"Europeans and Americans both find the Kantian vision of a bureaucratic world state incorporating basic European cultural ideas about states and laws very natural," Mead writes. But others -- East Asians, South Asians, Middle Easterners, Latin Americans -- don't.
They bridle at International Monetary Fund restraints and conduct their affairs so as to be independent of it. They have blocked agreement in the Doha trade talks. They create their own regional economic institutions -- ASEAN, Mercosur -- that may resemble the European Union but also declare their independence of it. They bridle at outside interference, as India did when Obama agreed to recognize as legitimate China's interest in South Asian affairs.
Moreover, the economic interests of the rapidly growing nations of what we once called the Third World are in conflict with the slow-growth environmental policies of Europe and North America. This was made clear, Mead points out, at last year's Copenhagen summit, which was supposed to produce a binding treaty pledging to reduce carbon emissions.
Barack Obama, on his second unsuccessful trip to Copenhagen in one year, managed to stitch together a deal with Brazil, China, India and South Africa that amounted to kicking the can down the road. "The process-loving, Kantian Europeans," Mead writes, "weren't even in the room."
What now? "Rather than chasing liberal internationalist mirages," Mead says, "we should focus on what we want and need, think about how we can get as much of it as possible at the best price -- and go for it in the most efficient way possible."
That sounds a lot like George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing." Unfortunately, the Obama approach of kicking our friends and groveling to the unfriendly heads us in the wrong direction. Our relations with India, Japan and the Eastern European democracies are distinctly chillier than they were under Bush. Our outstretched hand to Iran still meets a clenched fist.
All of which certainly makes humanitarian intervention unlikely in the near future. Historians of Europe may consider a chastened and unventuresome America a good thing. Victims of oppression with no aid in sight may take a different view.