusory dream of convergence — the dream that nations could effortlessly merge into a cosmopolitan Pan-European community. Conservatives across the Western world became so besotted with the power of the market that they forgot what capitalism is like when it’s not balanced by strong communities.
Progressives were so besotted with their own educated-class expertise that they concentrated power upward and away from the people at the same time that technology was pushing power downward and toward the people. Elites of all stripes were so detached they didn’t see how untrammeled meritocracy divides societies between the “fittest” and the rest.
The Group of 7 is an organization built in a high-trust age. It’s based on the idea that the member nations have shared values, have shared historical accomplishments, have a carefully nurtured set of relationships and live in a community of general friendship. Canada and the U.S. are neighbors and friends.
I think that David Brooks has spent too much time reading the press releases and not nearly enough observing what the countries of the world do.
It didn’t just start in 2017. Go all the way back to the Suez Crisis and you’ll see that the countries of the world operate according to their gross, greedy national interests regardless of the rules. If Egypt had played by the rules, it wouldn’t have nationalized the Suez Canal. If France and the United Kingdom had played by the rules, they wouldn’t have attacked Egypt without Security Council authorization.
If the U. S. had played by the rules, it wouldn’t have attempted to overthrow the Cuban government in the Bay of Pigs incident or gone to war in Vietnam.
The Soviet Union’s invading Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968 or Afghanistan in 1979 wasn’t playing by the rules.
More recently intervening in the civil war in Yugoslavia without Security Council authorization was not playing by the rules.
Bombing government facilities in Yugoslavia is not playing by the rules.
Siding with the rebels against the Libyan government is not playing by the rules which allowed Britain, France, and the United States to intervene for the narrow purpose of protecting civilians not to overthrow the Libyan government.
Invading Iraq was not playing by the rules.
Engaging in military action in Syria is against the rules.
Selling Iran and North Korea the materials they needed for their nuclear development programs was against the rules.
China’s not living up to its WTO commitments and subsidizing exports is against the rules.
Our NATO allies’ spending less than 2% of their GDPs on their militaries is against the rules.
The list is practically endless.
In his op-ed at the Wall Street Journal David M. Smick gets it:
Start in 1989. That remarkable year saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the socialist model, and the rise of globalization. By the early 1990s, China, India, Eastern Europe and a host of commodity-producing countries had joined the global capitalist club.
That was the beginning of the so-called Washington Consensus—a new global order based on deregulating market access, liberalizing capital and trade flows, encouraging domestic competition, fortifying the rule of law, and reducing taxes, debt and market subsidies. By 1995, the leaders of this new world order established the World Trade Organization, which China joined six years later.
This global order still had created unprecedented wealth, helping to raise a billion people out of poverty. But it also had led to wealth inequality, flat real wages, and an international financial system hugely out of balance. Central banks injected tens of trillions of dollars of liquidity, trying to protect asset prices based on an order that no longer existed.
It eventually became clear that the original vision of a new global economic order was only a romanticized dream. Many nations took part in the global system—but not to liberalize their economies or make them more transparent and accessible. They came to game the system.
It’s a realistic world and naïfs like David Brooks are just living in it. And prospering mightily by it.
If you genuinely want to pursue foreign policy idealism, you must be willing to play by the rules that have been set up whether you like them or not, whether you benefit by them or not. Otherwise you’re just gaming the system and that isn’t foreign policy idealism. It’s realism.