According to mainstream opinion, the George W. Bush administration's assertive unilateralism represents a temporary departure from the traditional foreign policy of the United States, one that will be rectified by a change of personnel in the White House in 2009. This interpretation of recent trends in U.S. policy is illusory. The Bush administration's foreign policy, far from representing an aberration, marks the end of an era; it is a symptom, as much as a cause, of the unraveling of the liberal internationalist compact that guided the United States for more than half a century. The geopolitical and domestic conditions that gave rise to liberal internationalism have disappeared, eroding its bipartisan political foundations. In today's partisan landscape, the challenge is devising a grand strategy that not only meets the country's geopolitical needs but also is politically sustainable. A strategy that is as judicious and selective as it is purposeful offers the best hope for moving the United States toward a more stable and solvent political equilibrium.
The West is turning inward. Donald Trump’s presidency, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, and the spread of populist parties in Europe are the most visible signs of this retreat. The shift is not as recent as these examples suggest, however. Drawing on an array of cross-national data for twenty-four industrialized democracies and hundreds of political parties in those democracies, we show that domestic support for liberal internationalism has been receding for twenty-five years across the West. We show that since the end of the Cold War a large and widening gap has opened up between Western democracies’ international ambitions and their domestic political capacity to support them. As Western governments came to rely increasingly on economic globalization, institutionalized cooperation, and multilateral governance, mainstream parties that backed these efforts lost electoral ground to parties on the radical-left and increasingly, the anti-globalist radical-right that have been the vehicles of the current backlash. We discuss the implications of these trends for the Western liberal international order and the strategies now on offer to repair it.
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