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Flags of member nations fly outside of the United Nations headquarters in New York, Sept. 18, 2007 (AP photo by Mary Altaffer).

Was the Liberal International Order All That?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Bemoaning the death of the “liberal international order” began as a cottage industry under President Barack Obama. It has gone to scale under President Donald Trump. The reason is obvious: The main threat to an open, rule-bound world order no longer comes from outside, but from within. The American foreign policy establishment is in full grief mode as the Trump administration dismantles the handiwork of its predecessors.

Before mourning, though, it makes sense to confirm that the deceased was once actually alive. A year ago in Beijing, I encountered a Chinese scholar of revisionist bent. After several Americans lamented the fate of the liberal world order, he questioned whether the rosy past they missed had ever existed. Sure, the U.S.-led postwar system had had a good run. But it had not been especially liberal, truly international, nor particularly orderly. ...

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