Explaining American Foreign Policy: Obama’s Liberal Internationalism v. Bush’s Neoconservativism

by Julian Ku

Walter Russell Mead has an illuminating post on the liberal internationalist tendencies of the Obama Administration.  Putting aside whether or not liberal internationalism is, as Mead puts it, “a strategic mistake that leads a lot of people inside the administration and well beyond it to make consistently bad decisions about American foreign policy.”, I find his post fascinating for its classification of different approaches to foreign policy and international law.  According to Mead, foreign policy decision makers in both the Bush and Obama administration arein favor of the promotion of liberal democracy and human rights. The real difference is how to do so: neoconservativism tends to support unilateral or at least liberal coalitions acting alone whereas liberal internationalists are deeply committed to international institutions and their legal processes. Anyway, something worth keeping in mind. I wonder if “liberal internationalism” will ultimately acquire the same kind of negative connotation that neoconservatism currently has.


One Response

  1. The philosophy of liberal internationalism implies that there is increased state security by developing economic ties and muting competition for power on the international stage.  Offensive realism, briefly stated, states that great powers seek more power at the expense of others.  Each philosophy carries risk, the former by ignoring intense and potentially dangerous rivalries and the latter by seeking aggressive confrontation.  Of course neither theory is followed absolutely.  The real question seems to be whether or not this administration, or any other, actually has a coherent guiding philosophy.  It seems this administration lacks coherence and instead has opted for muting tensions with our enemies or potential enemies while separating ourselves from our friends and allies.

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