The West’s dangerously tattered relations with Russia emerged from new foreign policy thinking introduced into U.S. international relations by Bill Clinton. This thinking, tenaciously embraced by elites in the West and Europe since the end of the Cold War, starts with the notion that the world has moved beyond the foreign-policy realism of earlier days, focused on power interrelationships, the need to recognize the imperatives of national interest and the goal of maintaining global stability through equilibriums of force. The new thinking rejects all this in favor of the idea that stability is best maintained by spreading democratic sensibilities and institutions around the world, fostering the rule of law, and promoting economic interdependence. In this view, nations that don’t get with the program are fair game for aggressive counterthrusts, including economic sanctions, intrusions into their spheres of influence, regime-change initiatives, bombing campaigns and even invasion. Despite the brutality that often emerges under this rubric, and the havoc it has wreaked around the globe, it is justified on the thesis that the ultimate goal encompasses sweetness and light—more people living under benign democratic regimes committed to world peace.
It’s a mirage, of course, but a powerful one. In policy terms, it began with Bill Clinton—and is carried forward with even more ardor by Hillary Clinton.
Robert W. Merry is a contributing editor at the National Interest and an author of books on American history and foreign policy.
Image: Former President Bill Clinton at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona. Flickr/Gage Skidmore.