The Democratic foreign policy reckoning

Is this the end of the liberal internationalist consensus?

Joe Biden.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Tanarch/iStock, -slav-/iStock)

In a recent interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo, former Vice President Joe Biden made his position on America's role in the world abundantly clear. "I come out of a generation where we were trying to be the policemen of the world," the Democratic presidential candidate said nostalgically, before condemning President Donald Trump for "dissing" our allies in NATO and embracing "thugs" like North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. "He's embracing Putin, who is a flat dictator," continued Biden, who then predicted that if Trump wins reelection in 2020, "there will be no NATO in four years or five years."

In just a few sentences, Biden summarized an attitude towards foreign policy that has been traditionally known as "liberal internationalism," one of the two dominant worldviews in American politics since the end of the Cold War. Liberal internationalism shares many of the same attitudes and commitments as the other leading post-Cold War ideology, neoconservatism. They are both committed to American hegemony and a unipolar world order, although the latter favors military intervention while the former typically prefers non-interventionist strategies like diplomacy and economic liberalization (i.e. free trade). Likewise, they both regard "American values" as universal, and therefore believe that the U.S. is not only entitled but obligated to promote these values around the world, sometimes by force. The former Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, summed up the common attitude of liberal internationalists and neoconservatives when she famously referred to the United States as an "indispensable nation" in the late nineties.

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Conor Lynch

Conor Lynch is a freelance journalist living in New York City. He has written for The New Republic, Salon, and Alternet.