A lot has been made about the foreign policy establishment and national security wisemen (and women) failing us in the lead up to the Iraq War. This is true, and many people (i.e. policy experts) who should have known better were too eager to support Bush administration policy without acknowledging the many risks and long-term consequences. I see much of this as the result of informational cascades (combined with several personal visions of foreign policy idealism), though that explanation may be too simplistic. In response, there has been a sort of anti-Iraq triumphalism, in which war critics continue to scold and dismiss the foreign policy establishment on a host of issues for being wrong about Iraq. But there are limits on how useful this new “We Were Right About Iraq” foreign set can be; in the future, I’ll continue to put my money on the analysis of Matt Yglesias instead of Atrios.
That’s why I think this Matt Zeitlin post nails it:
Michael Cohen and Shadi Hamid are parts of the dreaded “foreign policy community” and they showed judgment on Iraq, as did Lawrence Korb, Zbigniew Brzezinski and many others in the FPC. And until Greenwald and Atrios can show that a policy based around US preeminence, or a foreign policy mindset based around preeminence, necessitates tragic, stupid wars like Iraq and that they have an alternate way to look at foreign policy, or actual alternate proposals on hard issues besides “the War in Iraq was shitty and we shouldn’t invade Iran,” I’ll be sticking with the Foreign Policy Community.
US preeminence adds a level of stability to international relations that some on the left overlook, or simply choose to ignore. This is also an important point that Josef Joeffe raises in Überpower:
Would they really want to re-create the world of yesteryear, a world run, and more often ruined, by competative community? In centuries past, multipolarity did not serve as a pillar of peace. Its price was recurring war. (211)
The alternative to American primacy (without strong international institutions) is a world not unlike the 18th and early 20th century. As Joffe notes, these eras were marked by Britain and France vying for power on multiple fronts during the Seven Years War and the entangling alliances and power grab mess that lead to WWI and WWII. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the international order is likely to degrade into a Hobbesian state, but rather that other states have more room to act and pursue illiberal policies (like China supporting Sudan through oil purchases) or low-level conflicts spiraling into all out battles for land and supremacy. Like it or not, the US is, in the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the linchpin of global stability.