As for values, there is no need for Americans to become moral or cultural relativists. But while individuals and private groups can proselytize for what they hold to be universal values—whether in the form of postmodern secular liberalism or evangelical Protestantism—it is not in the national interest for the U.S. government to treat all states that do not share them as illegitimate regimes.
In short, where genuine American interests and useful alliances are at stake, the United States should defend them vigorously against China, Russia or any other country. But it is folly to continue to equate America’s national interest with the creation and defense of a global Pax Americana, which America’s rivals reject, and which America’s allies are unlikely to exert themselves to defend. Only by balancing its resources and commitments can the United States help to lead the world back from the new cold war to a new cold peace.
Michael Lind is a contributing editor of the National Interest and author of The American Way of Strategy.