When matters didn’t go quite so smoothly, and when some groups in these liberal societies were in fact harmed by these developments, a degree of backlash was inevitable. It didn’t help that elites in many liberal countries made some critical blunders, including the creation of the euro, the invasion of Iraq, the misguided attempt to nation-build in Afghanistan, and the 2008 financial crisis. These and other mistakes helped undermine the legitimacy of the post-Cold War order, open the door to illiberal forces, and left some segments of society vulnerable to nativist appeals.
Efforts to spread a liberal world order also faced predictable opposition from the leaders and groups who were directly threatened by our efforts. It was hardly surprising that Iran and Syria did what they could to thwart U.S. efforts in Iraq, for example, because the George W. Bush administration had made it clear these regimes were on its hit list, too. Similarly, is it that hard to fathom why Chinese and Russian leaders find Western efforts to spread “liberal” values threatening, or why they have taken various steps to forestall them?
Liberals also forgot that successful liberal societies require more than the formal institutions of democracy. They also depend on a broad and deep commitment to the underlying values of a liberal society….