One way to understand the trajectory of American foreign policy after 1989 is to see that after the Cold War was won policymakers began to believe in the truth of that conflict’s propaganda. From the war to dislodge Iraq from Kuwait through the agonized response of the West to the genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the American-led countries of the West showed during the 1990s that they were losing the capacity to think strategically apart from moral concerns regarding the treatment of citizens within sovereign nations. It was in this period that the idea of fighting wars out of a “responsibility to protect” victims of injustice within countries first took strong hold in the minds of policymakers.

But it was only after the spectacular terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that this humanitarian impulse fully united with thinking about America’s national interests. Now foreign policy analysts across the center-right and center-left thought and spoke in terms of vast tautologies that equated what was good for America with what was good for the West, good for Israel and the rest of the Middle East, and good for humanity everywhere. To disagree with America’s actions in the world was to make oneself an enemy of civilization itself. You were either with us or with the nihilistic terrorists.

This mode of thinking reached an apex of sorts in George W. Bush’s second inaugural address, which defended his own militaristic foreign policy as motived by nothing less than the goal of “ending tyranny in our world” and explicitly asserted that “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.”