The gist of this vision is that American values and security can be preserved only so long as the United States promotes democracy and liberalism throughout the world; otherwise, “authoritarianism and illiberalism” will spread, according to Clinton, who worried that “democracy, freedom, and the rule of law are under attack around the world.” Clinton argued that the “mission” of the United States is to “lead the world with strength, smarts, and confidence in our values.”...
The problem with this worldview is that nation-building is a difficult task, and using it as an opportunity to promote a specific set of American values and institutions often makes states (such as Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Iraq) even more unstable and open to threats from other states or from terrorists and militants. Dysfunctional states, not authoritarianism, are the biggest threat to peace.
Stability is built on historic roots specific to individual cultures and political orders, and the institutions and practices that eventually allow for freedom and liberalism take a while to grow, if they grow at all. As President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan argued in a co-authored book, Fixing Failed States, peace—the absence of endemic violence—is the first prerequisite for any state to function. This often requires the triumph of a strongman or a group that can impose peace; it does not spontaneously emerge from democratic decisions in most societies. From peace comes law and eventually institutions, and only then can democratic or liberal practices emerge.
It is folly to try to achieve this process backwards: from democracy, to institutions, to peace. That more often than not leads to conflict. The United States needs to appreciate this in order to remain secure."You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink." The horse has to be thirsty. Otherwise the American assumption that "the world is just dying for freedom and democracy" will likely turn out to be literally true rather than figuratively if American tries to impose liberalism. That is a paradox of liberalism — imposing it is illiberal.
The American Conservative
Does Promoting American Values Make the World Safer?
Akhilesh Pillalamarri, editorial assistant at The American Conservative and contributor to The National Interest and The Diplomat