Coming back to Beinart’s article again, I wanted to address his main argument that neoconservatives should be dubbed imperialists. In addition to the supposedly greater accuracy of the label, Beinart gives his reason for wanting to do this:
Call the people who want America to dominate the world militarily without the constraints of international institutions and international law “imperialists.” Yes, the term has negative connotations, but what distinguishes people like Kristol and Abrams from those liberals who also support military force in places like Bosnia and Syria is precisely the former’s open scorn for the idea that America should be bound by rules that other nations help craft [bold mine-DL].
Beinart is proposing to revive the mostly useless and misleading distinction between hawkish unilateralists and hawkish multilateralists that flourished in the previous decade, and the goal is to separate liberal interventionists from their Republican counterparts. Yes, the hawkish multilateralists may wage wars that stretch or openly violate international law, but they do so while paying lip service to a “rules-based international order,” which somehow makes everything all right. Beinart mentions Syria, which is a strange example to cite if he wants to emphasize the difference between liberal interventionists and neoconservatives. There is no international mandate for the use of force in Syria, and there is not likely to be one, but that hasn’t stopped at least a few prominent liberal interventionists from calling for some form of military intervention. Some liberal interventionists are content to ignore the constraints of international law when they deem it appropriate, which is part of what Stephen Walt was mocking in his much-criticized ridicule of liberal interventionists (or, as he put it, “liberal imperialists”). In that respect, as Noah observed in his earlier post, they are not all that different from neoconservatives in their disdain for international law. Beinart would like to pin the imperialist label only on neoconservatives and their allies because he wants to exaggerate the differences between them and liberal hawks, but by Beinart’s own standards it would be appropriate to apply it to many of the latter as well.