This Wall Street Journal interview with Charles Hill is a mess. I’ll start with some of Hill’s bad analysis of the current scene:
But, he says, “The democracy wave that began 20 years ago [at the end of the Cold War] is now turning backward.” Why? “The conduct of the Obama administration.”
In fact, Freedom House has been measuring a global decline in freedom since the mid-2000s, and democratization started stalling out or going into reverse in many countries several years ago. Most of this had nothing to do with U.S. policy one way or the other. There are many causes of this decline, and they vary from country to country. The coup against Thaksin in Thailand was followed by middle-class backlash against the expanded democratic system, and both of these were part of a broader phenomenon of countries that democratized in the 1990s and started reverting to a more restricted regime in the 2000s. As a Newsweek editorial from 2010 put it:
In 2005, Freedom House noted that only nine countries experienced rollbacks of democracy; in its report in 2009, it registered declines in “40 countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union.” Indeed, the organization found that the number of electoral democracies had fallen back to 116, its lowest number since 1995.
The culprits in democracy’s decline may come as a surprise. Many of the same middle-class men and women who once helped push dictators out of power are now seeing just how difficult it can be to establish democracy, and are pining for the days of autocracy.
In more recent developments, Hungary and Turkey have not moved towards effective one-party rule because of anything the U.S. did, but because of the collapse of the opposition in Hungary and the success of the AKP in building and consolidating power. To the extent that the “freedom agenda” had an influence, the results were generally not so good. U.S. support for “color” revolutions contributed to the erosion of political liberties and the consolidation of one-party or authoritarian rule in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. The “democracy wave” has been receding for some time in many parts of the world, this has been happening mostly because of internal political and economic conditions that the U.S. doesn’t control. In many cases, this has involved the weakening of independent institutions and the rule of law at the hands of popularly-elected parties and leaders.
Hill also said:
My view is that every major modern war has been waged against this international system. That is, the empire strikes back. World War I is a war of empires which comes to its culmination point when a state gets into it. That’s the United States.
The distinction between empire and state seems to be fairly meaningless as he’s using it here. An empire is a kind of state, and many of the post-1648 states Hill mentions in the interview were dynastic states that technically still belonged to the Holy Roman Empire after Westphalia. The U.S. was already a continental empire by European standards well before America acquired overseas colonies, and by the time America entered WWI it was also an imperial power. There were major territorial empires on both sides of WWI, but that doesn’t tell us very much. The Central Powers were fighting against the three largest colonial powers of their time, and they aspired to being on an equal footing with them. The Entente was made up of status quo powers. The post-war settlement suited the interests of the surviving victorious empires, which acquired new territories to rule over.