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Msg  5385 of 5463  at  2/7/2023 6:03:24 AM  by


The World Rejects the Wilsonian Order; Global liberals cling to the internationalist

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The World Rejects the Wilsonian Order; Global liberals cling to the internationalist vision, but its appeal is fading everywhere.

 Walter Russell Mead.  Wall Street Journal (Online); New York, N.Y.

Ninety nine years ago this month, Woodrow Wilson, crippled by strokes and humiliated by the Republican landslide of 1920, lay dying in Washington. His dream of a liberal, rules-based world order survived him, however, and the Western response to Vladimir Putin's attack on Ukraine demonstrates how powerful his legacy remains.

Liberal internationalists around the world believe that global institutions (like Wilson's ill-fated League of Nations) can replace the anarchic, often deadly, power struggles between nations with a system of orderly management that brings the rule of law to a weary world. Institutions like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, as well as agreements like the Paris climate accords, reflect efforts by diplomats and politicians in the U.S. and abroad to create the kind of world that Wilson sought.

For Wilson's modern heirs, technocratic governance through rules-based international institutions represents humanity's last, best hope to avoid cataclysmic disruptions ranging from world wars to climate change. From this perspective, Mr. Putin's defiant international rule-breaking threatens the foundations of Wilsonian order. If a great power gets away with breaking the rules this egregiously, humanity falls back into a nuclear jungle.

Mr. Putin's challenge to Wilsonian order is why so many liberals, especially in the U.S. and Europe, have become uber-interventionist on Ukraine. Many expected traditional national-security hawks would rally to oppose Mr. Putin's assault on his neighbor. What was more surprising and, given the politics of the Democratic Party and the Biden administration, more consequential for American foreign policy, was the response of Wilsonian liberals to the war. Normally dovish columnists and members of Congress now cry "praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!" as they urge Western governments to step up shipments of advanced weaponry and supplies to Ukraine.

Within the Biden administration, the struggle is among three groups: liberal internationalists, who want America and the West to do what it takes to ensure that Russia loses the war; pragmatists who want to check Russia but fear Russian escalation and believe that the war will inevitably end in a compromise peace that falls short of Wilsonian hopes; and Asia-firsters who worry that U.S. support for Ukraine reduces America's ability to face the more consequential and long-term threat from China. President Biden has tried to stay in the middle, giving Ukraine more support than the pragmatists and Asia hands prefer, but dribbling it out more slowly than the Wilsonians would like.

For Wilsonians, world politics today is less about great-power rivalries between the U.S. and rivals like China and Russia and more about the struggle between principles and selfishness, order and chaos, democracy and authoritarianism. Wilsonians hailed the recent wins of a pro-Western candidate in the Czech election and of Lula da Silva over Trump ally Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil as victories in the global struggle for liberal order.

Last week German chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Lula to celebrate his victory over Mr. Bolsonaro—and to ask Brazil to send ammunition to Ukraine. Lula accepted the congratulations but turned down the request. Brazil, like India, South Africa and much of the rest of the world, wants nothing to do with Wilsonian crusades.

Lula's skepticism reflects decades of wariness in the Global South about the Wilsonian agenda. To the degree that Wilsonian institutions work, much of the Global South sees them as instruments of Western domination that should be feared and resisted.

But it is the failures of Wilsonian order more than its successes that have dramatically undercut its popularity outside the Euro-American bubble. Take the pandemic. Rich countries protected themselves and their citizens; poor countries scrambled for scraps. This has been largely true during Mr. Putin's war as well. Mr. Scholz is spending freely to protect German industry and consumers from high energy prices, but he brought Lula no promises of financial aid adequate to the economic disruption that Western sanctions on Russia have brought to Brazil.

As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said last month in Davos, Switzerland, the world's rich countries fail to grasp just how alienated from the Western world system the Global South has become. Warning of the " gravest levels of geopolitical division and mistrust in generations," Mr. Guterres went on to describe an immense gap between what the West is willing to do and what the South wants.

That gap won't be closed; neither in Europe nor the U.S. is there anything like a political consensus for the kinds of economic concessions and aid that poor countries want. Meanwhile, the one massive benefit that the liberal world order brought the Global South, the opportunity to grow rich through free trade, is being steadily undermined by rising protectionism across the West.

Wilson's world order-building efforts collapsed because he overestimated the political appeal of his principles in the U.S. and abroad. A similar blindness afflicts his 21st-century heirs. We must hope that their failure will be less consequential than his.


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