When a mass movement broke out in 2013 against the corrupt government of Viktor Yanukovich in Ukraine, the United States and its West European allies mobilized to support it. The policy was justified by the Wilsonian logic of promoting democracy and celebrated as such by liberals. Realists for the most part agreed with the liberal argument regarding the motive of that support, but criticized it as delusional and argued that the subsequent civil war in Ukraine was the consequence of that policy. This is a puzzle, because five years prior to the Ukrainian events, a mass movement had rocked Armenia— another post-Soviet state. The West's attitude toward that movement, however, ranged from indifference to hostility, even though the Wilsonian motives for supporting that movement should have been stronger. The difference in the West's response resulted from the different positions of the two movements toward Russia: the Ukrainian movement was intensely hostile toward Russia, whereas the Armenian movement was not. In other words, where Wilsonianism dovetailed with a geopolitical motive, it was triggered; where it diverged, Wilsonianism remained dormant. This is not a deviation from the general pattern either. Contrary to the popular narrative, the West has supported democracy only when that support has been reinforced by material interests, and rarely, if ever, when it has posed a threat to such interests.


On November 21, 2013, the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, withdrew his country from negotiations on economic association with the European Union (EU), and under apparent pressure from Moscow, he announced that Ukraine was signing a customs treaty with Russia instead. Within twenty-four hours, thousands of people poured into the streets of Kiev to protest the decision and to demand his resignation. Yanukovich rejected the protesters’ demand, triggering a crisis that eventually escalated into violent clashes and the deaths of close to a hundred people by late February 2014. At that time, the government and the opposition reached an agreement to hold an early presidential election in December 2014, but soon after, Yanukovich fled to Russia. On February 25, the Ukrainian parliament removed him from office and set May 25, 2014, as the new election date. In March, Russia took over Crimea, and in April, pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine took over parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, setting off a civil war, which is ongoing as of this writing.

The United States and its European allies rose up in solidarity with the protesters in Ukraine immediately after they took to the streets. Western governments put coordinated pressure on Yanukovich, condemning his actions and threatening consequences for using force, while the Western media vigorously promulgated a narrative of a democratic revolution against a corrupt autocrat and his patron in the Kremlin. Liberal pundits in the West predictably celebrated Yanukovich's removal from office as a victory for democracy and condemned Russia for fomenting the civil war.1 Almost as predictably, realists criticized the actions of the Western governments, arguing that they provoked Russia and that their behavior was inspired by “liberal delusions.”2

Both the liberal interpretation of what the United States and its Western allies were doing in Ukraine and the realist critique are puzzling. Six years prior to the outbreak of the protests in Ukraine, a mass movement had erupted in another post-Soviet republic—Armenia. Using upcoming presidential elections as a focal point, Armenians had mobilized to reject a corrupt and undemocratic regime. The capital, Yerevan, was rocked by massive protest rallies, and after the regime's candidate declared victory in falsified elections on February 19, 2008, people staged a sit-in in the city's Freedom Square that lasted for ten days, until the regime launched a brutal crackdown against them on March 1. Ten people were killed; thirty were injured; and, subsequently, more than 100 opposition activists were imprisoned on trumped-up charges. In sharp contrast to the reaction to Ukrainian protests, there was no mobilization in the West in solidarity with the protesters in Armenia. Indeed, some half-hearted criticisms notwithstanding, the West basically took the government's side. Why were the same Western governments, organizations, and media outlets that were so passionate in their support for the movement in Ukraine so indifferent or even hostile to the one in Armenia? Reframing the question for realists, why were “liberal delusions” not triggered in the Armenian case?

I argue that liberal preferences, delusional or otherwise, had little to do with the West's response to the events in Ukraine. If liberal preferences were the cause of that response, the West should have embraced the Armenian movement more enthusiastically, because the latter's behavior was meticulously lawful and peaceful, which cannot be said about the Ukrainian opposition; the Armenian movement had superior liberal credentials; it faced a more autocratic regime; and its sole aim was the restoration of democracy. Nor was it more risky or costly to support the Armenian opposition. The West supported the Ukrainian movement and failed to support the Armenian one because of the two movements’ different stances on their countries’ relations with Russia: unlike the Ukrainian opposition, which was overtly hostile to Russia, the Armenian opposition was not. It was not anti-Western by any means, but it was not hostile to Russia either, which apparently was the West's threshold for solidarity.

The contrast in the West's reactions to the Ukrainian and Armenian movements is inconsistent with the popular liberal theory, derived from the work of Immanuel Kant, which argues that liberal preferences, and support for democracy in particular, drive the foreign policies of democratic states.3 The question, however, is whether the difference in the two responses is merely an anomaly or something more characteristic of the West's overall record, which scholars often portray as one of relentless democracy promotion.4 Some contributors to that Kantian narrative, such as Tony Smith, claim that “making the world safe for democracy” has been no less than the central ambition of U.S. foreign policy since the United States became a world power.5 I argue that, in fact, the contrasting attitudes toward the Ukrainian and Armenian movements are consistent with the historical record. The interesting question is how the standard narrative is sustained despite that record.

It is sustained partly as a quasi-religious belief among Western elites, who often simply assume the evidence.6 Indeed, this belief is so entrenched in the United States that even realists, who are otherwise skeptical of the causal relevance of ideological preferences,7 have a long tradition of attributing certain policies and decisions to liberal preferences, with realist criticisms of U.S. policy in Ukraine being only one recent example.8 Further sustaining the Kantian narrative are several methodological transgressions that scholars commit when providing evidence for it, including: (1) selecting cases of democracy promotion, while neglecting cases of support for dictatorships and sabotage of elected governments;9 (2) failing to account for causes other than liberal preferences in cases where democratic forces were supported or citing those causes along with liberal preferences as a laundry list;10 (3) defining democracy primarily in terms of property rights, individual rights, and limited government, which surreptitiously identifies support for a conservative socioeconomic order with support for democracy per se, and which allows depictions of any left-wing ideology as undemocratic, and consequently even the targeting of constitutional left-wing governments and support for right-wing dictatorships as enhancing freedom; and (4) counting cases of concessions in the face of pressures for democratic change as evidence for promoting democracy.

The remainder of the article is organized as follows. The first section details the reactions of the United States and its European allies to the Ukrainian and Armenian movements. The second section analyzes and rejects a set of hypotheses that could potentially explain the variation in those reactions from a liberal perspective. The third section argues that the different dispositions of the Ukrainian and Armenian movements toward Russia were at the root of the West's contrasting reactions to them. The fourth section examines the democracy promotion records of the United States and the EU in light of the methodological problems identified above. The concluding section summarizes the main findings.

Western Reactions to the Ukrainian and Armenian Movements

The reactions of the United States and its European allies to the mass movements in Ukraine and Armenia stand in sharp contrast, manifested in the amount of attention paid to the two movements, the interpretations of what was taking place in Ukraine and Armenia, displays of solidarity, and actual support or absence thereof. The contrast was consistent across the media, governments, and political establishments.

The Western media extensively covered the events in Ukraine. A LexisNexis search for editorials and op-eds with “Ukraine” as the search term from November 21, 2013 (when Yanukovich pulled Ukraine out of the negotiations with the EU) and February 22, 2014 (when he fled to Russia) generates 840 hits. A similar search with “Armenia” as the search term for the period October 2007 to March 2008—from the start of the mass mobilization to the month after the crackdown—generates twelve hits, including only four that are unique and relevant. One of them is an op-ed by Levon Ter-Petrosyan—the leader of the Armenian movement and the first president of post-communist Armenia—where he indicts the Armenian regime for falsifying the presidential elections and cracking down on peaceful protesters, while expressing dismay at the West's indifference to what was transpiring in Armenia.11 Another is a response to Ter-Petrosyan's op-ed coauthored by Serge Sargsyan—Armenia's prime minister and the regime's candidate, who was declared winner of the elections—and another politician who had thrown his support behind him.12 A third is a letter to the editor also in response to Ter-Petrosyan's op-ed,13 and the fourth is a New York Times editorial.14

The content of coverage was also markedly different. A narrative soon congealed in the Western, and especially U.S., mainstream media, that what was taking place in Ukraine was a struggle of a democratic mass movement against a corrupt, authoritarian regime. As Roger Cohen put it, the fight in Ukraine was “about a simple issue: the freedom of Ukraine to set its course as a European democracy governed by laws rather than an authoritarian, undemocratic, lawless society of Moscow-backed oligarchs in the ‘fraternal’ grasp of Russia.”15 Although some observers in the West contested this narrative,16 and others expressed more ambivalent or nuanced interpretations,17 it is safe to say that Cohen represented the dominant view in the Western public discourse. By contrast, the one article on Armenia in the U.S. media that was not written by the main actors in the Armenian events—the New York Times editorial cited above—dismissed the notion that the struggle there was between “pure democratic virtue against authoritarian evil.”18

The contrast in media responses dovetailed with those of Western governments and political elites. Western dignitaries began visiting Kiev's Maidan Square, where protesters had set up camp, almost as soon as the protests began there. Between the start of the protests and December 13, 2013 (i.e., in a span of less than a month), U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland traveled to Kiev three times. Her visits were not just shows of solidarity: she became a player in the discussions regarding the composition of the post-Yanukovich government.19 Senator John McCain also visited Maidan Square to support the protesters’ “just cause,”20 as did the EU commissioner for foreign and security affairs, Catherine Ashton.21

Western governments’ support for the protesters was not confined to visits. Shortly after the protests turned violent, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the audience of a conference in Munich that “nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future, more important today than in Ukraine,” and that the United States and Europe “stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight.”22 The New York Times reported that U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso were in “daily and rotating contact with Yanukovich.”23 The reader is not told the contents of the conversations, but the context implies that they included warnings against escalation and efforts to nudge Yanukovich toward concessions. The Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, was dispatched by the EU to mediate between the Ukrainian government and the protesters.24

The Western solidarity with protesters was even more powerfully manifested in the statements of condemnation of the Ukrainian government's use of force. Thus, Barack Obama issued a warning to the Ukrainian authorities informing them that the United States would coordinate with its EU partners about imposing sanctions on Ukraine. The French president, the German chancellor, and the president of the European Commission called for sanctions.25

The West made no comparable displays of solidarity with the Armenian opposition: no high-ranking Western politician or bureaucrat came to stand with protesters; no high-profile diplomat came to negotiate with the Armenian government; no government or organization issued a statement of condemnation after the crackdown; and no one called for sanctions. A few months after the events of March 1, the co-rapporteurs on Armenia at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) visited Yerevan, but failed to meet the representatives of Ter-Petrosyan's camp (i.e., the political team that had been on the receiving end of the falsified elections and the post-election crackdown), choosing instead to meet with a marginal oppositional party and “representatives of civil society.”26

The West's posture, in fact, went beyond turning a blind eye to the events in Armenia. The resolution adopted by the PACE after the crackdown, for example, stated that the events of March 1 were subject to “considerable controversy” and merely called for an investigation, even though it did not dispute that it was the government that had escalated the dispute by violently attacking the protesters and even though it acknowledged the unlawful detention of opposition activists.27 The same resolution encouraged the Armenian opposition to accept the Armenian Constitutional Court's ruling of March 8, 2008, which rubber-stamped the election results.28

In its initial, politically more consequential report, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)—the most important election monitoring institution in Europe—endorsed the outcome of the election as credible, even though the picture emerging from its final report described an election that was fraudulent.29 The U.S. State Department's initial reaction was to congratulate Armenians “on their ‘active and competitive’ elections.”30

Liberal Hypotheses about the Variation in the West's Reactions

The West's differing reactions to the Ukrainian and Armenian movements can potentially be reconciled with the Kantian logic. I identify four hypotheses consistent with that logic below. Each falls apart when against the evidence.

First is the hypothesis that the Ukrainian movement was peaceful, whereas the Armenian movement was not. If that was the case, the West's support for the Ukrainian movement and the failure to support the Armenian one could be defended on Kantian grounds. The opposite was true. That elements of the Ukrainian movement committed violent and unlawful acts is not a matter of any real controversy. In particular, they stormed buildings and initiated violent clashes with the police on numerous occasions. This claim is dismissed by some as Russian propaganda.31 The evidence supporting it, however, comes not only from Russian sources. Thus, the Guardian reported that on November 24, 2013, during the first rally following Yanukovich's decision to withdraw from the association negotiations with the EU, the protesters threw stones and firebombs at the police.32 According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in early December 2013, protesters took over Kiev's city hall, triggering clashes with the police.33 The Guardian reported on February 20, 2014, that the deadly escalation “started shortly before 9am when protesters armed with axes, knives, truncheons and corrugated iron shields advanced on to a bridge in the centre of the Ukrainian capital and drove riot police back from Independence Square.”34 Romano Prodi, a former Italian prime minister and president of the European Commission, wrote: “Many or even most of the protesters are sincere and want a peaceful Ukraine that is stable and democratic. But there is also a violent faction, which is occupying government buildings and attacking police officers with guns and explosives.”35 A resolution adopted by the PACE contained an expression of concern “about violent confrontations and provocations instigated by extreme right-wing protesters. The right to freedom of demonstration and assembly should be fully respected, but actions of protesters should not contradict generally accepted democratic norms.”36 In sum, the evidence that the Ukrainian protests were not entirely peaceful is incontrovertible.

By contrast, no violent or unlawful acts have been attributed to the Armenian opposition throughout the period of the presidential campaign and the ten-day sit-in. That the violence on March 1, 2008, was unleashed by the government's attack on the tent city in Freedom Square is also not subject to any serious dispute. The government did make a clumsy attempt to justify the operation by using fabricated evidence that the opposition was planning a violent overthrow of the government. State-controlled television aired footage that showed several pistols, knives, and grenades ostensibly seized from the protesters. No one, however, was subsequently charged with illegal possession of arms. The PACE concluded that the violence on March 1 was the consequence of the government's crackdown. None of its later resolutions suggested that the protesters did anything violent or unlawful that could have justified the government's use of force. The same is true for the human rights report of the U.S. State Department for the relevant period, as well as several Human Rights Watch documents that dealt with the events of March 1.37

The PACE also rejected the government's narrative about an attempted illegal seizure of power and criticized the detention of opposition activists.38 The only Western report of unlawful and violent behavior by the protesters comes from the New York Times, which also did not dispute that the violence was set off by the government's crackdown, but wrote nevertheless in its editorial about the Armenian events: “Once government forces set off last weekend's violence, some of those who turned out in Mr. Ter-Petrossian's behalf seemed more interested in looting nearby shops.”39 This is interesting, because some of the looters were caught and tried, and none turned out to have had any association with the protesters. One can only wonder why the New York Times rushed to make such a claim.

The second hypothesis concerns the liberal credentials of the two movements. The aforementioned New York Times editorial did not limit itself to unsubstantiated accusations against the Armenian protesters. It also dismissed the idea that there was a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism in Armenia, pointing to Ter-Petrosyan's allegedly undemocratic past. Specifically, it claimed that when he was president of Armenia in the 1990s, Ter-Petrosyan “manipulated elections” and used force when the opposition contested the results—a claim that others had made as well.40 Perhaps this is the explanation for the West's less than enthusiastic attitude toward the Armenian movement.

This hypothesis should be rejected for three reasons. First, as I detail below, the accusation is unjustified. Second, no matter how important his role as the movement's leader was, the movement cannot be reduced to Ter-Petrosyan's record. Third, even if left undisputed, the transgressions attributed to Ter-Petrosyan pale in comparison with what could be said about the leadership of the Ukrainian movement, which had undisguised neofascists in its ranks. If Western elites were not averse to supporting a movement with leaders of that ilk, they should have been able to support a movement whose leader they thought had been guilty of electoral manipulations in the past. I elaborate on these arguments below, focusing first on the credentials of the leadership of the Ukrainian movement.

Timothy Snyder has insisted that shining light on the presence of illiberal, far-right political organizations such as Svoboda and the Right Sector in the Maidan creates a distorted picture of the nature and agenda of the Ukrainian mass movement.41 Attempts to depict the Ukrainian movement as homogeneously fascistic and illiberal are indeed tendentious. Many protesters in Maidan Square were fed up with the corruption and incompetence of the Yanukovich government and desired nothing more than to replace it with a less corrupt and a more competent one. It is undeniable, however, that the movement included a substantial and influential component of illiberal forces. Thus, in the same article cited earlier, Romano Prodi writes: “[The Ukrainian opposition] includes far-right nationalist groups like Right Sector, a new extremist movement, and Svoboda, an openly anti-Semitic group that is now the country's third largest opposition party.”42 The BBC reports that in 2004 Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of Svoboda, “was kicked out of former President Viktor Yushchenko's parliamentary faction for a speech calling for Ukrainians to fight against a ‘Muscovite-Jewish mafia'—using two highly insulting words to describe Russians and Jews—and emphasizing that Ukrainians had in the past fought this threat with arms.”43 Max Blumenthal reports that the same Tyahnybok had hailed the Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk as a hero and gone to Germany to express his support for him during Demjanjuk's trial.44 In the same exposé, Blumenthal informs his readers that Tyahnybok's deputy, Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, “is fond of quoting Joseph Goebbels,” and that Mykhalchyshyn was the founder of a “think tank originally called the ‘Joseph Goebbels Political Research Center.'”45 On January 1, 2014, the same Svoboda held a torchlight march in honor of Stepan Bandera, a man lionized by Ukrainian nationalists despite his collaboration with Nazi Germany during World War II.46

Another organization leading the Maidan protests—the Right Sector—was a paramilitary organization responsible for many of the violent acts during the protests. It subscribed to ideas that were difficult to reconcile with liberalism as well. According to the BBC, “a leading figure in the Right Sector, Andrij Tarasenko, says it aims not for closer ties to Europe, but rather ‘to build a nationalist Ukrainian state and stage a nationalist revolution.'”47 The reader learns from the same report that the organization's leader, Dmytro Yarosh, “calls himself a follower of Stepan Bandera.”48 The Patriots of Ukraine, which was formerly the youth group of Svoboda, but separated from it in 2005, was yet another organization in the Maidan with toxic political and ideological sympathies. The group's leader, Andriy Biletsky, protested against a law to punish racist speech with the following rant: “So why the ‘Negro-love’ on a legislative level? … They want to destroy the Nation's biological defenses to everything alien and do to us what happened to Old Europe, where the immigrant hordes are a nightmare for the French, Germans, and Belgians, where cities are ‘blackening’ fast and the crime and drug trade are invading even the remotest corners.”49 The Patriots of Ukraine organization, which at some point was renamed the Social-National Assembly, was the basis upon which the so-called Azov battalion—a 1,000-man militia described by Foreign Policy magazine as “openly neo-Nazi”—was formed soon after the hostilities broke out in Eastern Ukraine.50 Its symbols, ideas, and behavior were egregious enough that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a unanimous bipartisan bill “that would block U.S. training of the Azov battalion and would prevent transfer of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles” to them.51

As I have already stated, I do not believe that the Ukrainian mass movement could be reduced to the goals, ideologies, and tactics of the abovementioned organizations, but they were not marginal in the movement or in Ukrainian politics. Svoboda had won 10 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections of 2012 and had thirty-seven members in the parliament.52 It received only 6.3 percent of the vote in the 2014 elections, but was still able to clear the 5 percent threshold and remain in the parliament.53 Also elected to the parliament were Andriy Biletsky and Dmitry Yarosh, who won their seats in single-mandate districts.54 There were others, such as Vadim Troyan, who was from Biletsky's Social-National Assembly and the Azov regiment, and who got elected in a single-mandate district, or Oleh Lyashko, whose ideology mixed left-wing populism with high-octane nationalism, and whose party—the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko—won 6.4 percent of the vote.55 Incidentally, Biletsky and Troyan were admitted into the People's Front party's parliamentary faction, which came in second in the elections and which was headed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk—one of the main and ostensibly middle-of-the-road leaders of the Maidan Square protest.56 Oleksander Sych of Svoboda and Dmitry Yarosh of the Right Sector served as members of the government that formed following the ouster of Yanukovich—Sych as deputy prime minister and Yarosh as the deputy national security minister.57

Nor could the more mainstream leaders of the Ukrainian movement be held up as liberal icons. Yulia Timoshenko, for example, has been a frequent target of credible allegations of corruption and connections to organized crime.58 Petro Poroshenko was a business tycoon in a country where the probability of becoming one cleanly was infinitesimal. Indeed, in one cable from the U.S. embassy in Kiev in 2006, he is referred to as a figure “tainted by credible corruption allegations.”59 Another described him as a disgraced oligarch.60

What did the Armenian movement look like ideologically? It also consisted of different parties and organizations that had come together to support Ter-Petrosyan's candidacy for the presidency. The differences between these groups and various prominent individuals in the movement had to do with socioeconomic doctrines that could be described as ranging from center-left to center-right, with what constituted acceptable compromises for settling the Karabagh conflict, whether Armenia should be more aggressive in pursuing closer ties with the West or maintain closer ties with Russia, and so on. None of the influential political parties or prominent politicians in the movement, however, could be described as adherents of far-right or otherwise illiberal ideologies. The aforementioned differences were also of limited relevance, because the various parties and organizations in the movement had united around a singular agenda that was unequivocally liberal—restoration of the constitutional order in the country.

What about the accusation in the New York Times editorial that Ter-Petrosyan “manipulated” the results of the elections of 1996? This claim is based on the ODIHR observer mission report, which pointed to discrepancies in the number of voters “who signed and received ballots and the number of voter coupons.” The report then stated that the discrepancy was close to the margin of votes that allowed Ter-Petrosyan to declare victory without a runoff, which “raised question about the integrity of the election process” and “could even question the results.”61 What the report was referring to was a technical error that the electoral commission of the city of Yerevan had made when adding up the results, which entailed no changes in the existing numbers of votes reported by precincts. The error was explained to the observers, which they initially found satisfactory but eventually they decided to revert to the “unexplained discrepancy” story without contesting the government's explanation, which is a puzzle that has not been solved to this day. As for the claim that Ter-Petrosyan used force to suppress the protests that followed the elections, the accusers routinely fail to mention that the defeated candidate incited his supporters to attack the National Assembly Building, which they did, kidnapping and assaulting the chairman and deputy chairman of the National Assembly in the process. It was in response to this attack that the government mobilized the riot police, dispersed the crowd, and arrested some leaders of the opposition.

Labeling Ter-Petrosyan as an autocrat is profoundly misleading for another reason. Even before Armenia became formally independent, an intense debate had begun in the country regarding the nature of its future statehood, dividing the country's post-communist political field into two ideological camps. One camp insisted that Armenia should aspire to becoming a “normal state,” which essentially meant a liberal democracy, while the other argued that it should become a “national state.” The proponents of the latter vision made arguments in favor of infusing the state with some kind of a “national mission”; they defined nationhood on the basis of ethnicity rather than citizenship, and insisted that the country should be led by “healthy national forces,” rather than a government elected by its citizens. Proponents of that vision argued explicitly that democracy was a dangerous idea and that a “normal state” without some kind of a providential mission was beneath the dignity of a self-respecting nation. Ter-Petrosyan was their fiercest opponent throughout the 1990s and the political, as well as intellectual, leader of the “normal state” camp. Incidentally, Ter-Petrosyan's opponent in the 1996 elections was the most influential spokesman of “national ideology.”62

As I have argued elsewhere, Ter-Petrosyan fell out of favor with the West not because he was an autocrat, for such claims started being made even before the 1996 elections and on the flimsiest of grounds, but because he was compelled to sign a defense treaty with Russia in response to the menacing position Turkey assumed in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. That move unfavorably distinguished Armenia from other post-communist countries that were fleeing the Russian orbit and knocking at the doors of the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). That Azerbaijani oil had begun attracting serious attention in the West did not help either, nor did Ter-Petrosyan's unpopularity among some influential groups in the Armenian diaspora for his advocacy of normalized Armenian-Turkish relations and a compromise settlement to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict. These groups did not complain to Western audiences about Ter-Petrosyan's moderate positions on these issues, realizing that it would not make the necessary impression, so they added their voices to the chorus of accusations that he was an autocrat.63

Even if one contests my account of Ter-Petrosyan's past, the hypothesis about the superior democratic credentials of the Ukrainian movement must be rejected, because the Armenian movement cannot be equated with that past, as influential as Ter-Petrosyan was. There was a powerful public demand for change in Armenia that was independent of Ter-Petrosyan's ambitions. Indeed, he returned to politics after a ten-year hiatus because the public saw him as the only leader who could unseat the undemocratic regime and demanded that he return. Finally, even if the accusations against Ter-Petrosyan are left uncontested, they pale in comparison to what can and has been said about many of the Ukrainian movement's leaders.

The third hypothesis is that the Ukrainian government was more autocratic and brutal than the Armenian government. According to all available measures of democracy and good governance, assessments of the quality of elections, relative levels of corruption, and how brutally each government dealt with the opposition, the opposite was true. Consider the numerical scores assigned by the Freedom House for a set of variables measuring the state of democracy and human rights in the two countries. Table 1 summarizes those scores for Armenia in 2007 and 2008, and for Ukraine in 2012 and 2013—the relevant periods for this analysis—showing that Ukraine outperforms Armenia on every single dimension.64

Table 1.

Freedom House Scores for Armenia and Ukraine

Armenia 2007Armenia 2008Ukraine 2012Ukraine 2013
Electoral processes 
Political pluralism and participation 10 
Freedom of expression and belief 10 10 
Associational and organizational rights 
Rule of law 
Personal autonomy and individual rights 11 11 
Armenia 2007Armenia 2008Ukraine 2012Ukraine 2013
Electoral processes 
Political pluralism and participation 10 
Freedom of expression and belief 10 10 
Associational and organizational rights 
Rule of law 
Personal autonomy and individual rights 11 11 

The numbers, for the “electoral processes” variable, in fact, do not reveal the complete picture. Elections in Ukraine were certainly marred by improprieties having to do with how they were financed, abuse of administrative resources, and so on. What is also true, however, is that power had changed hands through elections in Ukraine. Whatever the criticisms of the elections that brought Yanukovich to power, even his opponents have not seriously contested the claim that they reflected the distribution of political preferences in Ukraine at the time. The same cannot be said about the electoral credentials of the Armenian government. Immediately after the elections of February 19, 2008, ODIHR's observer mission in essence endorsed their results, stating in its initial report that the elections “were administered mostly in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards.”65 The final report of the same observer mission, however, where more detail is provided, reveals a different picture. The counting of votes was assessed as “bad” or “very bad” in 16 percent of the polling stations where observers had been present. They reported multiple cases of people coming to vote only to find out that somebody had already voted for them. The report contains evidence of ballot stuffing, violence against opposition proxies, unfair media coverage, and use of administrative resources in favor of the regime's candidate.66

An even more damning picture emerges from a report prepared by the Policy Forum Armenia—a nonpartisan, Washington-based organization specializing in research on issues pertaining to Armenia. Its analysts focused solely on the officially available data and provided an extremely interesting statistical analysis of that data.67 According to the report, the overall voter turnout in the Armenian presidential election was 71 percent, which is considerably higher than what could reasonably be expected. The report informs its readers that 129 precincts, or slightly less than 7 percent of all precincts, had a higher than 90 percent turnout, with six of them reporting a 100 percent turnout. In addition, the turnout was much higher in rural areas, the opposite of what one would normally expect given that political activism is usually higher in urban areas. In fact, there were twice as many precincts in rural areas with more than a 90 percent turnout than there were in Yerevan. Next, the report shows that the turnout was negatively and strongly correlated with Ter-Petrosyan's vote share, whereas it was positively and strongly correlated with Sargsyan's vote share—something that can only be explained by ballot stuffing. The analysis then reveals an interesting correlation between these two candidates’ vote shares and invalid ballots: “It appears that in polling stations with abnormally high levels of invalid ballots … the average share of votes cast for Serge Sargsyan is higher and for Levon Ter-Petrossian is lower than their respective officially reported shares based on the total sample. … Even more peculiar is a large number (215, or 11 percent of total) precincts with zero invalid ballots where … 72.8 percent of votes were cast in favor of Serge Sargsyan and only 9.9 percent of the votes were cast in favor of Levon Ter-Petrossian.”68 In other words, Sargsyan's vote share was 20 percent larger than his national average in these precincts, while Ter-Petrosyan's vote share was less than half of his national average. Only massive fraud can explain these patterns. Furthermore, in 45 precincts Ter-Petrosyan received no votes.69 That fact alone would be sufficient to condemn these elections as fraudulent.

Another informative document is the confidential cable that the U.S. chargé d'affaires, Joseph Pennington, sent to Washington shortly after the crackdown on March 1, where he states: “Official figures give [Ter-Petrosyan] 21.5 percent (just over 350,000) of votes cast on February 19, and the true figure is doubtless substantially higher. Our best guess would be somewhere between 30–35 percent (490,000–570,000 votes).”70 If between 8.5 and 13.5 percent of the votes for Ter-Petrosyan were stolen, those votes must have been added to Sargsyan's tally, which means that his real vote share was at best somewhere between 39 and 44 percent, which means that a runoff election should have taken place. In a second round, of course, Sargsyan's chances of winning would have been extremely poor, as the oppositional electorate would consolidate around Ter-Petrosyan. Pennington himself lends support to this conjecture, stating that “if run-off elections were held now [Ter-Petrosyan] would very likely beat Sargsyan.”71 Another cable from the U.S. embassy describes the deliberations in the Armenian Constitutional Court in response to the opposition's claim that the elections were stolen: “Mission staff with legal backgrounds who attended some or all of the deliberations observed that the plaintiffs presented strong evidence to overturn the CEC [Central Electoral Commission] certification [of the results of elections], while respondents (CEC representatives) appeared unprepared and unpersuasive in their rebuttals, to the extent that some answers elicited rolling of eyes of the court's eight justices present.”72

A few words are in order about the relative levels of corruption in Ukraine and Armenia. Even though corruption is not coterminous with democratic governance—there are clean autocracies and corrupt democracies—there is a strong correlation between the two.73 More pertinently, a considerable amount of the criticism leveled at the Yanukovich government in the West was about how corrupt it was, which often served as a proxy for the claim that his government was undemocratic.

Ukraine was certainly corrupt, but Armenia was no better. In fact, if there was a difference between the two, it might have been how much more centralized corruption was in Armenia.74 A cable sent to Washington from the U.S. embassy in Armenia on the eve of the elections in 2008 lends support to this view: “The constituency with the most to gain (or hold) from a Serzh [Sargsyan] victory are the country's main oligarchs and economic elites, and their extended networks of families, friends, associates, and employees who work to guarantee their continued privileged status in society. Many of these people also hold political office, either directly or through close kin. These people have potentially the most to lose from a Serzh loss on election day, and they tend to be obsessed with their insider ties to the ruling regime. They view the regime's authority as paramount to the promotion of their own narrow interests. A Serzh victory gives them more time to consolidate, protect, and expand their accumulated wealth.”75

Finally, there is the matter of the two regimes’ relative brutality. Even if the Ukrainian government responded to the protesters in a clumsy manner, its actions cannot be equated with those of the Armenian government, because at least the Ukrainian government could claim with some credibility that it was responding to violent and unlawful acts by the protesters. No credible evidence supports similar claims by the Armenian government.

The fourth hypothesis has to do with the relative costs and risks of supporting the Ukrainian and Armenian movements. The argument that foreign policies of liberal states are driven by liberal preferences does not imply that they should support democratic governments or movements at any cost. Perhaps the problem was that supporting the Armenian movement was potentially costlier or riskier than supporting the Ukrainian movement. Alas, this hypothesis is also unpersuasive.

There are three conceivable risks to any external support for an opposition anywhere: retaliation by the incumbent regime, intervention by allies of the incumbent regime, and escalation of the confrontation between the regime and the opposition into a civil war. The first risk did not exist either in Ukraine or in Armenia. As for intervention by allies of incumbent regimes, in both cases the potential external intervener was Russia, which might have feared losing influence if these regimes were replaced by their challengers. The problem is that if there was such a risk, it was higher in Ukraine than in Armenia, because (1) as important as Armenia is for Russia, Ukraine is far more important; and (2) even if the replacement of the regimes in both countries had the potential of reducing its influence, Russia had more to fear from a transition in Ukraine, because the Ukrainian opposition was explicitly hostile to Moscow, while the Armenian opposition was not. The risk of escalation to civil war was also higher in Ukraine, because Ukraine is an ethnoreligiously divided society; and although the regime and the mass movement were not entirely divided along ethnoreligious lines, that division was a significant component of it.76 The conflict between the government and the mass movement in Armenia, by contrast, had no ethnoreligious component and thus virtually no chance of escalating into a civil war.77

Competition with Russia versus Liberal Preferences

The difference in the West's reactions to the Ukrainian and Armenian movements was primarily the consequence of its competition with Russia. Support for the Ukrainian movement was consistent with the policy of rolling back (or thwarting the increase of) Russian influence in the post-Soviet space, whereas support for the Armenian movement was not. The primary and explicitly stated aim that mobilized the opposition in Ukraine was to reverse Yanukovich's decision to pull out of the EU association negotiations and to acquiesce to membership in the Russian-sponsored Eurasian Economic Union. That was an aspiration that the West shared,78 which is why it was willing to support a movement that included far-right political organizations such as Svoboda and the Right Sector. The Armenian movement lacked a similar geopolitical agenda. Ter-Petrosyan, in fact, resisted attempts by some of his supporters to graft such an agenda onto the movement, because Russia was Armenia's main security guarantor against Turkey—its supplier of arms, its main trade partner, and the country that could tip the balance against any of the sides in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabagh. The West was in no position to compensate what Armenia would lose if it was to adopt an antagonistic posture toward Russia, nor was there evidence that the West had any intention to do so.79 In other words, Ter-Petrosyan was in the same position as in the 1990s, only this time as the leader of the opposition.

At the same time, Sargsyan, the regime's candidate, had signaled a willingness to build closer ties to the West. Thus, a confidential cable sent to the State Department from the U.S. embassy in Yerevan on the eve of the 2008 elections states that Sargsyan “has been an excellent pro-Western partner as defense minister, accelerating Armenia's Euro-Atlantic engagement.”80 Not long after assuming the presidency, Sargsyan did take steps to live up to his reputation of an “excellent pro-Western partner.” He entered the association negotiations with the EU, for example. This was a dangerous gamble, as it was likely to provoke a Russian reaction, but Sargsyan took it anyway. Unsurprisingly, Russia pressured Armenia to sign the Customs Union in 2013, bringing the negotiations with the EU to naught, but at least Sargsyan could claim that he had tried to justify the West's expectations.

The West's kind attitude toward Sargsyan was likely driven by another geopolitical consideration, which dovetailed with the logic of limiting the Russian influence in the region. Sargsyan had signaled to the West that he was willing to show flexibility in the negotiations over Nagorno-Karabagh and on the stalled process of normalizing relations with Turkey.81 Shortly after the presidential elections, Sargsyan invited the Turkish president, Abdullah Gül, to attend a soccer match between the Turkish and Armenian national teams scheduled to take place in Yerevan in September 2008, launching a process later dubbed “soccer diplomacy.” The process culminated in the signing of the protocols for establishing diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries on October 9, 2009. This ill-conceived process eventually collapsed as well when Turkey refused to ratify the protocols, reverting to its stance on linking normalization of relations with Armenia with progress in the Karabagh negotiations. But again, Sargsyan could claim to have done his part.82 As for the Karabagh negotiations, no tangible results were obtained, but there was a persistent buzz that Sargsyan was moving toward a resolution.

The Kantian Narrative versus the Historical Record

Those who take the Kantian narrative for granted are likely to read the preceding discussion and dismiss it as at best a curious anomaly, a deviation from an otherwise perfect historical record. As a result, they are likely to consider the findings in that discussion of dubious significance beyond Ukraine and Armenia. I demonstrate below that the evidence from these cases is in perfect harmony with the historical record and that it is the Kantian narrative that should be discarded.

Despite the immense popularity of the Kantian narrative, only a handful of studies attempt comprehensive examinations of the historical record. To be sure, many studies address particular events or aspects of that record, but comprehensive examinations are few indeed. One such study is Smith's America's Mission, which I rely on heavily, although not exclusively, in this analysis.83 I do so for three reasons. First, it is the most comprehensive and authoritative study of its kind. Second, Smith is particularly attentive to the evidence that is inconsistent with the Kantian logic and valiant in his efforts to reconcile them. Those efforts are ultimately unpersuasive, but any critical engagement with the Kantian narrative has to deal with them. Third, relying on Smith's study as an empirical guide minimizes the chances of selecting information in a way that is biased against it. This section is essentially organized with the same empirical and chronological order as America's Mission, plus some discussion of the EU's post–Cold War efforts at promoting democracy.


The first case of any relevance to the subject matter is the Philippines, where, after taking over the country in 1898, the United States is credited for introducing “all the trappings of modern government, from parties and elections to centralized governing institutions with a division of powers.”84 In addition, the colonial authorities set up an independent judiciary, created local councils, conducted municipal elections, and helped with the development of the educational system and the writing of the legal code.85

At best, the Philippines is an easy case for the liberal argument. Introducing certain features of democracy to the Philippines was the by-product of exporting U.S. institutions of governance, which was the consequence of the decision to take charge of the islands. That decision itself was dictated partly by the United States’ newfound enthusiasm for projecting American power, partly by fears that the vacuum left in the Philippines by Spain's defeat might be filled by Japan or Germany, and partly by the “lure of commerce.”86 None of these motives were rooted in liberal preferences. Furthermore, the democratization process eventually failed, as large landholders co-opted, subverted, and eventually brushed aside whatever rudimentary democratic institutions Americans had built in the country. This may seem irrelevant, as my focus is on the motives behind support for democracy or lack thereof, rather than the success or failure of democracy-promotion projects. It is relevant, however, because the United States contributed to that failure by siding with the large landholders. Smith admits this, but argues that at that time U.S. policymakers did not realize that democracy could not survive in an overwhelmingly agrarian setting characterized by a small group of large landholders and a mass of impoverished peasants. It was an “honest mistake,” in other words. That claim, however, not only is ad hoc, but is also contradicted by evidence Smith himself reports: “Two considerations appear to have predominated in American thinking. First, the conviction that small holders were the backbone of democracy did not mean that past certain limits an interventionist state should create such a class. A generation before the New Deal, any other kind of talk smacked of socialism, seen by most Americans as a threat to democratic order. … A second and doubtless more important reason for the Americans to acquiesce in the expansion of the oligarchic holdings was that in line with Taft's ‘policy of attraction,’ the Americans had decided very early on to base their rule on an alliance with this class.”87

Smith's “considerations” are important beyond the Philippines, because the disposition reflected in them became a durable feature of U.S. foreign policy in the twentieth century. It did so despite the subsequent, explicitly articulated realization among U.S. leaders that democracy could not flourish in such a socioeconomic setting. During the Cold War, there was an explicit realization that sympathy for socialism and communism in countries where such was the socioeconomic status quo was not the consequence of an abstract ideological preference or clever manipulation by communist revolutionaries, but peasants’ rational response to their miserable economic situation combined with the reluctance of their elites to make concessions.88 Yet, every time the United States had to choose between the peasants and the oligarchs in the developing world, it chose the oligarchs.


Democracy promotion as such became an explicitly articulated and central theme in U.S. foreign policy with the election of Woodrow Wilson as president in 1912. That idea, along with support for free commerce and collective security were the pillars of his liberal doctrine for a post-isolationist foreign policy, since labeled “Wilsonianism.” Wilson is reputed to have revolutionized U.S. foreign policy with both this doctrine and the policies he pursued, which were ostensibly inspired by it.

Is that reputation deserved? Wilson launched several interventions in Central America with the aim of supporting democracy and good governance. One of his earliest acts was the refusal to recognize Gen. Victoriano Huerta's rule in Mexico; Huerta had come to power in February 1913 as a result of a coup. After he refused to adopt a constitution, the U.S. government convinced the British to refrain from granting loans and selling munitions to Mexico, and started providing weapons to Huerta's opponents. Wilson also ordered the occupation of the port of Veracruz.89 Another intervention was launched in Haiti after that country plunged into chaos following President Guillaume Sam's decision to massacre a large group of political opponents, which then resulted in riots, Sam's own capture by the mob, and his murder. The U.S. Navy dispatched a gunboat to Port-au-Prince to restore order. As this was only the latest episode in periodic outbursts of violence and instability in that country, the U.S. government decided to establish a protectorate over Haiti in 1915, which lasted until 1934.90 The U.S. tutelage over Haiti allowed for stability, certain institutional reforms, and some investment in infrastructure.

A year after the intervention in Haiti, Wilson intervened in the Dominican Republic, where the elected (and U.S.-backed) president—Gen. Juan Isidoro Jimenez—had been forced to resign following a popular revolt. The United States occupied the country in response and shortly thereafter installed a military government. The U.S. rule there lasted for eight years. In that period, the United States tried to modernize the Dominican bureaucracy, the judiciary, and the transportation system. It also oversaw a new constitutional convention, followed by elections, and withdrew from the country shortly thereafter in 1924.91 Then there was the decision to join World War I, which Wilson justified as necessary if the world was to “be made safe for democracy,” followed by efforts to build a liberal postwar order based on democracy, self-determination, free commerce, and collective security.

Wilson's reputation as a liberal revolutionary in foreign affairs is at best exaggerated, nevertheless. Even admirers concede that his policies in the Caribbean were motivated by the desire to ensure stability, which in turn was a function of fears that instability in the region might create opportunities for European and particularly German intervention. The interventions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic were explicitly justified on those grounds.92 Of course, one could argue, as Smith does, that stability could be achieved by different means, and that unlike his predecessors, who were also concerned about the stability of the region, Wilson was keen on ensuring it by encouraging what he called “constitutional government.” That preference, however, barely went beyond rhetoric. In fact, whenever democracy and stability pulled in different directions, Wilson invariably chose stability, which meant siding with oligarchs and military establishments. Here is Smith's own verdict on the Wilson administration's efforts in Central America: “In Wilson's hands the application of American power did not achieve the ends for which it was intended. Indeed, by permitting the expansion of plantation agriculture with the concentrations of wealth this entailed, and by promoting national constabularies whose leaders soon seized power, American (sic) offered a textbook case of what not to do.”93

The underlying premise again is that the policy was an honest mistake. Yet, Smith undermines that premise two pages later: “Wilson never saw the plight of the black in American society as one to be addressed through socioeconomic change (or through sustained political initiative for that matter). If his horizon at home was so limited, how likely was it that it would be broader in the Dominican Republic or the Philippines? Whatever his sympathies for the downtrodden, his calls on occasion for socioeconomic reform, and his antipathy for authoritarian government, Wilson's essential belief was that the poor were best helped by tutelage of their “betters”; true liberty required the discipline of order.”94

As for Wilson's opposition to Huerta, it is an easy and largely uninteresting case. Wilson opposed a thug who had seized power in a neighboring country illegally, who was deeply hated by his own people, who was facing a formidable opposition, whose opponents presented no danger to U.S. interests, and who had ties to Germany.95 Confronting a dictator with such a profile is hardly evidence for a deep commitment to the cause of spreading democracy.

The evidence on Wilson's decision to enter World War I and his subsequent efforts at creating a liberal international order suggest a more complicated picture as well. The U.S. declaration of war on Germany was the culmination of a lengthy process driven by the rise of Germany, the relative decline of Great Britain, and the intensifying anxiety among American elites that this power transition threatened U.S. interests, if not security. Of particular concern was the threat to Britain's naval dominance, which had guaranteed freedom of commerce and from which the United States had benefited. The abandonment of isolationism was in good part a response to this shift, as was the adoption of the grand strategic principle of preventing any single great power from dominating Europe—the same principle that had underpinned British grand strategy since the late eighteenth century.96

Wilson's inner circle was populated by people who shared these views,97 and despite certain tactical disagreements with some of his advisers, Wilson was in basic agreement with them, particularly with respect to the assumption that a victorious Germany might challenge the Monroe Doctrine, which could not be allowed.98 A process that reinforced this transformation was the coming of age of U.S. industrial capitalism and the emergence of a powerful, export-oriented commercial class that was internationalist and interventionist in its preferences.99

Wilson's efforts to promote a general liberal order after the war was broadly consistent with the United States’ material and strategic interests, at least as Wilson saw them. Writing about the attribution of economic motives to Wilson's vision of a postwar world order based on collective security and democracy, Smith writes:

One body of literature has seen Wilson's primary postwar project as the creation of a liberal international economic order, with the League of Nations serving as its guarantor. By these lights, Wilsonianism is essentially synonymous with “liberal capitalist (not liberal democratic) internationalism,” and this material and class interest, not the political rhetoric of democracy is the heart of his appeal to later American leaders.

The problem with this interpretation of Wilsonianism is that it takes an aspect of Wilson's agenda and mistakes it for his whole program. Certainly Wilson was an international economic liberal; that point it not in doubt. But Wilson's primary concerns were political.100

Even if one agrees that Wilson's concerns were primarily political, Smith does not dispute the claim that economic interests dovetailed with his vision of the postwar order.101

Even without the economic argument, it is unclear whether the League of Nations meant rules over power as liberals claim. Rules can be, and usually are, endogenous to power. As the United Nations two and a half decades later, the League of Nations had a two-tiered system with an Assembly and a Council. The victorious great powers of World War I, excluding Russia, had permanent seats in the Council and a veto. It is difficult to imagine that such an organization would be able to impose any decisions on any of those great powers. At the same time, decisions consistent with the preferences of great powers would have the aura of legitimacy and legality. Smith also informs his readers that the Wilson administration saw the League as an institutional mechanism for containing Germany by engaging U.S. power in Europe.102 Citing Wilson's championing of collective security as somehow a revolutionary and transformative liberal enterprise, therefore, dramatically overstates the case.

Nor is it clear what conclusions the evidence justifies as far as Wilson's efforts to promote democracy in Europe are concerned. Spreading democracy was an important part of his vision for the postwar order, reflected in many of his pronouncements, but what did Wilson do exactly to help the cause of democracy on the continent? In fact, he signed the punitive Treaty of Versailles, which was imposed on a Germany that already had an elected government, and which almost certainly undermined democracy in Germany. It may also be true that the obstacles on the path of democratization in some of the countries of Europe were formidable, as Smith notes.103 Yet one is then left wondering what exactly is behind Wilson's outsized reputation as a promoter of democracy after the war. Smith's answer to this question is a lengthy discussion of the success of democracy in Czechoslovakia. And what did the United States have to do with it? “Wilson's relationship to Czechoslovakian democracy began with diplomatic support for the country's creation in 1918,” Smith writes, “and with his call for secure borders for it in 1918.”104 Of course, Wilson recognized other nations that had broken away from Austro-Hungary and Russia, and it had nothing to do with supporting democracy. Moreover, Smith writes that Czechoslovakia was exceptional. Additionally, as circumstances there were more conducive to democracy, “the achievement of Czechoslovakian democracy was fundamentally an act of these peoples themselves.”105 A closely related problem was Wilson's selective attitude toward the right to self-determination, which was another important pillar of his liberal doctrine and which, at the time, was seen as coterminous with democracy. Germans were denied that right. So, too, were the subjects of victorious empires. Wilson's liberal doctrine seems to have applied only to the minority populations of defeated hostile empires such as Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.106

In sum, it is difficult to see what beyond Wilson's fiery, idealistic rhetoric justifies the claim that promoting democracy was an important priority, let alone the highest priority, for his administration.


Democracy promotion was abandoned even as a rhetorical device after the United States reverted to an isolationist posture during the interwar period. It was replaced by an emphasis on order, stability, and the building of relations with other countries with only the U.S. material interests in mind.107 In Latin America, the United States adopted a policy of nonintervention, which was codified as the Good Neighbor Policy shortly after Franklin Roosevelt assumed the presidency. Roosevelt's instincts were far more interventionist than those of his immediate predecessors, but he had to deal with the Great Depression, as well as a formidable isolationist opposition, which tempered his activist impulses.

The isolationist opposition began losing ground in the second half of the 1930s, as Germany and Japan started challenging the status quo. It was decisively broken after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on the United States on December 7, 1941. The liberal rhetoric of rescuing the world from fascism and tyranny was revived accordingly, as were calls for creating a liberal economic order internationally and respecting peoples’ rights to choose their governments.

Again, even if the claims about liberal motives are not dismissed out of hand, other, obvious motives better explain U.S. involvement in World War II. Not allowing a dangerous change in the balance of power is one of them. The logic of preventing a single power or a hostile coalition from dominating Eurasia, which had never been rejected despite the U.S. withdrawal from Europe after World War I, regained urgency after Germany threatened to become a hegemon in Europe and Japan made a bid for hegemony in East Asia. The same logic started shaping U.S. behavior toward the Soviet Union as soon as it began to look like the latter was going to be the only great power left standing on the continent after the war.108 Smith argues, nevertheless: “Calling variously for ‘self-government,’ ‘self-determination,’ and democracy, the United States opposed what it repeatedly referred to as great power “spheres of influence.” Here was the high water mark of American liberal internationalism, a time when the United States put isolationism behind it and, keenly aware that the country's national interest required it to play a major and permanent role international affairs, stepped forward with a group of proposals that amounted to a comprehensive program for world order.”109

These proposals may indeed have constituted a comprehensive program for world order. The claim that the rejection of “spheres of influence,” and insistence on independence and democratic elections in countries likely to wind up under Soviet control were a “high water mark” of liberal foreign policy, however, is difficult to accept. It was not a rejection of spheres of influence per se. It was a rejection of Soviet claims for a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. After all, the United States did not renounce the Monroe Doctrine as part of this policy,110 nor was it averse to manipulating elections in France and Italy to thwart communist victories.111 Supporting free elections in Eastern Europe, meanwhile, was consistent with the strategy of creating obstacles against Soviet domination of the region. Smith concedes: “At Yalta, when Roosevelt insisted upon Stalin signing the Declaration of Liberated Europe, which pledged the Big Three to hold free elections to establish post-war governments in the countries they liberated from the Nazis, his realism was packaged as idealism: democratic government was not so much an end in itself as a way to limit Soviet expansion.”112 The creation of an open economic order, which could also be traced back to the beginning of the twentieth century, was another motive. Again, liberals write about that motive as if it were homage to David Ricardo's intellectual legacy.113 Yet nothing could fit U.S. economic interests better than such an economic order. Indeed, it was truer after the war than it was at the turn of the century, because the United States was the only industrial great power that the war had not severely damaged.114

Immediately after the war, the United States did embark on what are still the most important democracy promotion projects in its history—the democratizations of Germany and Japan. The United States remade their institutions, redesigned their educational systems, decartelized their economies, and prosecuted large numbers of individuals associated with the murderous regimes in both countries. These policies, however, were the by-product of dismantling two hostile regimes. Promoting democracy in both countries was also the best option regardless of liberal preferences, because neither the people nor the elites in either country needed to be coerced to fall in line with U.S. preferences, given that the alternative was domination by the Soviet Union.115 Finally, supporting democracy, rather than relying on landholding oligarchies, was the default option in these cases, because both Germany and Japan were advanced, industrial societies with socioeconomic settings very different from those in countries such as the Philippines or the Dominican Republic.116


The liberal argument for the Cold War seems unassailable, as it was a conflict pitting not just two great powers, but two mutually exclusive philosophies of governance and economic organization against each other. Even in this case, however, the liberal narrative faces serious difficulties. To begin with, although the conflict did have an ideological component, it cannot be reduced to it. An antagonistic relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II was predictable with or without a sharp ideological difference, because they were the only two great powers left standing. This is not just a counterfactual claim. Dale Copeland has provided ample evidence that it was indeed Soviet power, rather than ideology, that preoccupied U.S. decisionmakers.117

More importantly, framing the Cold War as a purely ideological conflict between democratic freedom and communist tyranny detracts from the fact that, especially in the developing world, the United States assumed the role of a conservative power, opposing not just communism, but also left-wing populism. It is true that many left-wing movements in the developing world found the Soviet model of economic development and social reform attractive. It is also true that many of them tilted toward the Soviet Union politically. In at least some cases, however, that was the consequence, rather than the cause, of U.S. actions.118 Specifically, the United States put the sanctity of private property and limits on governments’ ability to intervene in their economies at the core of its Cold War ideology. Given the economic and political problems that many developing world countries faced, subscribing to these principles was tantamount to reconciling with their feudal politics and the backwardness of their agrarian economies.119 This difference in priorities and preferences put the United States on a collision course with many societies in the developing world, which resulted in U.S. support for a large number of right-wing dictatorships, and covert or overt interventions against left-wing movements and governments, including those in Chile, Guatemala, and Iran.

Proponents of the liberal narrative offer two arguments to challenge this evidence. According to the first, U.S. leaders feared that even moderate, constitutional left-wing governments would be unable to survive as such and would eventually be subverted by communists, and that support for right-wing governments was therefore less freedom-reducing than tolerating the risk of communist subversion. Smith writes, for example, that the Dwight Eisenhower administration could have backed “effective constitutionalist movements supporting the reformist ambitions of either the Mossadegh or the Arbenz governments,” but it did not, because “aside from the isolated voices like Nelson Rockefeller's, no one believed that centrist, nationalist reforms could stop communism.”120 David Schmitz writes similarly that “the Truman and, especially, Eisenhower administrations chose to work with authoritarian rulers or the local military in nations such as Greece, Spain, Iran, and Guatemala rather than nationalist leaders or democratic forces that appeared vulnerable to communist takeovers.”121

According to the second argument, U.S. elites believed that socioeconomic changes in favor of ordinary people in the developing world could be more safely and efficiently achieved by gently prodding the right-wing dictatorships to make concessions. Here is what Smith writes in that regard: “From the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865 and the subsequent Reconstruction of the South, to the taking of the Philippines in 1898 and the occupation of the Dominican Republic in 1916, the United States showed a decided preference for achieving political change favorable to democracy by working through the established socio-economic power structure. Whatever the talk about forty acres and a mule being the well-spring of civic virtue, whatever the warning by Wilson's time of the danger of large concentrations of wealth to democratic government, faced with the challenges of ruling abroad, the Americans invariably co-opted local elites in a bid to make them the agents of reform in their own lands.”122 Schmitz reports similarly that America elites in the United States saw authoritarian regimes during the Cold War not only as sources of stability, but also as agents for the “creation of strong and free societies.”123

There are three problems with these arguments. First, Smith acknowledges that the support for the established order was primarily motivated by the desire to preserve the socioeconomic status quo: “For reasons of political expediency (which dictated assuring control in the most direct manner possible) as well as out of liberal democratic convictions (which enshrined the rights of private property and the need to limit the state's power relative to society), Washington's prescription for change was a ‘conservative radicalism': radical in its insistence on political democracy; conservative in safeguarding the socioeconomic privileges of the established order.”124

The gentle-prodding argument is presented as an ad hoc attempt to square this circle without much evidentiary support. In some cases, the U.S. government did publicly or privately express displeasure about the excessive corruption or brutality of its dictatorial clients, but that is not evidence for the motive to work within the system to bring about change. Meanwhile, there is ample evidence that the so-called freedom agenda and the operationalization of democracy primarily as secure property rights, individual rights, and limited government were deliberate attempts to provide an ideological alternative to the ideas of social and economic justice, which were far more resonant in the developing world.125

Second, the gentle-prodding argument is undermined by incontrovertible evidence that in the three cases where the U.S. overthrew elected governments, the decisions were primarily driven by corporate interests. The ostensible fears that these governments might not be able to fend off communists were deployed as rationalizations of these actions. Smith does not deny this either: “The catalyst for action in Iran and Guatemala was the decision by both governments to nationalize major foreign investments that dominated national economic life. From Washington's perspective, both the United Fruit Company and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Corporation were vast enterprises, whose expropriations might well have triggered a host of similar measures in other countries of Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa had they gone uncontested.”126

Third, the policy of supporting the socioeconomic status quo in the developing world did not change markedly even after negative feedback began convincing the U.S. decisionmakers that the problem was not the demonic charm of Karl Marx and Che Guevara, but the established order in those countries and U.S. support for it. Toward the end of Eisenhower's presidency, his administration began discussing the need for socioeconomic reforms in Latin America and expressing concerns about the political costs of supporting the likes of Cuba's Fulgencio Batista and the Dominican Republic's Rafael Trujillo.127 This realization was even more strongly articulated by President John Kennedy's administration, which launched an initiative known as the Alliance for Progress. The drafters of the initiative called for, among other things, the replacement of the “unjust structures and systems of land tenure and use” with “an equitable system of property.”128 There was an awareness in Washington that “time was running out for traditional elites,” and that to avoid more revolutions such as the one in Cuba, concessions were necessary.129 Yet this program also fizzled out, as the United States failed to put its weight behind a serious program of land reform. Smith writes:

The belief was that redistribution might cut agricultural output, but an expansion of commercial agriculture would contribute immediately and directly to economic growth and so more benefit to the poor as inflation was checked, exports were promoted, and the economy expanded with new jobs opening in other sectors. Such a belief was buttressed by various American interests involved in agribusiness, who could point out the foreign exchange benefits they could bring to Latin America while cautioning that radical slogans such as “land to those who till it” would depress opportunities for investment in the agricultural sector.

Yet more than theoretical concerns or interest groups handicapped Washington's approach to land reform. The chief concerns were political, stemming from a growing fear that the kind of transformations called for an agriculture might well play into the hands of local communists.130

The policy tilted back to a harder line and the default position of identifying anti-colonial and peasant movements in the developing world with communism, as the war in Vietnam escalated.


Not much happened in U.S. foreign policy that could be described in Wilsonian terms up until Jimmy Carter's presidency, when liberal idealism was restored to U.S. foreign policy discourse, with the defense of human rights placed at its center. The détente with the Soviet Union also came under pressure, as the Carter administration targeted the Soviet Union's treatment of dissidents and Jewish emigration. It was largely because of the efforts of this administration that one of the most important international human rights conventions—the Helsinki Final Act—was negotiated. Additionally, the Carter administration withdrew support from some of the Latin American dictatorships by withholding American military and economic aid, targeting specifically their human rights records.

The interpretation of the Carter era as a period of rejection of cynical realism in favor of a principled foreign policy is unconvincing, nevertheless. First, the human rights agenda was designed to repair the country's reputation in the wake of the Vietnam War, the coup in Chile, and the ever intensifying public relations problem of supporting a large number of dictatorial regimes. The United States was beginning to look like the great power on the wrong side of the Cold War divide with regard to freedom and human rights, even in the eyes of sympathizers and many of its own citizens. Second, the human rights agenda helped maintain the tradition of prioritizing civic rights over economic justice. The Central Intelligence Agency had concluded in 1971 that calls for a “new economic global order” by non-Western nations, which might entail nationalizations of corporate holdings and local claims on their own resources, were a serious threat. The human rights agenda would help move the goal posts. As National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski put it in a letter to Carter, it would allow a wealthy society, such as the United States, to associate itself with a “vital human concern,” and counteract perceptions of it as just “a consumption-oriented society.”131 Third, the human rights agenda was a useful instrument in the renewed Cold War competition with the Soviet Union.132 Fourth, portraying the withdrawal of support from a set of Latin American dictatorships as a principled policy should be put in the context of the growing realization that the policy of supporting oligarchs and dictators in that part of the world was having a blowback effect. Even then, Carter defended dictators wherever it was deemed possible and necessary, as in the case of President Anastasio Samoza in Nicaragua and the shah of Iran. Nevertheless, he was pilloried by the Ronald Reagan administration for the overthrow of both Samoza and the shah and for confronting friendly dictators.


Building on criticisms of Carter's policies toward friendly dictators, the Reagan administration adopted a doctrine that was the most overt and unapologetic manifestation of selective Wilsonianism; namely, it drew a contrived moral distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes—the latter standing for left-wing dictatorships—and argued that it was these regimes that were a problem, while the friendly authoritarian ones deserved support.133 The proclivity to identify democracy with the conservative economic order also reached its apogee under Reagan.134 Even the modest attempts of the Carter administration to pressure friendly authoritarian governments were abandoned. Regimes such as those in El Salvador and Chile were embraced unapologetically. Yet none of that prevents Smith from stating, “No administration since the presidency of Woodrow Wilson has been so committed to the tenets of liberal democratic internationalism as that of Ronald Reagan.”135

Smith goes to great lengths to give the Reagan administration credit for the end of apartheid in South Africa, which was one friendly right-wing regime that the United States confronted. The problem is that it was done reluctantly, under mounting international pressure, and after the administration concluded that the alliance with apartheid was not serving any important Cold War purpose following the reaching of an agreement about the departure of Cuban troops from the region.136 Also credited to Reagan is the support for democratic movements and insurgencies against left-wing regimes—Solidarity in Poland, the mujahideen in Afghanistan, contras in Nicaragua, and so on—but these are nothing more than cases of supporting allies against adversaries, and as such are not particularly interesting.


The latest chapter in the liberal narrative of U.S. democracy promotion is the period following the end of the Cold War. Smith claims that Wilsonianism matured in this period into a coherent, sophisticated doctrine. He argues also that the United States assumed a much more assertive posture as a democracy promoter. As evidence for new U.S. assertiveness, Smith cites the East European Democracy Act of 1989, which expressed support for the process of transitions to constitutional governments in Eastern Europe; for Corazon Aquino's government in the Philippines against the threat of a coup d'état; for the removal of Panama's Manuel Noriega from office; for free elections in Nicaragua resulting in the election of Violeta Chamorro as president; for NATO expansion; and for the “humanitarian intervention” in Kosovo. Smith mentions further the importance given to deregulation and privatization as part of this new assertive democracy promotion agenda in the late 1980s and the 1990s. One could also add cases that came after the publication of Smith's book, but that are routinely cited as successes of U.S. democracy promotion, such as the United States’ backing of protests that led to the ouster of Slobodan Milošvić of Serbia, its support for President Mikheil Saakashvili during and after Georgia's so-called Rose Revolution, and its earlier support for the Ukrainian opposition during and after the Orange Revolution of 2004–05.

The problem with this evidence is that every single case of support for the forces of democracy happened to be support for pro-U.S. forces as well. Smith writes, “In Nicaragua, Panama, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, authoritarian regimes hostile to Washington were replaced with governments with democratic credentials that were staunchly pro-American.”137 The same statement applies to the cases of Serbia, Ukraine, and Georgia. Another problem is citing events such as the election of Chamorro or policies such as NATO expansion as evidence supporting the liberal narrative. According to Smith, it was a triumph of liberalism that George H.W. Bush distanced himself from the contras and made a bet on free elections in Nicaragua,138 even though the Cold War was over and the victory of the pro-American Chamorro was in little doubt. The humanitarian motives behind the intervention in Kosovo, meanwhile, are subject to serious doubts,139 while citing NATO expansion as a democracy-promotion project suggests that any policy can be consecrated with that label if it is a U.S. policy and if its authors do nothing more than state that spreading democracy is their driving motive.140


Until the end of the Cold War, the EU was an inward-looking organization. It was created with the express purpose of Franco-German reconciliation and the imposition of some limits on sovereign decisionmaking, which was deemed necessary if the kind of decisions Germans made in 1914 and 1939 were to be avoided in the future. Other states joined this process subsequently, but it remained largely a Western European organization designed for economic and political integration of that part of Europe. As such, it did not articulate a formal agenda with regard to democracy promotion. There was, of course, the Council of Europe, which was also created shortly after the end of World War II, and which did have the promotion of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as its stated purpose; the Council, however, was also an inward-looking institution, and one that did not go much beyond rhetoric.

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the communist bloc, the EU adopted a policy of expanding into Eastern Europe and made accession to the Union conditional on meeting certain standards of democratic governance, respect for human rights, and economic freedoms, as articulated in documents such as the Maastricht Treaty.141 The policy has been successfully implemented with a large number of Eastern European states having joined the EU. The policy should be deemed a success as well in terms of having generated incentives for states in the neighborhood to improve their democratic and human rights records. Baltic states, for example, had adopted constitutions shortly after becoming independent that included discriminatory provisions against their Russian-speaking minorities, which they had to strike to comply with the demands of EU accession.

The problem with the high-decibel claims regarding the EU as a promoter of democracy in the neighborhood, however, is that states in that neighborhood were fairly easy targets for EU conditionality, occasional problems such as those in the constitutions of Baltic states notwithstanding. These states had rejected the straitjacket of communism; their societies strongly supported democratization; and they had no quarrels or fundamentally divergent interests with the EU.142 Indeed, they shared an interest with the EU, which had nothing to do with democracy or any other principled policy: departure from Russia's strategic orbit. Russia itself was overtly ruled out as a candidate for EU membership, the EU claiming that Russia was “too big” to be successfully integrated into a united Europe.143 Therefore, even if one does not dispute the Kantian motives behind enlargement, it did have the strategic benefit of strengthening the EU while reducing Russia's influence on the continent. As such, it is hardly an example of costly dedication to the cause of democracy promotion.


Extraordinary claims, Carl Sagan famously insisted, require extraordinary evidence. The claim that spreading democracy has been the central mission of U.S. foreign policy for a good part of the last hundred years, and that it is the meaning of the EU's neighborhood policy, is an extraordinary claim. Yet, the evidence adduced to support it by its defenders is not only not extraordinary, but it does not meet even more modest standards. The evidentiary backbone of the narrative designed to corroborate that claim consists of cases where the United States and major European democracies have supported democratic forces elsewhere. As I have argued, however, in all these cases such support simultaneously furthered interests that had nothing to do with democracy. I have further argued that attempts at explaining away the support for dictatorial regimes and subversion of elected left-wing governments as driven by fears of communist takeover are rationalizations with an uneasy relationship with the actual evidence. The assumption that the particular liberal ideology and the concept of democracy to which U.S. and European elites subscribe are purely intellectual constructs has come under scrutiny in this article as well. I have argued instead that these seeming abstractions are, in fact, fitted to certain political and economic interests and as such are idiosyncratic, as well as epiphenomenal to those interests.

The Kantian theory and its accompanying narrative were also subjected to a systematic test. When a mass movement erupted in Ukraine in 2013 and the West mobilized in its defense, a near consensus emerged that defending democracy was the driving motive behind the West's behavior. Even realists, who are typically suspicious of claims of that nature, essentially endorsed it, despite criticizing the policy as naïve and dangerous. That consensus, however, is undermined by evidence of an additional motive for supporting the Ukrainian movement: curtailing Russian influence in Ukraine.144 The relevance of liberal motives behind the policy, therefore, could be determined only if there was a similar case, but where the Russian factor was absent. Such a case did exist. Only a few years prior to the Ukrainian events a mass movement had challenged the corrupt and autocratic government of Armenia, but it had refrained from taking an anti-Russian posture. Indeed, the Armenian movement was a better candidate for Western support, if indeed supporting democracy was the name of the game, because it was more peaceful, its leadership had more credible liberal credentials, and it faced a more authoritarian regime. Yet it failed to generate much enthusiasm in the West.

In addition to the empirical scrutiny of the Kantian narrative, my article shines a light on an important blind spot in the debates surrounding it. Specifically, these debates are often designed to confront Kantian liberalism with structural realism, which means that they confront an ideational theory with one particular materialist competitor. Consequently, every time structural realism fails to explain a particular piece of evidence, it is interpreted as corroborating the Kantian logic. For reasons that are not entirely clear, realists contribute to the problem by criticizing such policies as manifestations of liberal ideas, also assuming implicitly that if their argument cannot explain the evidence, then it has to be ideas—bad ideas, but ideas, nevertheless. This is a version of the “god of the gaps” fallacy, where a theory is granted explanatory power over a phenomenon, because a particular competitor cannot account for it. Clearly, if there are other potential competitors, then one competitor's failure does not automatically translate into success for the original argument. In this case, there certainly are other competitors, and a proper assessment of the Kantian logic requires confrontation with all of them. That is what I have done in this article and demonstrated that the empirical record justifies few, if any, concessions to the Kantian logic.


The author is grateful to Chaim Kaufmann, Rajan Menon, Kevin Narizny, Jack Snyder, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and criticisms on multiple drafts of this article. The author was a supporter of the Armenian movement discussed in this article. He gave congressional testimony on its behalf in the United States House of Representatives in May 2008 and made two presentations to the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2009 and 2010. He has not received any financial or other compensation from that association. In addition, the author worked in the research and analysis department in the office of President Levon Ter-Petrosyan in the early 1990s and served briefly as an officer on the Middle East desk in Armenia's ministry of foreign affairs. He was not a member of Ter-Petrosyan's party or of any political party at that time.



Examples include David Ignatius, “A Finland Model for Ukraine?” Washington Post, May 20, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-a-finland-model-for-ukraine/2014/05/20/75a414a8-e05e-11e3-810f-764fe508b82d_story.html; Thomas L. Friedman, “Putin Blinked,” New York Times, May 27, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/28/opinion/fried-man-putin-blinked.html; and Ivo Daalder, “Arm Ukraine to Show Russia Conflict Has a Cost,” Financial Times, January 27, 2015, https://www.ft.com/content/a6bd0936-a625-11e4-9bd3-00144feab7de.


John J. Mearsheimer, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West's Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 93, No. 5 (September/October 2014), pp. 77–89, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2014-08-18/why-ukraine-crisis-west-s-fault; and Stephen M. Walt, “Why Arming Kiev Is a Really, Really Bad Idea,” Foreign Policy, February 9, 2015, https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/09/how-not-to-save-ukraine-arming-kiev-is-a-bad-idea/. Mearsheimer did not argue that “liberal delusions” were the sole cause of the crisis in Ukraine. He discussed geopolitical competition as well, but assigned “liberal delusions” an independent causal weight.


The most prominent statements of this argument are Michael W. Doyle, “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Summer 1983), pp. 205–235, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2265298; Michael W. Doyle, “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs, Part 2,” Vol. 12, No. 4 (Autumn 1983), pp. 322–353, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2265377; Bruce Russett, Grasping the Democratic Peace: Principles for a Post–Cold War World (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993); and Andrew Moravcsik, “Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics,” International Organization, Vol. 51, No 4 (Autumn 1997), pp. 513–553, org/10.1162/002081897550447.


Examples of scholarly contributions to the Kantian narrative include Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought since the Revolution (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1955); Samuel P. Huntington, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981); Joshua Muravchik, Exporting Democracy: Fulfilling America's Destiny (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1992); Tony Smith, America's Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994); Thomas Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for Peace, 1999); Michael Cox, G. John Ikenberry, and Takashi Inoguchi, eds., American Democracy Promotion: Impulses, Strategies, and Impacts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Jonathan Monten, “The Roots of the Bush Doctrine: Power, Nationalism, and Democracy Promotion in U.S. Strategy,” International Security, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Spring 2005), pp. 112–156, doi.org/10.1162/isec.2005.29.4.112; Mario Telò, Europe: A Civilian Power? European Union, Global Governance, World Order (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Frank Schimmelfennig and Hanno Scholtz, “Legacies and Leverage: EU Political Conditionality and Democracy Promotion in Historical Perspective,” Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 62, No. 3 (May 2010), pp. 443–460, doi.org/10.1080/09668131003647820; and Michael Cox, Timothy J. Lynch, and Nicolas Bouchet, eds., U.S. Foreign Policy and Democracy Promotion: From Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama (London: Routledge, 2013).


Smith, America's Mission, p. 3.


A perfect example of this is Hartz's classic and influential discussion of how liberal idealism drives U.S. foreign policy. See Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America, pp. 284–302.


See E.H. Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919–1939 (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), pp. 146– 169; and John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, updated ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2014), p. 26.


The decisions in question are typically disastrous ones, and realists are trenchantly critical of them. Attributing these decisions to liberal preferences, however, is a major realist concession, their insistence that these preferences are misguided notwithstanding. For examples of such criticisms, see George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959); Hans J. Morgenthau, In Defense of the National Interest: A Critical Examination of American Foreign Policy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1951); Anatol Lieven, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); John J. Mearsheimer, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2018); and Stephen M. Walt, The Hell of Good Intentions: America's Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018).


Where proponents of the narrative acknowledge those cases, they resort to ad hoc explanations, which usually have little to do with the Kantian logic.


The first is the problem of omitted variable bias. The second is equifinality, which is about explanations that rely on multiple, noninteracting, sufficient causes. In cases where such causes point in the same direction, we cannot be sure which of them explains the outcome. For that we need cases, where the hypothesized cause points in a direction opposite to the other candidate causes. What this means for the problem at hand is that we cannot be sure if support for democracy was the motive in any given case if that support promised other benefits as well that had nothing to do with democracy. After all, even non-democracies have supported democratic forces when doing so has furthered their material or strategic interests. The Soviet Union, for example, was a supporter of the governments of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala and Salvador Allende in Chile. It was also a supporter of anticolonial movements. Indeed, from the Kantian perspective, the United States and the Soviet Union were on the wrong sides of the barricade in these cases.


Levon Ter-Petrosyan, “Silence on Armenia,” Washington Post, March 5, 2008, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/04/AR2008 030402329.html.


Serge Sargsyan and Arthur Baghdasaryan, “Moving Forward in Armenia,” Washington Post, March 17, 2008. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/16/AR2008031602128.html.


Lucan A. May, “False Piety on Armenian Democracy,” Washington Post, March 9, 2008, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/08/AR2008030802167.html.


“Dark Days in Armenia,” New York Times, March 7, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/07/opinion/07fri2.html.


Roger Cohen, “Ukraine Fights for Its Truth,” New York Times, March 6, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/07/opinion/07iht-edcohen07.html.


See Jack F. Matlock Jr., “Who Is the Bully? The U.S. Has Treated Russia Like a Loser since the End of the Cold War,” Washington Post, March 14, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/who-is-the-bully-the-united-states-has-treated-russia-like-a-loser-since-the-cold-war/2014/03/14/b0868882-aa06-11e3-8599-ce7295b6851c_story.html; Stephen F. Cohen, “Distorting Russia: How the American Media Misrepresent Putin, Sochi, and Ukraine,” Nation, February 12, 2014, https://www.thenation.com/article/distorting-russia/; and Seumas Milne, “In Ukraine, Fascists, Oligarchs, and Western Expansion Are at the Heart of the Crisis,” Guardian, January 29, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/29/ukraine-fascists-oligarchs-eunato-expansion.


Henry A. Kissinger, “To Settle the Ukraine Crisis Start at the End,” Washington Post, March 5, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/henry-kissinger-to-settle-the-ukraine-crisis-start-at-the-end/2014/03/05/46dad868-a496-11e3-8466-d34c451760b9_story.html; Keith Darden, “Ukraine's Crisis of Legitimacy: How the New Government in Kiev Can Save Itself,” Foreign Affairs, March 3, 2014, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2014-03-03/ukraines-crisis-legitimacy; and Jonathan Steele, “The Ukraine Crisis: John Kerry and NATO Must Calm Down and Back Off,” Guardian, March 2, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/02/not-too-late-for-ukraine-nato-should-back-off.


“Dark Days in Armenia.”


Richard Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (London: I.B. Tauris, 2015), p. 86.


“John McCain Tells Ukraine Protesters: We Are Here to Support Your Just Cause,” Guardian, December 15, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/15/john-mccain-ukraine-protests-support-just-cause.


“Ukraine Crisis: Catherine Ashton Welcomed by Protesters,” BBC News, December 10, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-25328292.


“Saving Ukraine,” New York Times, February 4, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/05/opinion/saving-ukraine.html.




“Ukraine's Deadly Turn,” New York Times, February 19, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/opinion/ukraines-deadly-turn.html.


“EU Weighs Sanctions against ‘Authors of Violence’ in Kiev,” Financial Times, February 19, 2014, https://www.ft.com/content/a362927c-9976-11e3-b3a2-00144feab7de.


“Hayastanum en John Prescotn u George Colombiern” [George Prescott and Georges Colombier are in Armenia], Radio Liberty, June 17, 2008, https://wwwazatutyun.am/a/1595781.html.


Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Resolution 1609, The Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Armenia: Resolution 1609, April 17, 2008, http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/X2H-Xref-ViewPDF.asp?FileID=17643&lang=en.


PACE also adopted resolutions encouraging the Armenian government to release the opposition activists detained after March 1 (refusing to call them political prisoners); to hold a credible investigation of the March 1 events; to reform Armenia's judicial and law enforcement systems; and to allow an independent television station to broadcast its programs. The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe also published a report criticizing the Armenian government. None of these documents, however, contained a clear condemnation of the Armenian government or warnings that noncompliance would have consequences. See PACE, Resolution 1643, Implementation by Armenia of Assembly Resolutions 1609 (2008) and 1620 (2008), January 27, 2009, http://assemblycoe.int/nw/xml/XRef/X2H-Xref-ViewPDF.asp?FileID=17699&lang=en; PACE, Resolution 1677, Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Armenia, June 24, 2009, http://assemblycoe.int/nw/xml/XRef/X2H-Xref-ViewPDF.asp?FileID=17758&lang=en; and Thomas Hammarberg, “Report by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, following His Visit to Armenia from 18 to 21 January 2011” (Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe, May 9, 2011), https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1784273.


“Presidential Election, Republic of Armenia, 19 February 2008: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions,” Election Observation Mission Report (Warsaw: Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights [OSCE/ODIHR], February 20, 2008), http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/armenia/30808?download=true. The head of the observation mission complained subsequently that the “mostly consistent with European standards” assessment was not really meant as praise, because “mostly” did not mean fully. This was a disingenuous defense, however, especially in light of subsequent revelations that the observer mission was pressured to produce a positive assessment, and that it succumbed to the pressure. See “Armenia: OSCE Post-Election Working Group Meeting,” WikiLeaks, March 7, 2008, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08YEREVAN197_a.html. For the final report, see “Republic of Armenia, Presidential Election, 19 February 2008,” Election Observation Mission Report (Warsaw: OSCE/ODIHR, May 30, 2008), http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/armenia/32115?download=true.


“U.S. Critical of Armenian Vote, Arrests,” Radio Liberty, February 29, 2008, http://www.azatutyun.am/a/1593509.html.


See, for example, Timothy Snyder, “Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda,” New York Review of Books, March 1, 2014, https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2014/03/01/ukraine-haze-propaganda/; and Olexiy Haran, “Don't Believe the Russian Propaganda about Ukraine's ‘Fascist’ Protesters,” Guardian, March 13, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/13/russian-propaganda-ukraine-fascist-protesters-euromaidan.


Oksana Grytsenko, “Ukrainian Protesters Flood Kiev after President Pulls Out of EU Deal,” Guardian, November 24, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/24/ukraine-protesters-yanukovych-aborts-eu-deal-russia.


“Ukraine Crisis Timeline,” BBC News, November 13, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26248275.


Ian Traynor and Shaun Walker, “Ukraine Violence: Dozens Killed as Protesters Clash with Armed Police,” Guardian, February 20, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/20/ukraine-protesters-force-riot-police-independence-square-kiev-battle-control.


Romano Prodi, “How Ukraine Can Be Saved,” New York Times, February 20, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/opinion/prodi-how-ukraine-can-be-saved.html.


PACE, Resolution 1974, The Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Ukraine: Resolution 1974, January 30, 2014, http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/X2H-Xref-ViewPDF.asp?FileID=20488&lang=en.


Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” U.S. Department of State, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/eur/119066.htm; and “Armenia: Civilians Die as Police Suppress Demonstrations and Riots,” news release (New York: Human Rights Watch, March 1, 2008), https://www.hrw.org/news/2008/03/01/armenia-civilians-die-police-suppress-demonstrations-and-riots. The title of the Human Rights Watch document is misleading as it suggests that the police responded to the riots. There is no such claim in the body of the text. The reference to riots has to do with the clashes with the police after the latter had attacked the tent city in the Freedom Square and the public had gathered near the French embassy in the afternoon of March 1. See also Giorgi Gogia, “Armenia after the Election,” testimony to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (New York: Human Rights Watch, April 16, 2008, https://www.hrw.org/news/2008/04/16/armenia-after-election.


Resolution 1609, PACE, The Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Armenia: Resolution 1609, p. 1.


“Dark Days in Armenia,” New York Times.


See Steve LeVine, “Armenia's Chief Faces Protests over Elections,” New York Times, September 24, 1996, https://www.nytimes.com/1996/09/24/world/armenia-chief-faces-protests-over-election.html; Nora Dudwick, “Political Transformations in Postcommunist Armenia,” in Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott, eds., Conflict, Cleavage, and Change in Central Asia and the Caucasus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 69–109; Ian Bremmer and Cory Welt, “Armenia's New Autocrats,” Journal of Democracy, Vol. 8, No. 3 (July 1997), pp. 78–90, doi.org/10.1353/jod.1997.0036; Jack Snyder, From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict (New York: W.W. Norton, 2000), pp. 230–231; and Henry E. Hale, Patronal Politics: Eurasian Regime Dynamics in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 228.


Snyder, “Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda.”


Prodi, “How Ukraine Can Be Saved.”


David Stern, “Svoboda: The Rise of Ukraine's Ultra-Nationalists,” BBC News, December 26, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20824693.


Max Blumenthal, “Is the U.S. Backing Neo-Nazis in Ukraine?” February 14, 2014, AlterNet, http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/us-backing-neo-nazis-ukraine.




Associated Press, “15,000 Ukraine Nationalists March for Divisive Bandera,” USA Today, January 1, 2014, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/01/01/ukraine-bandera/4279897/.


“Profile: Ukraine's Ultra-Nationalist Right Sector,” BBC News, April 28, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27173857.




Robert Parry, “U.S. House Admits Nazi Role in Ukraine,” Consortium News, June 12, 2015, https://consortiumnews.com/2015/06/12/u-s-house-admits-nazi-role-in-ukraine/.


Alec Luhn, “Preparing for War with Ukraine's Fascist Defenders of Freedom,” Foreign Policy, August 30, 2014, https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/08/30/preparing-for-war-with-ukraines-fascist-defenders-of-freedom/.


Parry, “U.S. House Admits Nazi Role in Ukraine.”


Stern, “Svoboda: The Rise of Ukraine's Ultra-Nationalists.”


Anton Shekhovtsov, “Ukraine's Parliamentary Elections and the Far Right,” Interpreter, October 26, 2014, http://www.interpretermag.com/ukraines-parliamentary-elections-and-the-far-right/.




Ibid. On Lyashko, see also Charles Mcpherdan, “Thug Politics, Kiev,” Foreign Policy, October 9, 2014, https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/10/09/thug-politics-kiev/.


Shekhovtsov, “Ukraine's Parliamentary Elections and the Far Right.”


Harriet Salem, “Who Exactly Is Governing Ukraine?” Guardian, March 4, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/04/who-governing-ukraine-olexander-turchynov.


Christopher Dickey, “Yulia Timoshenko: She's No Angel,” Daily Beast, February 23, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/23/yulia-tymoshenko-she-s-no-angel.html; and “Ukraine: Interior Minister Ordered to Arrest Tymoshenko Lieutenant,” WikiLeaks, April 14, 2006, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06KIEV1531_a.html.


“Ukraine: EUR DAS Kramer and OVP DNSA Wood's 5/23 Meeting with Our Ukraine's Bezsmertny,” WikiLeaks, May 26, 2006, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06KIEV2038_a.html.


“Ukraine: Region's Boss Yanukovych on WTO, Election Politics,” WikiLeaks, February 16, 2006, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06KIEV641_a.html. See also Adam Taylor, “The Not-Very-Nice Things U.S. Officials Used to Say about Ukraine's New President,” Washington Post, May 29, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/05/29/the-not-very-nice-things-u-s-officials-used-to-say-about-ukraines-new-president/.


Simon Osborn, “Armenian Presidential Elections, September 24, 1996,” Election Observation Mission Final Report (Warsaw: OCSE/ODIHR, n.d.), http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/armenia/14149?download=true.


For a more detailed discussion of these debates, see Gerard J. Libaridian, ed., Armenia at the Crossroads: Democracy and Nationhood in the Post-Soviet Era (Watertown, Mass.: Blue Crane, 1991); Gerard J. Libaridian, The Challenge of Statehood: Armenian Political Thinking since Independence (Watertown, Mass.: Blue Crane, 1999); and Arman Grigoryan, “The Karabagh Conflict and Armenia's Failed Transition,” Nationalities Papers, Vol. 46, No. 5 (October 2018), pp. 844–860, org/10.1080/00905992.2018.1438383.


See Grigoryan, “The Karabagh Conflict and Armenia's Failed Transition.”


The data can be accessed at “Freedom in the World: Aggregate and Subcategory Scores” (Washington, D.C.: Freedom House, n.d.), https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world-aggregate-and-subcategory-scores.


“Presidential Election, Republic of Armenia, 19 February 2008: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions,” p. 1.


“Republic of Armenia Presidential Election, 19 February 2008,” p. 1.


“Armenia's 2008 Presidential Elections: Select Issues and Analysis” (Washington, D.C.: Policy Forum Armenia, July 2008), http://www.pf-armenia.org/sites/default/files/documents/files/PFA_Election_Report—FINAL.pdf.


Ibid., p. 29.


Ibid., p. 25.


“Armenia's Political Future: Where Do We Go from Here?” WikiLeaks, March 10, 2008, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08YEREVAN204_a.html.




“Armenia's Constitutional Court Upholds Presidential Election Result,” WikiLeaks, March 14, 2008, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08YEREVAN226_a.html.


Daniel Treisman, “What Have We Learned About the Causes of Corruption from Ten Years of Cross-National Empirical Research?” Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 10 (2007), pp. 211–244, org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.10.081205.095418.


Christoph H. Stefes, Understanding Post-Soviet Transitions: Corruption, Collusion, and Clientelism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).


“Voters for Serzh Sargsian: Armenia's Most Recognizable, Least Known Politician,” WikiLeaks, February 19, 2008, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08YEREVAN144_a.html.


Rajan Menon and Eugene B. Rumer, Conflict in Ukraine: The Unwinding of the Post–Cold War Order (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2015), pp. 2–4.


This claim is at least partially corroborated by the so-called Velvet Revolution in the spring of 2018, when another mass movement finally succeeded in removing the Armenian regime from power with no bloodshed during or after the mass protests.


For Western reactions to Yanukovich's decision to withdraw from EU association negotiations, see Ian Traynor, “Russia ‘Blackmailed Ukraine to Ditch EU Pact,'” Guardian, November 22, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/22/russia-ukraine-eu-pact-lithuania.


At the time, these debates were not aired publicly. After the movement failed to unseat the regime and after witnessing the indifference of the democratic West, some of Ter-Petrosyan's supporters criticized him for failing to adopt a pro-Western stance. Ter-Petrosyan argued that the West should have expressed solidarity with the Armenian movement—not because of geopolitical gain, but on the basis of principle—and rejected suggestions to jump on one or another great power's bandwagon as reckless. See Ter-Petrosyan, “Silence on Armenia”; Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Veradardz: Yeluytner, hartsazruytsner, mamlo asoulisner [Return: Speeches, interviews, press conferences] (Yerevan: Printinfo, 2009), pp. 237–241, 287–303; and Nelli Grigoryan, “Ter-Petrossian Speaks about Foreign Policy,” Aravot [Morning], December 22, 2012, https://www.aravot.am/2012/12/22/314619/?s=. In one of his speeches in 2010, Ter-Petrosyan also referred to two stereotypes that the movement he led had been battling. As he put it, “A popular opinion in Russia insists that if a movement is democratic, then it is a ‘color revolution’ [which is defined by them as a Western-sponsored, anti-Russian subversion], and they think in the West that if a movement is not anti-Russian, it is not democratic.” See “Levon Ter-Petrosyani Yeluyte Hay Azgayin Kongresi Hamazhoghovum” [The speech of Levon Ter-Petrosyan at the Convention of the Armenian National Congress], September 17, 2010, https://news.am/arm/news/31328.html.


“Armenia's Political Future: Where Do We Go from Here?”


One of the confidential cables from the U.S. embassy in Yerevan contained the following statement: “Sargsyan's words to date have offered hope that he may be more flexible, reform-minded, and even more visionary than President Kocharian, especially on key issues such as Turkish relations and getting to an NK [Nagorno-Karabagh] settlement. He is also smart enough to handle the current AGR [Armenian Genocide Recognition] debate in Washington with discretion and not embarrass any of his interlocutors with the issue.” See “Scenesetter for PM Sargsian's Washington Visit,” https://theworldtomorrow.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07YEREVAN1241_a.html.


It was ill conceived because all involved parties were trying to exploit this process for aims other than the normalization itself. As demonstrated in ibid., the United States was interested in removing recognition of the Armenian Genocide from the agenda in Washington. Of course, normalization with Turkey would also significantly reduce Armenia's strategic dependence on Russia. Turkey was interested in reducing the probability of U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide as well, which had become particularly acute because of the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations. It is possible also that Turkey thought it could create additional incentives for Armenia to become more flexible in the Karabagh negotiations by moving on with the normalization process, while holding ratification hostage to progress in those negotiations. Sargsyan, meanwhile, would please the West and claim at home that he was able to delink normalization of relations with Turkey and the Karabagh negotiations.


See also Muravchik, Exporting Democracy; and Cox, Ikenberry, and Inoguchi, American Democracy Promotion.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 45.




Ibid., pp. 42–43.


Ibid., p. 55.


Consider the following statement by a high-ranking State Department official during a round table on China in 1949: “You Washington people, from Truman on down, ought to quit prattling so much about ‘liberty'—at least so far as my area is concerned. What does it mean to the mass of people out my way? Not a blooming thing. They are hungry. While we talk about liberty and freedom, some Commie agitator comes along and says: ‘Under Communism, you'll have plenty to eat. You'll own the land you now farm for someone else.’ The poor little native brightens up and says: ‘Oh, so that's Communism. Well, I'm a Communist.'” Quoted in James Peck, Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights (New York: Metropolitan, 2010), p. 32.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 70.


Healey, Drive to Hegemony, pp. 187–192.


Ibid., pp. 192–198; and Smith, America's Mission, pp. 76–78.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 78. See also Robert Endicott Osgood, Ideals and Self-Interest in America's Foreign Relations (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 174.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 79.


Ibid., p. 81.


On the connection to Germany, see Enrique Krauze “The April Invasion of Veracruz,” New York Times, April 20, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/21/opinion/krauze-the-april-invasion-of-veracruz.html.


See Daniel M. Smith, “National Interest and American Intervention, 1917: An Historiographical Appraisal,” Journal of American History, Vol. 52, No. 1 (January 1965), pp. 5–24, https://doi.org/10.2307/1901121; and Robert J. Art, “A Defensible Defense: America's Grand Strategy after the Cold War,” International Security, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Spring 1991), pp. 10–18, org/10.2307/2539010.


Smith, “National Interest and American Intervention, 1917,” pp. 8, 10; and Edward H. Buehrig, Woodrow Wilson and the Balance of Power (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955), pp. 135–136.


Ernest R. May, The World War and American Isolation, 1914–1917 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959), pp. 167–169.


See Walter LaFeber, The New Empire: The Interpretation of American Expansion 1860–1898 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1963); Peter Trubowitz, Defining the National Interest: Conflict and Change in American Foreign Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Kevin Narizny, The Political Economy of Grand Strategy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2007); and Stephen Kinzer, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War (New York: Henry Holt, 2013).


Smith, America's Mission, pp. 92–93.


One predictable response is that the evidence of a push to create a liberal economic order is consistent with the liberal narrative. Such an order, after all, was one of the pillars of Wilsoniansim. However, what Wilson, and before him William Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, were after was not a liberal economic order per se, but markets for U.S. exports. See William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (Cleveland, Ohio: World Publishing, 1959), p. 48. On the League of Nations’ relevance to U.S. economic interests, see also Carl P. Parrini, Heir to Empire: United States Economic Diplomacy, 1916–1923 (Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1969). In general, the popular tendency to see the U.S., and before that British, preference for open commerce as ideological is profoundly ahistorical. American and British elites did not embrace open commerce because Adam Smith and David Ricardo persuaded them to do so. They embraced open commerce only after their economies reached a level of development where their industries became internationally competitive and began to need expanded markets. Both the British and the U.S. elites were consummate protectionists before reaching that stage. See Ha-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (New York: Bloomsbury, 2008), pp. 40–64.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 105.


Ibid., pp. 97–100.


Ibid., p. 102.




For a detailed study of the self-determination issue in Wilson's policies, including its selective and instrumental use, see Derek Heater, National Self-Determination: Woodrow Wilson and His Legacy (New York: St. Martin's, 1994).


David F. Schmitz, Thank God They're on Our Side: The United States and Right-Wing Dictatorships, 1921–1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), pp. 9–10.


Dale C. Copeland, The Origins of Major War (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000), pp. 146–175.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 114.


Smith's chapter on the United States’ entry into World War II and its attempts at shaping the postwar order is titled “FDR and World Order: Globalizing the Monroe Doctrine.” See ibid., p. 113.


For a more comprehensive analysis of U.S. interventions in foreign elections, see Dov. H. Levin, “When the Great Power Gets a Vote: The Effects of Great Power Electoral Interventions on Election Results,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 2 (June 2016), pp. 189–202, org/10.1093/isq/sqv016.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 119.


See, for example, G. John Ikenberry, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 163–214.


Robert Hunter Wade, “The Invisible Hand of the American Empire,” Ethics and International Affairs, Vol. 17, No. 2 (September 2003), pp. 77–88, org/10.1111/j.1747-7093.2003.tb00440.x.


David M. Edelstein, Occupational Hazards: Success and Failure in Military Occupations (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2008).


Smith counters that there were proposals for either dismembering or pastoralizing Germany, as well as talk of exterminating the Japanese, and therefore, liberalizing these countries was not the default option. This argument is unpersuasive, however, because there were other interests having little to do with liberal preferences that pushed in the direction of keeping these countries together, reviving them, and liberalizing them. Pastoralizing Germany would not work, for example, because a pastoralized Germany could not sustain economically its large population. On the other hand, citing the rejection of calls to exterminate the Japanese as evidence for the liberal argument is simply bizarre. There is no evidence that Stalin ever considered exterminating the Germans, but it would occur to no one to give him credit for it, let alone consider it evidence for his liberal preferences. Finally, Smith acknowledges that even before the end of the war, U.S. and British elites understood that revitalizing these countries was necessary if they were to be enlisted in the cause of containing the Soviet Union. Smith, America's Mission, p. 133. See also Edelstein, Occupational Hazards, p. 48.


Copeland, The Origins of Major War, pp. 150–152.


According to Smith, “The strength of the Cuban Revolution came in part from the widespread hostility of American interventions in Latin America, but especially in reaction to events in Guatemala.” Smith, America's Mission, p. 199.


On why state intervention may be necessary, especially for late developers, see Alexander Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962); and Chang, Bad Samaritans.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 197.


Schmitz, Thank God They're On Our Side, p. 7. See also Muravchik, Exporting Democracy, pp. 243–265.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 180.


Schmitz, Thank God They're On Our Side, p. 7.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 180.


Peck, Ideal Illusions; and Kinzer, The Brothers.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 195. For the mobilization of U.S. corporate interests against Allende, see also Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (New York: Times Books, 2006), pp. 170–194.


Smith, America's Mission, p. 198.


Ibid., p. 219.


Ibid., p. 221.


Ibid., p. 225.


Peck, Ideal Illusions, p. 63.


Ibid., pp. 72–84.


David F. Schmitz, The United States and Right-Wing Dictatorships (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 194–202.


Smith, America's Mission, pp. 291–295.


Ibid., p. 268.


Ibid., p. 290.


Ibid., p. 317.


Ibid., p. 315.


See Ted Galen Carpenter, ed., NATO's Empty Victory (Washington, D.C.: CATO Institute, 2000); and Arman Grigoryan, “Third-Party Intervention and the Escalation of State-Minority Conflicts,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 4 (December 2010), pp. 1155–1163, org/10.1111/j.1468-2478.2010.00630.x.


For the best critique of NATO expansion and the attendant claims that it was being done to extend the zone of democracy into Eastern Europe, see Michael E. Brown, “The Flawed Logic of NATO Expansion,” Survival, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring 1995), pp. 34–52, org/10.1080/0039633950 8442775.


Hartmut Behr and Yannis A Stivachtis, “European Union: An Empire in New Clothes?” in Behr and Stivachtis, eds., Revisiting the European Union as Empire (London: Routledge, 2016), p. 6.


Those that showed no such eagerness, such as Azerbaijan and the Central Asian states, were irrelevant to the process altogether.


William H. Hill, No Place for Russia: European Security Arrangements since 1989 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), pp. 7–8.


As mentioned earlier, Mearsheimer cites the rolling back Russian influence as another motive driving the West's behavior in Ukraine, but he still criticizes the behavior as one inspired by “liberal delusions.” See Mearsheimer, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West's Fault.” That seems puzzling, especially coming from a proponent of the offensive realist tradition, who considers power-maximizing behavior rational. If forcing Russia out of Ukraine was what the West was trying to achieve, one could expect Mearsheimer, if not to endorse it, then to at least chalk it up as a case for realism and dismiss the ideological noise surrounding it as nothing but a smokescreen. Mearsheimer was right, however, to resist that temptation, because even if the policy could be described as instrumentally realist (i.e., one that made sense given the aim of rolling back Russia), the aim itself was questionable from a realist perspective, if for no other reason than because the ever growing concern about the rise of China makes cultivating Russia as a potential ally, rather than pushing it into China's embrace, the more sensible realist policy. The problem is that “liberal delusions” was not the only other possible explanation. The policy could also be, and in all likelihood is, the consequence of a logrolling of special interests, including the Cold War bureaucracy, which was threatened by the prospect of retrenchment following the end of Cold War and which had specialized on Russia as the adversary; the defense-industrial complex, which needed an adversary more serious than al-Qaida to justify high levels of defense spending and which benefited handsomely from policies such as NATO expansion; various ethnic lobbies, which had issues with Russia; and human rights and democracy assistance groups, which saw Russia as a more convenient target than Saudi Arabia or China, for example.