To try to clarify a point from my post on Vladimir Putin, I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with the American political elite being nostalgic for the international climate of the 1990s and the way it was more friendly to the unfettered exercise of American power.
Nevertheless, people — including political elites — ought to understand that that was an anomolous situation and that moment has passed. It happens to be the case that China and Iran are dictatorships while Venezuela and Russia are illiberal plebiscitary regimes but this has relatively little to do with America’s policy disagreements with them. No conceivable set of domestic political arrangements is going to change the fact that the Russian government wants to ensure that governments in the “near abroad” will be friendly to Russian interests (think of US policy toward Central America and the Carribbean), that China wants to be a great power on a par with the USA, that Iran thinks it should be a leading regional power, or that Latin Americans resent American political and economic domination of the Western Hemisphere. Grown-up policy recognizes that countries are going to have interests and desires that can’t be wished away by hoping for democracy and that the essence of foreign policy is finding ways to reconcile those interests with our own priorities rather than whining about the fact that very few countries are interested in becoming Japan-style client states unless they really have no choice in the matter.