In his tweet-storm follow-up to advocating regime change in China, Kristol claimed that he wasn’t calling for war with China to forcibly overthrow its government. That’s quite a relief. But what was he proposing instead? That the U.S. act as “a force for freedom in the world,” which requires us to do whatever we can to change “un-free regimes to free ones, or freer ones. This means regime change….”

But why should the stated goal of American foreign policy be the overthrow of the government of a major rising power in the world? Why shouldn’t we aim, instead, to prudently check China’s rise and cultivate a mutually beneficial working relationship? Kristol’s response points directly to the second and more ominous mark of neocon foreign policy thinking. The U.S. needs to affirm the goal of spreading freedom (understood, of course and without justification, in American terms) to “all people everywhere.” But why should this be our goal? What national interest does it advance? Here is Kristol’s answer: “The goal of freedom with its noble simplicity and even quiet grandeur … gives meaning and elevation to the American experiment.”

That is neoconservatism in its essence — and what separates it from other varieties of hawkish foreign policy thinking: the U.S. should seek to destabilize governments around the globe, even in the most populous nation on Earth, not primarily because it will advance our international interests, or the good of the people of Asia, or the good of the Chinese people, but because pursuing a moralistically confrontational foreign policy will be good for the United States domestically.