Greenfield: The Old World Order
When President George H.W. Bush delivered a speech to Congress envisioning the emergence of a “new world order”, he had it backward. The new world order wasn’t emerging, it was over.
A “new world”, Bush claimed, “is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we’ve known” and he shared that vision with Gorbachev. The Soviet Leader, a year away from being toppled, who had cut his teeth on Communist visions of a new world being born only to inherit a failing system that could no longer win wars or feed its own people, must have been amused.
Gorbachev understood what Bush did not, that no new world order was coming, an old world order was returning. Bush lasted a year longer in office than his Soviet counterpart. And yet his own farewell speech couldn’t help but echo Bush, declaring, “we live in a new world now.”
The new world we live in now is one where Russia is trying to rebuild a Czarist empire, and China, Iran, and every other power or power that was, is fighting to recreate its glory days.
The patchwork international order had been a product of the Cold War that Bush and Gorbachev were eagerly bidding farewell to. Globalism, or the post-Cold War international order based on trade, human rights and conferences proved to be as much of a joke as the UN, the WTO, the NGOs and the multilateral organizations that served as its shaky infrastructure.
Bush envisioned “a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle” and “nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice” on the brink of the original Gulf War.
But the only law that ever existed was the law of force enforced by self-interest or idealism.
Last year, Secretary of State Blinken declared that human rights would be at the center of our foreign policy, but that other nations would have to make it happen. “Promoting respect for human rights is not something we can do alone, but is best accomplished working with our allies and partners across the globe,” he claimed. The chosen venue for the job was the Human Rights Council whose members include China, Cuba, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia and Venezuela.
As the old political gag goes, “These are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others.”
The new world order means world leaders gathering for a NATO summit that accomplishes nothing except the indignity of Finland and Sweden having to bribe an Islamist butcher in Turkey for the privilege of membership in the hope that if Russia comes for them, we’ll defend them.
In the real world, Finland will be on its own just as it was against the USSR and Germany.
The old world order is the reality that once the meetings are done and the conferences are over, every country is all alone. Virtue signaling globalism means that everyone will fly Ukrainian flags, just as they expressed solidarity with Hong Kong and will hashtag Taiwan at need.
And then they’ll move on to the next political outrage, celebrity gossip or trending news.
In his address on September 11, 1990, Bush called Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, the “first assault on the new world that we seek, the first test of our mettle.” The first test also proved to be the last. The Iraq wars would shatter any bipartisan and multilateral appetite for American interventions. Obama’s Syrian red line, Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine all mark the slow collapse of the potemkin village erected in the nineties.
The myth of a new world order and its illusion of collective security is worse than the reality of the old world order, offering popular protesters and small countries the false hope that some international consensus or military intervention will come to their aid when help isn’t coming.
Instead of 19th century realpolitik or late 20th century internationalism, we have a much more expensive and imaginary version of the League of Nations. Countless billions of dollars and endless hours are spent propping up an imaginary new world order of a world without war when it would be much healthier for us and for everyone else to acknowledge that none of it is real.
The world isn’t governed by law, but by force, and no one is coming to save anyone. Not us.
The United States isn’t entirely out of the intervention business, but our international forces are deployed for deterrence purposes. Rather than fighting to change things, we are managing the decline. That’s what our troops were doing in Afghanistan for at least a decade, trying to keep one of our old potemkin villages, a “democratic” government, from its inevitable defeat and fall.
Other powers and movements, from Russia and China to Sunni and Shiite Islam, are expanding while America remains committed to a failed vision of a static world. A shrinking West, avidly being colonized by the rest of the world, touts decolonization. But the West has few colonies, instead its cities, London, Los Angeles, and Toronto, are rapidly becoming third world colonies.
America first embraced the ideal of a new world order when it ceased to expand territorially. A century of wars for democracy, along with drastically falling birth rates, convinced Europe to cease its expansionism, but the rest of the world has not decided to be happy with what it has.
World powers seek to restore or build empires, carving up regions into spheres of influence, intimidating, invading, and conquering smaller nations. That old world order was always the defining reality. The Cold War era incorporated it into a larger struggle against Communism, but afterward, the same ugliness continued stripped of any pretense of a world revolution.
With the old world order, the United States can continue to impotently preach Bush’s vision of Americans, “together with Arabs, Europeans, Asians, and Africans in defense of principle and the dream of a new world order” or think about what an American future really looks like.
One in which America is no longer declining or tethered to maintaining an illusory new order.
A century of tired arguments have reduced us to the false choice between isolationism and internationalism. But at the height of our rising power in the 19th century, the United States was neither. It was not afraid of asserting its ideals, but neither was it foolish enough to believe that the rest of the world would go along or that we were obligated to make them all behave. We primarily pursued our own interests and we were not afraid of a little expansionism either.
Most importantly, we did not see our place in the world as bound by the rest of the world.
American foreign policy has come to be a prisoner of a global construct. Its exponents have shouldered a global burden that no empire in history has ever been able to carry. Americans have been told to take on the responsibility for the freedom and happiness of the entire world. Our national policy is to first conceive of how the world should be and then try to bring it about.
But a better world doesn’t begin with American self-sacrifice, but with a greater America.
America can best serve the world by being itself. The new world order never really existed and pretending that it did does no favors to the countries who might actually depend on it. Instead of trying to mobilize the world, America can provide a meaningful alternative for the world.
The American Revolution and the Constitution ushered in the true new world order not by seeking to control the world, but by showing the human race what was possible. Every effort to outdo that order with a new world order has failed. And Bush’s, like Gorbachev’s, has joined the trash heap of history. The real new world order is not one that envisions a transformed humanity, but that empowers individuals, not nations, not from the top, but from the bottom.
The constitutional order is not the end of history, but the beginning of humanity.