For the first time in recent memory, large numbers of Americans are openly questioning their country’s grand strategy. An April 2016 Pew poll found that 57 percent of Americans agree that the United States should “deal with its own problems and let others deal with theirs the best they can.” On the campaign trail, both the Democrat Bernie Sanders and the Republican Donald Trump found receptive audiences whenever they questioned the United States’ penchant for promoting democracy, subsidizing allies’ defense, and intervening militarily—leaving only the likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to defend the status quo.
Americans’ distaste for the prevailing grand strategy should come as no surprise, given its abysmal record over the past quarter century. In Asia, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are expanding their nuclear arsenals, and China is challenging the status quo in regional waters. In Europe, Russia has annexed Crimea, and U.S. relations with Moscow have sunk to new lows since the Cold War. U.S. forces are still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, with no victory in sight. Despite losing most of its original leaders, al Qaeda has metastasized across the region. The Arab world has fallen into turmoil—in good part due to the United States’ decisions to effect regime change in Iraq and Libya and its modest efforts to do the same in Syria—and the Islamic State, or ISIS, has emerged out of the chaos. Repeated U.S. attempts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace have failed, leaving a two-state solution further away than ever. Meanwhile, democracy has been in retreat worldwide, and the United States’ use of torture, targeted killings, and other morally dubious practices has tarnished its image as a defender of human rights and international law.
The United States does not bear sole responsibility for all these costly debacles, but it has had a hand in most of them. The setbacks are the natural consequence of the misguided grand strategy of liberal hegemony that Democrats and Republicans have pursued for years.