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Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column today shows that the uber-pundit continues to perform a crucial dual public service. He both articulates as clearly as possible the usually unspoken assumptions underlying the globalist foreign policy approach pursued by the establishments of the two major American political parties for decades, and (unwittingly, to be sure) he reveals how childish they are. 

In his discussion of the African migrants crisis faced by Italy and other countries of southern Europe, Friedman once again credits “global cooperation and rule-making” with making “America, Europe and the world as a whole steadily freer, more stable and more prosperous since World War II.”

As I’ve pointed out, these successes owed not to any institutions-based “liberal global order” but to the American power and wealth that underwrote the defense of Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea and the recreation of a functioning international economy (until the Cold War ended, of course, one confined to the bounds of the non-communist world).

But what distinguishes today’s article – and pushes it into the realm of fantasy – is the author’s claim that this order and its institutions and procedures have “managed the key global issues after W.W. II — like trade, migration, environment and human rights….”

How do we know this is fantasy? Because Friedman himself emphasizes here that the migrants crisis remains out of control. Moreover, the world trade system is proving woefully unable to handle the challenge of China’s predatory government-private sector hybrid economy. The management claim, meanwhile, is sure hard to square with Friedman’s own nearly innumerable warnings that climate change is about to destroy the planet unless dramatic steps are taken immediately.

And although the world is unmistakably freer than before World War II, again it’s been American power – not any set of worldwide institutions and rules – that’s been primarily responsible. Further, a major elite commentator meme nowadays of course is that freedom has taken some important hits lately – e.g., because of the rise of allegedly authoritarian populists on both sides of the Atlantic, because Russia’s post-Cold War experiment with genuine democracy proved so short-lived, and because China’s widely anticipated evolution toward greater political (and economic) openness never even got started.

I’m also grateful to Friedman for creating another opportunity for me to explain why dismissing the importance of international institutions and rules does not amount to dismissing the importance of international cooperation in addressing the varied and important worldwide problems that transcend borders.

As I’ve most recently written in my June National Interest article on the superiority of a genuine America First foreign policy, there’s no reasonable question that in order to deal with pollution and disease and climate shifts (whether man-made or not, they can create terrible common problems) countries will need to meet and figure out how to respond jointly.

But since the agreed-on solutions will not affect every country equally, or benefit every country equally, it will be vital for the United States to push for the measures that most effectively promote and preserve its own interests. Further, since Washington will not be able to count on persuasion solely or even largely to accomplish this goal, it will need to make sure that it possesses the only other advantages capable of shaping the outcomes favorably – power and wealth. Accept no substitutes.

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