Small Wars Journal

The Cost of American Retreat

The Cost of American Retreat by Robert Kagan – Wall Street Journal

The liberal world order established by the United States a little over seven decades ago is collapsing. This should not be surprising. It was always a historical anomaly. The long period of prosperity, widespread democracy and peace among the great powers was a dramatic departure from the historical norm. It certainly was not where the world had been heading before 1945.

Less than 80 years ago, liberalism outside North America was on its death bed. Dictatorships were thriving, the great powers were fighting their second global conflagration, and acts of unspeakable inhumanity were being committed in the very heart of Western Judeo-Christian civilization and in the ancient civilizations of the East. The very idea of progress seemed absurd.

The dramatic change of course after 1945 was not due to some sudden triumph of our better angels or embrace of Enlightenment principles that had been around for centuries, nor was it the natural unfolding of Universal History in the direction of liberalism. Liberal ideals triumphed because, for the first time, they had power behind them. A new player arose on the international scene: the United States. It possessed a unique and advantageous geography, a large, productive population, unprecedented economic and military power, a national ideology based on liberal principles, and a willingness, after the war, to use its power to establish and sustain a global order roughly consistent with those principles.

That order—with its mutually reinforcing security, economic and political components—has created a geographical and geopolitical space in which liberalism has taken root, spread and evolved. But it was always artificial and tenuous, challenged from within and without by natural forces—the always potent antiliberal aspects of human nature and the competitive and anarchic tendencies of geopolitics. Like a garden, it can last only so long as it is tended and protected. Today, the U.S. seems bent on relinquishing its duties in pushing back the jungle…

Read on.