American Imperialism…Extremes Don’t Work
(A mediation of Ivo H. Daalder’s and James M. Lindsay’s, “The Bush Revolution”)
Should I stay or should I go now? Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble. And if I stay it will be double.
So come on and let me know.
There have been two camps historically within the American foreign policy debate, those that believe the United States should look inwardly and not get involved in international affairs (“isolationists”) and those that believe that American hegemony is the only effective method of supporting our interests (“imperialists”). This debate has been going on nearly as long as there has been a United States, as George Washington was presented a difficult decision when France went to war with England a mere four years after the Constitution was signed (Daalder). Isolationism ruled American politics for many years until the end of the Spanish American war (Daalder) as it was believed that a new nation like the United States would be unable to defend itself (both militarily and culturally). Once it was proven that the US could defend herself, the imperialists took over. With Woodrow Wilson, American foreign policy began to justify getting involved internationally through a moral imperative (Daalder). In fact, when he declared war on Germany kicking off America’s involvement in World War I, he did so be claiming that the “world must be made safe for democracy”.
This imperialistic frame of thought took us through the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the rest of the cold war. However, with the end of the cold war, and for all intensive purposes the defeat of the Soviet Union, the United States no longer had a great enemy. In fact, the U.S. no longer had any institution or world power in which could control its actions. Basically, the imperialists lost their controls and foreign policy took on a new spirit – that the United States had “freedom of action” (Daalder). The Bush Administration took full advantage of this arrangement. According to Daalder and Lindsay, this set up the Bush presidency for three claims to his foreign policy:
1) Constraints on actions were shed.
2) An unbound America should use its strength to change the status quo.
3) We should use our power to force regime change in rogue states.
The problem with uncontrolled power is that it has a tendency to be used inappropriately. In this case the old saying rings true, absolute power corrupts absolutely. In this case, our unbound ability to do whatever we wanted resulted in a global perception change of America that adversely affects all Americans. Instead of the moral imperative that we should be defending, we are seen as bullies trying to inflict our culture on the rest of the world. Worse yet, much of the rest of the world sees us as only interested in defending our economic interests elsewhere, even at the cost of human lives.
It is clear to see that both an uncontrolled isolationism and an unbound imperialism neither works nor is sustainable. Ask yourself, is the United States more secure now than before September 11? Although we have not been directly attacked since then, it is obvious that more people in this world hate us than ever before. I would argue that this is due to the uncontrolled imperialism of the last several years and that to repair the damage done, we must return to a spirit of moderation, justified by the moral imperative, within our foreign policy.