Something went badly wrong. Most people’s view of U.S. foreign policy today, in 2018, is starkly different from what it was in 2003, much less the early 1990s. Pessimism, not optimism, dominates most assessments of America’s accomplishments during its holiday from realism. Under Presidents Bush and Barack Obama, Washington has played a key role in sowing death and destruction across the greater Middle East, and there is little evidence the mayhem will end anytime soon. American policy toward Ukraine, motivated by liberal logic, is principally responsible for the ongoing crisis between Russia and the West. The United States has been at war for two out of every three years since 1989, fighting seven different wars. We should not be surprised by this. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom in the West, a liberal foreign policy is not a formula for cooperation and peace but for instability and conflict.
In this book I focus on the period between 1993 and 2017, when the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, each in control of American foreign policy for eight years, were fully committed to pursuing liberal hegemony. Although President Obama had some reservations about that policy, they mattered little for how his administration actually acted abroad. I do not consider the Trump administration for two reasons. First, as I was finishing this book it was difficult to determine what President Trump’s foreign policy would look like, although it is clear from his rhetoric during the 2016 campaign that he recognizes that liberal hegemony has been an abject failure and would like to abandon key elements of that strategy. Second, there is good reason to think that with the rise of China and the resurrection of Russian power having put great power politics back on the table, Trump eventually will have no choice but to move toward a grand strategy based on realism, even if doing so meets with considerable resistance at home.
John J. Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. His many books include The Tragedy of Great Power Politics and Conventional Deterrence .
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