The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Liberal internationalism in a nutshell

August 28, 2008

I’m watching PBS coverage of the 2008 Democratic Convention. In response to Bill Clinton’s line about how the world is more impressed by the power of the United States’ example than the example of its power, Brooks quipped (I paraphrase): “I don’t think Vladimir Putin or Ahmadinejad will be impressed by our example.”

But that completely misses the point. The wager of liberal internationalism is that the United States can better achieve its objectives by building strong alliances through multilateral cooperation. The aim isn’t to “impress” people like Ahmadinejad, but to impress the leaders we need to place concerted leverage on Ahmadinejad.

There’s a legitimate debate about whether that kind of policy will work. Just as there’s a legitimate debate about whether the last eight years of Brooks’ preferred policies have proven effective against Ahmadinejad. But Brooks’ simplistic dismissal of the policy choices hardly, if you’ll excuse me, impresses.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.