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What Happened to World Order?

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In August 1990, President George H. W. Bush promised a “New World Order” in his address to the UN General Assembly. Bush was seeking international support in his run-up to the invasion of Iraq. He got his support, but world order was soon lost in the shuffle. He probably didn’t mean it anyway, given his often-claimed distaste for “that vision thing.”

Since then, world order has taken a deep backslide to lesser priorities in the U.S. political culture. The Governor of Arkansas ran in 1992 on the idea that “it’s the economy stupid;” Bush II tried “nation-building” in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Nearly two decades later, most of that area is either falling apart, fleeing to Europe, or hosting Islamic terrorists. The Obama Administration spent eight years “leading from behind,” about where we are now. President Trump has promised nostalgic greatness but cannot even fund a border wall.

This should not (necessarily) be taken critically; it’s “politics as usual,” or as it was once called “normalcy.” But war and peace are far above normalcy.

Since time began, mankind has tried to create order out of chaos. The record is, at best, mixed. The Peace of Westphalia, 1648, created the European nation-state system, now worldwide. But 1648 to now represents only five percent of recorded history (6000 years). What happened during the earlier ninety-five percent?

Most of recorded political history has consisted of single-centered rule, i.e. empire, dynasty, monarchy, or tyranny. In her classic book, Politics and Culture in International History (1960, 1994), Adda Bozeman has traced government up until the Congress of Vienna, 1815. With the single exception of ancient Athens, the remainder of political rule has been imperial, one-party, one ruler. Most of these are familiar names, but lost to posterity. The empires of China, the Mongols, India, Persia, Greek city-states, Alexander the Great, Islamic, the Ottomans, Roman Empire, Byzantine, Holy Roman Empire, the colonial empires of Britain, France, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Russia, Austria, Portugal. In more modern times, to name names: Napoleon, the Kaiser, Lenin, Stalin and their protégés, Hitler, Mussolini, Hadeki Tojo, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, Mao Tse-tung, Kim Jong-un, Saddam Hussein.

The efforts of modern totalitarian rulers have been based upon ideological fantasies that, from hindsight, have proven both tragic and ridiculous. Karl Marx may be the most famous philosopher since John Locke, but what country has been ruled by a “proletarian” revolt? There have been many “Communist” regimes, but not one remotely “Marxist.” Hitler’s prediction of a “Thousand Year Reich” lasted twelve years, while Mussolini wound up on the wrong end of a rope. Asian Communist governments are simply totalitarians under a false flag. What is left of Communism in Cuba: poverty and despotism.

The scarce efforts to organize the world democratically have been American-inspired but, like all the empires, have also failed. So far on earth, there has been no such thing as a “world government,” but many have tried.

The first attempt to organize a democratic world came with Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations in 1919. Not only was the League irrelevant in preventing World War II, but Wilson could not (or would not) even persuade the Senate to join. Franklin Roosevelt fared better with the United Nations in 1945, but the Cold War made the UN “stillborn” from the beginning. The end of the Cold War has seen an increasing anarchy envelop the globe, while the U.S. descends deeper into party and partisan bickering about who lies the most, what affidavit is accurate or not, and what a Supreme Court nominee did as a teenager.

Today’s politicians quarrel over almost everything, while the “war on terror” approaches its third decade. World Order is about as far removed from the culture as a Mars landing, while the daily shouting matches between the media and the administration sounds like recess at St. James elementary.

Where’s the light in this dark tunnel?

If U.S. politicians and media pundits find world order too distant for their intrigues, others find it compelling. Dr. Kissinger, in World Order (2014) traced the history of the idea and concluded that the Westphalian system was here to stay. Calling the need for order “the ultimate challenge … in our time,” Kissinger described the American role as “philosophically and geopolitically imperative [toward] a modernization of the Westphalian system informed by contemporary realities.”

Perhaps foreigners can inspire “normalcy.” On April 3, last, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addressed a joint session of Congress and suggested an expanded unity: “Together, we represent almost one billion people. We are half of the world’s economic might. And half of the world’s military might. When we stand together, we are stronger than any potential challenger.”

Spokesmen for the prodigious Atlantic Council have added specifics to this message. Mr. Damon Wilson of the Council told the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently that the United States “should lead a more concerted effort to thicken the political bonds between NATO and its global partners.” These included U.S. partners in both Asia and Latin America.

Messages such as the above reveal a need for “statesmanship” at the highest level by U.S. politicians. It is past time that both the Trump Administration and serious Members in Congress enroll American human and material resources to things higher than someone’s last conversation recoded on tape.

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