The Myth of Engagement: America as an Isolationist World Power

A Talking Paper Prepared for the Five College International Relations Program
Vincent Ferraro, Mount Holyoke College
April 2002

The United States is a great power. It has never, however, fully accepted or understood its role as a great power, particularly on matters relating to the overall stability of the international system. Even during the period of the Cold War, US engagement with the rest of the world was defined almost exclusively by its relationship to another power, the Soviet Union, and not by a sense of responsibility for the international system as a whole. Now that the Cold War is over, the United States is reverting back to a new form of isolationism, one that marries the extraordinary military and economic power of the United States to a passionate desire to insulate its decision-making from international pressures. This new isolationism shares many characteristics with imperial behavior, a policy perspective hardly consistent with traditional American politics and values and one most decidedly at odds with the dynamics of the contemporary international system.

The Historical Bases of American Isolationism

That the United States is a world power-indeed, at this writing one of the most powerful states ever in the modern world system-is both remarkable and unsurprising. Many predicted American power: de Tocqueville believed American power inevitable.1 His prediction was hardly far-fetched. The North American continent was under-populated and contained the most fertile soil on the planet. It had a benign climate and magnificent harbors on both oceans. It had a vast system of navigable rivers. The political institutions of the new country were unencumbered by history and practice and informed by the brilliant insights of the European Enlightenment. It was a country untroubled by the constant threat of war and all the economic distortions occasioned by those threats: high taxes, diminished manpower, and concentrated political power. As the country moved into the industrial age, there was no lack of any major commodity, be it coal, iron ore, copper, or, ultimately, petroleum. A weak America would have begged for explanation; a strong America was virtually pre-determined.

Nonetheless, this essential strength of the nation also explains why its 20th century status as a world power is remarkable-all these strengths were internal. There was no necessity impelling the United States into the affairs of the world. There were no external enemies and no real likelihood that its territorial integrity or political autonomy would ever be substantially at risk. 2 The demographic winds were similarly opposed to external engagement: others came to America and the flow of people from the inside-out was never substantial. Moreover, those who arrived on American soil usually did so as an act of deliberate repudiation of from where they had originated, either because of difficulties in one's mother country or because of the seductiveness of the myth of the melting pot.

More importantly, the United States was, and remains, geographically disadvantaged to exercise power on a global scale. For most of its history, it was too far away from the centers of economic and political power to make much of a difference to the rest of the world and the effort necessary to exert global power was disproportionate to its benefits. Lacking land access to the major centers of power, the United States could only rely upon the navy to project its power. Such an effort was certainly within the ability of the United States, but to do so, the country would have had to displace the British navy. There really was no need to take that action unless the United States were also willing to replace the British Empire. If completely open global markets were not an attainable objective, then freedom of the seas was something the British could maintain for its own purposes and the United States could simply enjoy the free ride.

The United States could have chosen to exercise world power along formal imperial lines-it could have acquired colonies, and there were many opportunities for it to do so. 3 The United States did annex the Philippines, and has a very ambiguous relationship to Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and other American territories. For most of its history, however, the land and peoples that it acquired, with the exception of the indigenous nations of North America, were ultimately assimilated as fully equal participants in the American government. The deliberate choice to forgo the colonial option is a distinctive attribute of American foreign policy, and some American leaders, such as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, injected the idea of self-determination into the discourse of world politics in powerful and revolutionary ways. But the choice also made it very difficult for the United States to maintain a visible and effective presence abroad. Ultimately, the United States is obliged to maintain military bases abroad in order to exercise its power on a global scale, and there are significant problems with that approach. 4

These circumstances conspired to create the idea of American exceptionalism, a powerful understanding of the United States as a "different" nation, one whose destiny lay in remaining separate and apart from the rest of the world. 5 But this sense of difference extended only to the political and military realm: political engagement with the rest of the world was considered not merely unnecessary but also dangerous. Economic engagement was an entirely different matter, as Washington himself had indicated in his Farewell Address. 6 Throughout its history, the United States extended its commercial activity as far as the imperial structures of the world would permit, but it would chafe at those limitations. These limitations were both a blessing and a curse for the United States. The limitations were maintained by the European powers themselves, and these structures, most obviously symbolized by the British Navy, created "free" possibilities for peaceful commercial in non-imperial areas. At the same time, however, these structures inhibited the expansion of American economic interests in vast areas of the planet.

Until the late 19th century, the United States did not really concern itself with those limitations, largely because they really did not matter all that much. Its foreign policy was largely confined to the continent of North America. The imperial powers in North America had, by their very presence, displaced the claims of the indigenous nations, and Americans continued the process of displacement with few questions about the legitimacy of those actions. The Americans also quite deliberately pursued an anti-imperial policy in North America, itself an imperial policy often referred to as "Manifest Destiny." The preoccupation of the Americans with the colonization of the vast continent gave little time or opportunity for engagement with the European powers in other areas. And the fecundity of the continent guaranteed that the absence of external contacts in no way compromised the economic aspirations of the nation as a whole.

By the beginning of the 20th century the United States was clearly the dominant economic power on the planet. In 1913, its Gross National Product was over three times larger than that of Great Britain and its manufacturing production was twice as great. 7 Its military power, however, did not even register on a global scale: it had 155,000 men under arms in 1913. Great Britain had 533,000; Germany, 859,000; and Russia, 1,286,000. 8 Most people in the United States saw no necessary connection between its economic prowess and the ability, or even need, to project power globally.

Imperial vs. Hegemonic Power: What Are the Responsibilities of Great Power?

Most European nations had always assumed that the connection between political control and economic activity was both obvious and seamless, a legacy of mercantilist and imperial thought and practice. By the end of the 19th century European domination of the planet along these lines was virtually complete. There were, however, three nations-Germany, Japan, and the United States-that had arrived late in the game and had ended up with very few imperial possessions. Both Germany and Japan made clear decisions to enter the game vigorously, decisions that involved still-open parts of the world such as China and, ultimately, decisions to undo previously accepted acquisitions. These decisions contributed to the catastrophes of the 20th century. The United States, however, found it difficult to make any decisions about its overall global status and instead made a series of ad hoc decisions that defied coherence and consistency.

Some American decisions, such as the annexation of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, were quite decidedly imperial. There is little question that this decision was deliberate and planned, although there are questions concerning whether the decision reflected the sentiments of the United States government as a whole or simply the imperial aspirations of Theodore Roosevelt. 9

Other decisions, however, made at virtually the same time displayed no such single-mindedness. The decision to declare war with Spain over Cuba was a fitful one, made slowly over a period of five years, with many attempts at conciliation without war. When the war decision was made, the United States was woefully unprepared. In 1897, the United States had only 44,000 men under arms and it sent many of its troops to Cuba in winter gear and without proper support. The conclusion of the war in Cuba was similarly confused. Despite sentiments for the annexation of Cuba dating back to Jefferson, the United States decided instead for a vague, quasi-dependent status for Cuba expressed best by the Platt Amendment.

The ambivalence of American objectives in the Spanish-American War is rooted in its inability to define its objectives in a war against an imperial power, Spain. On the one hand, Roosevelt's objectives in annexing the Philippines suggest that the conflict was over which imperial power would rule in what country, not a conflict over whether imperial rule itself was in question. On the other hand, McKinley's war in Cuba was inspired largely by the consequences of disarray in Cuba, both economic and humanitarian, and ended with the removal of a clearly imperial power and its replacement by a power that wished only to exert oblique control over the territory.

This distinction highlights the difference between imperial and hegemonic power. 10 Both require power. And both require the political will to control events in the international system. But imperial power is based upon direct control of territory while hegemonic power is derived from control of a system in which other territories participate. The characteristic of a hegemonic system not shared by an imperial system is that a viable hegemony requires the dominant power to articulate an international system that is considered mutually beneficial by the major actors within the system. Each of these three points deserve elaboration, starting with the third point. 11

Imperial systems demand a high degree of conformity to a system that reflects little more than the self-interest of the imperial power. 12 The imperial pattern is quite old although there is a high degree of variation in its implementation. Some imperial powers were considered more enlightened than others. But the distinguishing feature of an imperial system is the desire of the dominant state to control external territory directly. Hegemonic systems defend the self-interests of the dominant state by realigning the self-interests of the other major powers by creating and/or defending a system that benefits them. In so doing, the dominant power assures a higher degree of cooperation than is typically the case in an imperial system. The cooperation minimizes the costs of maintaining the system substantially.

Secondly, power in an imperial system tends to emphasize the means of coercive control, typically through the use of armed forces. In order to sustain the necessary military capability for direct control over time, however, a state must also have a fairly robust and dynamic economy. Without economic growth generated by a strong commercial sector, all imperial systems tend to decay over time in what Paul Kennedy described as "imperial overstretch." 13 The collapse of the Soviet Union can largely be attributed to its inability to generate sufficient self-sustaining growth to support its military requirements. More important, however, is that fact that imperial systems tend to be highly coercive since they are imposed from the outside on generally unwilling states. The military requirements for imperial systems therefore tend to be very substantial.

Hegemonic systems also require power, but because there is a higher degree of cooperation among the major powers, the sources of power can be more diverse and less intrusive. Economic power, for example, is typically more effective in reinforcing behavior than in changing behavior (the pitiful track record of economic sanctions in the 20th century testifies to the difficulty of changing behavior, as is the generally poor record of economic assistance from capitalist economies to non-capitalist ones). The Marshall Plan is an excellent example of power being used in a reinforcing manner. American economic assistance to the war-ravaged European states after World War II buttressed the desire of those states to reintegrate themselves into a pre-existing capitalist system that had broad, but increasingly tenuous, support among their populations. American aid was effective because it was targeted toward populations that wanted American aid to be successful in terms compatible with American interests.

Finally, no state becomes either an imperial or hegemonic power unless it chooses to do so. Almost by definition, if a state has the power to become a dominant power, it is unlikely that any other state has the ability to compel it to do so. The question of will to power is for some theorists of International Relations, such as realists, generally not questioned but rather assumed. The assumption is wrong. Many states have turned their backs on global responsibilities: the United States in 1920 is but one example-Germany and Japan have not assiduously cultivated their potential global power in the post World War II period.

Indeed, as the process of democratization continues throughout the world, there are plausible reasons to suspect that many peoples would prefer not to take on the rather onerous burdens of global leadership through war. Immanuel Kant first broached this idea in his defense of republican governments in Perpetual Peace:

The republican constitution, besides the purity of its origin (having sprung from the pure source of the concept of law), also gives a favorable prospect for the desired consequence, i.e., perpetual peace. The reason is this: if the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared (and in this constitution it cannot but be the case), nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war. Among the latter would be: having to fight, having to pay the costs of war from their own resources, having painfully to repair the devastation war leaves behind, and, to fill up the measure of evils, load themselves with a heavy national debt that would embitter peace itself and that can never be liquidated on account of constant wars in the future. 14

The will to power is probably not as quiescent in democracies as Kant assumes and there is substantial evidence to suggest that nationalist sentiments are easily aroused in democracies given specific circumstances. Nonetheless, there is a large element of truth in Kant's observation, particularly with respect to the United States for most of its history. Curiously, some conservative theorists lament the accuracy of Kant's analysis because it enervates America's willingness to suffer losses in pursuit of its foreign policy. 15

Indeed, in those circumstances in which the United States has not been directly attacked or threatened with a direct attack, the American people have generally obstructed sustained engagements abroad. Theodore Roosevelt felt quite constrained in his active foreign policy by the strength of the anti-imperialist movement led by such figures as Senator George Hoar and Mark Twain. And the anti-war movement during the Vietnam conflict unquestionably constrained the military conduct of the war. Finally, the question of American casualties since Vietnam has limited American options in virtually all its military engagements abroad since 1991 in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.

Roosevelt's Decision that the US Should Become a Hegemonic Power

Isolationism is generally regarded now as a pejorative term, but its banner has been held high by many Americans throughout the history of the country for the reasons outlined at the beginning of this essay. It is a deeply-rooted perspective and has proven to be quite resistant to efforts on the part of many American statesmen to engage the United States in a more internationalist foreign policy. 16 There are, however, two clear exceptions to this perspective.

First, as noted above, the American people have generally been quite supportive of commercial activity abroad as long as that activity has little negative impact on the domestic economy. The United States has a long history of being a rather protectionist state; its history of being an active supporter of free trade after World War II reflects a unique period of time in which American goods enjoyed a virtual monopoly in world markets. As that unique circumstance has changed, American support for free trade has tended to diminish. Indeed, one now finds a rather unusual alliance between the right in the United States, led by people like Patrick Buchanan, and the left, fueled by the anti-globalization movement, against free trade. President Bush's recent decision to impose tariffs on some imported steel reflects the growing significance of those disaffected with free trade. 17

Second, the American people are most decidedly not isolationist when the United States is attacked or threatened with attack. In this respect, the American people are not unique-most nations will respond to an armed attack if that option is available to them. But in many of the circumstances in which the United States has become engaged with the rest of the world, the immediate catalyst for such intervention was an attack on American interests or American soil. In the Spanish-American War, the attack was the destruction of the USS Maine; in World War I, it was the strategic threat posed by a German-Mexican alliance; in World War II, it was the attack on Pearl Harbor; and in current-day Afghanistan (and elsewhere), it was the attacks of 11 September. None of these events completely explains US engagement in these wars, but, without them, it is not likely that the United States would have entered into these wars.

These two categories of possibilities are the limiting cases of American isolationism. As long as American money (and culture) are going abroad, most Americans do not view this activity as "engagement," even though many abroad consider these activities to be highly intrusive. And most Americans do not consider self-defense to be an extension of American interests abroad, and, in this, most citizens of other states are likely to agree.

Aside from these exceptions, isolationism represented the "normal" foreign policy of the United States until World War II even though the American government at times tried to elicit support for a more engaged policy with the rest of the world. Some of these efforts were spectacular failures, none more obvious than Woodrow Wilson's attempt to gain American participation in the League of Nations. Indeed, Wilson's failure in this effort is a "ghost" that has yet to be fully exorcised from American politics, and serves as a cautionary tale to those policy-makers who would move too far our in front of the sentiments of the American people. 18

No American President knew this better than Franklin Roosevelt who viewed the onset of World War II as a result of the lack of hegemonic leadership. He had made over eight hundred speeches in favor of the League of Nations in 1920. 19 But the defeat of the League Covenant could not be explained as anything other than an accurate reading of the attitudes of the American population. His reconciliation of these conditions is well described by Henry Kissinger:

Roosevelt had been far ahead of his people when he discerned that a Hitler victory would jeopardize American security. But he was at one with his people in rejecting the traditional world of European diplomacy. When he insisted that a Nazi victory would threaten America, he did not mean to enlist America on behalf of restoring the European balance of power. To Roosevelt, the purpose of the war was to remove Hitler as the obstacle to a cooperative international order based on harmony, not on equilibrium. 20

In other words, the war began because there was no hegemonic power with the ability to defend the liberal political economic order. Great Britain certainly had the will to defend the old imperial system, but it lacked the means to do so. Germany and Japan similarly had the will to substitute their own imperial order, and, in the early stages of the war, came close to demonstrating the capability to do so. And the Soviet Union had its own vision of an imperial order, and ultimately demonstrates the will and enough of a capability to establish it as a legitimate pretender to a new imperial order.

For Roosevelt, none of these options seemed either desirable or consistent with American interests. Each represented a threat to his vision of a preferred world order. More importantly, however, the mere fact that global leadership was up for grabs was a serious problem for the United States. Roosevelt's response was to begin pushing for a postwar world order that both protected American interests and was compatible with American public opinion. He also made sure that he did not repeat Wilson's mistake of not adequately preparing the American people and political establishment for his preferred strategy of American engagement through multilateral institutions.

One part of this strategy was to identify the sources of the war in the irresponsibility of the major powers after 1920 in not exercising their powers in enforcing the peace and in maintaining the global political and economic system. In truth, the global liberal order had disintegrated: liberal democracies had virtually disappeared in Europe and the liberal economic system had collapsed under the pressure of the Great Depression. No state had taken any steps to protect this order, and many states had in fact aggravated the decline.

For Roosevelt and his colleagues, the United States had abdicated its responsibility to defend the liberal order, and this failure had led to the Second World War. In especially harsh language, the Under Secretary of State, Sumner Welles, condemned the refusal of the United States is exercising its global power in a speech in 1942:

The people of the United States were offered at the conclusion of the last war the realization of a great vision. They were offered the opportunity of sharing in the assumption of responsibility for the maintenance of peace in the world by participating in an international organization designed to prevent and to quell the outbreak of war. That opportunity they rejected. They rejected it in part because of the human tendency after a great upsurge of emotional idealism to seek the relapse into what was once termed "normalcy." They rejected it because of partisan politics. They rejected if because of the false propaganda, widely spread, that by our participation in a world order we would incur the danger of war rather than avoid it. They rejected it because of unenlightened selfishness. 21

This mistake was not going to be repeated after World War II. Plans for a liberal world order were being made even before the United States entered the war.

The first clear sign that the United States would embrace a more engaged foreign policy after the war was over came in the meeting Roosevelt had with Prime Minister Churchill in Argentia off the coast of Newfoundland in mid-1941. These discussions led to the Atlantic Charter Declaration which for the first time committed the United States to a "wider and permanent system of general security." But there were other commitments implicit in the document, none of which were spelled out, that signaled the strong disagreements between Roosevelt and Churchill over the issue of free trade and the future of colonial empires. In other words, Roosevelt was committed to a distinctly American system, one more fully consistent with American interests than the system enforced by the British prior to 1914 and one greatly preferred to the non-system that had existed since 1920.

The signing of the Atlantic Charter "proclaimed the end of American isolationism even more emphatically than lend-lease had done." 22 While there was considerable post-war planning throughout the war, Roosevelt never emphasized those plans and never really deviated from his central objective of defeating the Axis powers. By the time that defeat was obvious, Roosevelt articulated his vision of the American hegemonic system, and moved to institutionalize America's role in that system.

In 1944, the shape of the American hegemonic system became more transparent. The system was to include two sets of international organizations. The first, the United Nations system, was to regulate the world's political and military situations. It was structured in a way to avoid the isolationist criticism of the League of Nations. The Security Council and the veto power granted to the permanent members assured the isolationists in Congress that American sovereignty was not compromised. It was also given powers that explicitly questioned the right of colonial rule. The second organization, the Bretton Woods institutions-the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and what was eventually to become the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade-was to regulate the world's economic system. Its mandate was to protect the structure of market capitalism and to insure its future success.

These institutions locked the United States into permanent relationships with the rest of the world and there was little question that the United States would have a leading role in shaping their decisions. But they were also crafted in a way that addressed the concerns of virtually all the major actors in the world. British concerns over the dissolution of their empire were partially assuaged by the creation of the Trusteeship Committee; Soviet concerns were addressed by extending the power of the veto in the Security Council to matters in which one of the Permanent Members was a party; the Chinese were given Permanent Member status even though they lacked sufficient power to warrant that position; and the French were ultimately brought in as a Permanent Member over the objections of the Soviets.

The two other major powers, Germany and Japan, were not given a choice and their status was determined imperially, and not hegemonically. These countries were occupied by the victors and the German political system was dictated by the Americans, the British, the French, and the Soviets. The Japanese future was left almost entirely in the hands of the Americans. But the Americans left little doubt that the ultimate objective was to reintegrate these countries into the American system, an objective that would contribute substantially to the underlying tensions of what would become the Cold War.

Roosevelt's decisions determined the pattern of American engagement with the rest of the world. The United States would engage only as a member, albeit the strongest member, of a broader coalition of states. In part, this strategy was designed to alleviate the fears of the still rather strong isolationist sentiments within the country (although the congressional elections of 1944 had turned out some of their most visible members-Gerald Nye and Hamilton Fish). 23 The strategy was also designed to avoid the appearance of imperial behavior. The United States did seek merely to replace the British or the French, or to cash in on the defeat of the would-be imperial powers, Germany and Japan. Roosevelt's legacy for world order was a repudiation of both isolationism and internationalism-it was, in truth, a frank recognition that American self interests could only be protected by defending a global order that reflected those interests and the values that informed them.

The Truman Decision to Contain the Soviet Union: The Move Away from Hegemonic Power

It is impossible to determine how Roosevelt would have implemented his vision and it is likely that even he did not know. He always trusted his instincts and was a distinctly ad hoc type of politician. His successor, however, was not well groomed to take his place, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. Harry Truman had been a strong supporter of Roosevelt's plans, but only on the most superficial and rhetorical level. David McCullough's description of Truman on his first day in office is revealing:

Truman had no experience in relations with Britain or Russia, no firsthand knowledge of Churchill or Stalin. He didn't know the right people. He didn't know Harriman. He didn't know his own Secretary of State, more than to say hello. He had no background in foreign policy, no expert or experienced advisers of his own to call upon for help…Roosevelt had done nothing to keep him informed or provide background on decisions and plans at the highest levels…He was unprepared, bewildered. And frightened. 24

Truman also showed the sensibilities of hegemonic leadership in his first address to Congress on 16 April 1945 when he stated that "the responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world." However, the period from 1945 to March of 1947 does not suggest that Truman had any ambition to exercise such responsibility. 25

Truman's rhetorical understanding of what ought to be done was of little protection against powerful pressures opposed to American leadership. Very quickly, Truman made a number of decisions that precluded American engagement abroad or that suggested that American cooperation with other countries would be limited. The first, and most obvious, decision, was to end the war against Japan without Soviet participation. Truman had come to believe that true cooperation with the Soviets in the postwar world was a delusion, a realization driven home by the meeting in Potsdam in July of 1945. 26 There is little question that the immediate basis for Truman's decision to use atomic bombs against Japan was the desire to minimize American casualties. But the American perception of Soviet behavior in Poland and Germany had made the prospect of a German-type solution in Japan very unappealing, and Truman did not wish a repeat of that unstable policy in Japan by allowing Soviet participation.

Once it was clear that the war in Europe was over, Truman also had no intention of remaining involved in European affairs. Gaddis describes his attitude in these terms:

Truman and Byrnes had one overriding objective at Potsdam: they wanted to clear up remaining wartime problems so that United States military and economic responsibilities in Europe could be terminated as quickly as possible. Both men were able practitioners of the art of politics, acutely sensitive to the American public's desire for a return to normalcy at home and abroad. 27

The attitude is sharply inconsistent with Roosevelt's vision of the postwar world order, although Roosevelt himself had made it clear that he had no intention of stationing troops in Europe.

What quickly followed were a series of decisions that diminished the ability of the United States to influence world affairs. The lend-lease program was abruptly canceled; thirty US divisions had been moved from the European theater to the Pacific theater; and the pace of demobilization of American forces was breathtakingly rapid. In 1945, the US had 12 million men under arms; in 1946, that number dropped to 2.8 million. 28 Driven by a powerful desire to balance the budget, Truman cut the defense budget by 1948 to levels only slightly higher than pre-war levels. Figure 1 gives a rough idea of how precipitous the decline actually was. Robert Pollard describes the strategic implications of this pullback:

The pell-mell demobilization of American armed forces after the war demonstrated the underlying strength of neo-isolationism. Forrestal and Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson, who had replaced Stimson in September, warned Truman in October 1945 that demobilization jeopardized the American strategic position in the world. Truman agreed, but felt that he could do nothing to stop it. In January 1946, Forrestal noted in his diary, the "Under Secretary [Dean Acheson] said [demobilization] was a matter of great embarrassment and concern to his own Department in their conduct of our foreign affairs."
The Truman White House could not contain the overpowering public and bipartisan Congressional outcry-accompanied by riots at overseas military bases in January 1946-for the early return home of American soldiers. 29

Figure 1

There are several possible explanations for this dramatic pull-back of American power from the rest of the world. One possibility is that the development of atomic weapons fostered the illusion that US engagement could be fully sustained without military or financial support to the rest of the world. Another possibility is that Truman believed that the Rooseveltian system was self-executing and that wartime cooperation had created patterns of behavior that did not need American power to sustain. Finally, the pullback could simply reflect the basic power of American isolationism to overwhelm the political pressures for American leadership in world affairs. Indeed, the Congressional elections in 1946 were a disaster for Truman as both the House and the Senate returned to Republican control. There is probably a degree of truth in all three possibilities, which suggests that Truman did not fully appreciate the magnitude of the full responsibilities of global hegemonic power.

Truman did, however, confront the possibility that American power was insufficient to deter the growth of Soviet power, and he slowly began to respond to what he perceived as a serious Soviet threat to American interests. The frustrations over Soviet actions in Poland and Iran, the anxiety produced by Stalin's speech on February, 1946, the deterioration of French and Italian support for Western positions, and the Ottawa spy scandal all demonstrated to Truman that Soviet ambitions were threatening American interests. By the time the civil war in Greece heated up again and the British passed their "blue note" to the United States, Truman was ready to take action to stop further Soviet activity. It is at this point that American policy begins to coalesce around a perceived Soviet threat.

Truman's address to the Congress on 12 March 1947 represents a fundamentally different decision to support American engagement with the rest of the world than was Roosevelt's decision to support the American presence in the United Nations and the Bretton Woods organizations. Truman made a decision to contain the Soviet Union, not a decision to support an American hegemony. It is not clear, however, that Truman understood the difference, nor that he thought the distinction important. From his point of view, containing the Soviet Union was, in fact, defending the American system. Containing the Soviet Union, moreover, was an easier political agenda than supporting the UN or the IMF since it was based on an implicit threat to the United States, one that became more plausible to the American people as the Cold War unfolded. Subsequent events in Berlin, Czechoslovakia, China, and Korea heightened this threat, and the Soviet detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949 made the threat to American territory itself a realistic possibility. In this manner, the re-emergence of American isolationism was seemingly aborted.

The two decisions--Roosevelt's and Truman's--are not, however, identical. Retrospectively, the most important difference is easy to identify: what is American policy if the Soviet Union disappears? Why should the American system be defended if there is no central threat to it? These questions highlight the importance of nurturing the system even in the absence of a threat. A hegemonic power cannot assume that its system is self-executing or self-sustaining-indifference to these responsibilities is perhaps the greatest threat to a hegemonic system.

Moreover, the emphasis on the Soviet threat to the system devalues the system as a whole. All other objectives become secondary to the need to contain the Soviet threat. Thus, one of the first parts of the Rooseveltian system to be jettisoned by Truman is the insistence on decolonization. When confronted with French insistence on their return to Vietnam, Truman makes the calculation that in order to have French support in Europe against the Soviet Union, he will concede to the French on Vietnam. 30 Similar calculations were made whenever the United States found itself allying with regimes that shared few, if any, of the values of the American system in order to secure their support against the Soviets. Being anti-Soviet was most emphatically not the same policy as being pro-democratic.

Finally, American public opinion was certainly swayed by the perception of an external threat to support and active American presence abroad but there were costs associated with that approach. The threat had to be overblown and simplified to achieve its desired political objectives. The threat was also hijacked by Senator McCarthy and the damage inflicted on the American political system, not merely in terms of the lives affected, but in the intellectual paralysis induced by the movement, was tremendous. In the end, the threat becomes the prism through which all world events are viewed, much to the detriment of the process of decolonization which loses its autonomy and integrity through the inability to be treated as a movement largely independent of the US-USSR competition.

There were many in the Truman Administration who held to the wider vision of American hegemony. George Kennan took every opportunity to celebrate the essential strengths of American practices and values, but found himself squeezed out as the focus of the Truman Administration settled into the rather stark language of NSC-68. General Marshall's understanding of the financial assistance to Europe in 1947 was driven more by his concern over the wretched economic conditions there than it was by a fear of Soviet influence. These voices eventually are drowned out by those who justify American global engagement almost exclusively in terms of containing the Soviet Union. From 1947 to 1991, American policy, both foreign and domestic, is dominated by the need to contain the Soviet Union.

Engagement After the Cold War: The Move Toward Unilateral Isolationism

American engagement with the world changes slowly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. There was a clear note of triumphalism in American politics, but also a sense that American foreign policy had lost its focus. 31 Now that the basis for Truman's policy of engagement was no longer operative, would the nation revert back to Roosevelt's vision? Would it revert back to its even earlier policy of isolationism? Or would it develop a completely new vision of a preferred world order?

Answering these questions is complicated by the fact that the United States is quite clearly the world's dominant power almost by default. The military gap between the United States and all other countries, including its allies is huge and growing quite dramatically as the wars in the Persian Gulf, Kosovo, and Afghanistan amply demonstrate. 32 The United States could choose any one of three policies-imperialist, hegemonic, or isolationist-and still be relatively immune in the short run from direct attack by any other power. The United States has a freedom of choice that is truly remarkable in modern history, depending almost entirely on how it wishes to define its interests.

To complicate matters even further, there is a sense that the world order itself is breaking down only at the peripheries of power. The Great Powers seem to be working relatively well together and there are no imminent threats of a Great Power war-indeed, the assimilation of China and Russia into the ranks of accepted Great Powers has been accomplished in a rather non-violent manner. But disorder seems to be growing in other areas: breakdowns in southeastern Europe, the Middle East, central Africa, South Asia, and southeast Asia. And in non-security matters, there are growing concerns about the long-run stability of the system with respect to environmental issues, global poverty, drug control, and health matters. Finally, there is heightened concern about terrorism and its ability to disrupt global stability.

The American transition to this new world initially suggested that the United States might revert back to the hegemonic role envisioned by Roosevelt. The first real challenge to the United States came from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In this particular case, the United States assembled a rather extensive and diverse set of allies, maintained a very narrow set of objectives acceptable to those allies (not including the overthrow of the Iraqi regime), and protected the global petroleum market from serious disruption. The focus of American policy was on maintaining the integrity of an international system based on principles of sovereignty and open access to markets. That its own selfish interests were also satisfied by this action does not detract from the hegemonic nature of the intervention.

Similarly, the Clinton Administration pursued many policies that were mostly hegemonic although the isolationist pressures on the Administration were quite intense and the issues facing it were extraordinarily complicated. The interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as the intervention in Haiti, were pursued without any intention to exert direct territorial control other than the interest of stopping violence, and under the rubric of international organizations. Further, the Clinton Administration pursued the issue of free trade with vigor and at considerable political cost, most obviously in the case of NAFTA. It would be a mistake, however, to characterize the Clinton Administration's first term foreign policy as particularly coherent or consistent. David Halberstam describes the world Clinton inherited in these terms:

The country, to be blunt, was more powerful and more influential than ever before, but it was looking inward. It was the most schizophrenic of nations, a monopoly superpower that did not want to be an imperial power, and whose soul, except in financial and economic matters, seemed to be more and more isolationist. 33

Nonetheless, both the administrations of George H.W. Bush and William Clinton were confronted with issues that defied resolution. All the cases mentioned above-Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti-are still open and constitute serious drains on American power. The American people have, for the time being at least, decided that they are willing to subsidize these efforts as long as American blood is not shed. These cases represent the normal operating costs of a hegemony. The international system is a collective good which means that it is plagued by a "free rider" syndrome-the hegemon is always expected to maintain order because the costs of disorder are unknown but possibly quite high. Less powerful actors understand the overriding interests of the hegemonic power, and generally will slough off the costs of maintaining order onto the hegemon. The critical question for a hegemon is always: what will happen if the disorder spreads? Who will suffer? For an isolationist world power, that question is quite different: How can the state insulate itself from the costs of disorder?

The current administration of George W. Bush seems to be asking the isolationist question, and has thus adopted a very different approach from the two previous post-Cold War administrations. There is no generally accepted term to describe the foreign policy of this administration, but many describe it as a unilateralist policy, one closely akin to the policies pursued by the Reagan Administration. In this context, unilateralism refers to an intention to preserve the maximum decision-making freedom possible in every decision. Thus, for example, the Bush Administration refused to signed the Kyoto Protocol, signaled its intention to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, indicated its strong desire to reduce the number of American peace-keeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo, and refused to sign the Protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention in July 2001. In all these cases, the United States refused to work within the framework of international organizations and preferred unilaterally to find its own solutions to these problems.

The Bush Administration's understanding of the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians is an instructive example of the difference between hegemonic and isolationist power. After coming to power, the Bush Administration made it clear that it was not going to be as centrally involved in the dispute as had the Clinton Administration. Indeed, there was a clear sense that the intimacy of US contact in the dispute had aggravated the tensions in the region. In a press briefing on 28 February 2002, Presidential Press Secretary Ari Fleischer suggested that the intense efforts of the Clinton Administration had led to greater violence within the region. 34 This argument was picked up by William Safire who, in his Op-Ed column in the New York Times of 11 March 2002 who argued that "the intense pressure for a comprehensive settlement brought to bear two years ago by the previous administration…had led to the diplomatic disaster at Camp David and, in its aftermath, the current violence." 35

Both Fleischer and Safire are almost certainly mistaken in their understanding of the outbreak of violence in the region which began in September 2000. The United States's intervention in the peace process certainly raised expectations about possible resolutions to the crisis, but it was the withdrawal of American efforts that led to the sustained violence. Indeed, hope for a reduction in the violence has only recently been revived by the reintroduction of American power symbolized by the missions of Vice-President Cheney and General Zinni. 36 In other words, isolationism or indifference served neither the interests of the Israelis, the Palestinians, or the United States as it sought to secure support for its longer term plans in the war against terrorism-hegemonic power was necessary.

It is not clear that the recent change in American policy in the Middle East represents a lesson learned, or whether it represents a tactical maneuver to defuse opposition to planned actions against Iraq. What was clear to the United States was that its future objectives with respect to Iraq required it to move on the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The tactic may simply represent an attempt to increase the range of unilateral actions available to the United States in its current war against terrorism. Unilateralism is simply a specific form of isolationism. There are isolationists who simply do not care about the rest of the world, considering it unimportant. There are not many of these types of isolationist in positions of power anymore and Senator Jesse Helms may be the last of that breed. The more traditional American isolationist is one that simply wishes to avoid "entangling alliances," the phrase used by Thomas Jefferson who had great admiration for many other parts of the world. This isolationist is also a unilateralist, and the distinguishing feature of a unilateralist is a deep suspicion of the intentions of other states and a very high opinion of the capabilities of the United States. Arthur Schlesinger characterized the Reagan Administration in these terms:

…for the Reaganite nationalist ideology is, among other things, a new form of historic American isolationism. Isolationism never meant American secession from the world. Its essence was the rejection of commitments to other states and insistence on unhampered freedom of action. 37

But there is a second dimension to the unilateralism of the Bush Administration that stems from its sense of relative power in the world. The United States really does not have a dangerous conventional adversary in the world today, or at least one that cannot be controlled or contained in non-violent ways. This belief in the power of the country gives tremendous latitude to action. Vice-President Cheney, in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations on 16 February 2002 on the war against Afghanistan, summarized his own views of America's unique role in the world in very stark terms:

I've seen President Bush bring this coalition together with great steadiness and skill, working with old allies, seeking new ones, consulting every day with other leaders, laying the groundwork for a sustained, unified and successful campaign. America has friends and allies in this cause, but only we can lead it. Only we can rally the world in a task of this complexity against an enemy so elusive and so resourceful. The United States and only the United States can see this effort through to victory. 38

Unilateralist isolationism coupled with a conviction of uncontestable power is unlikely to lead to a dispassionate policy of hegemonic control, particularly if the United States views its major contemporary threat as one conducted in the shadows, with no official governmental sanction and no specific base of operations. In such circumstances, all territory is suspect and any action is sanctionable given the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, as actions have been taken in the Philippines and Yemen, and increasing talk of actions in Georgia, Somalia, and Iraq, a rather high degree of apprehension has seeped into the conversations around the world about the intentions of the United States. In all these cases, the United States has not sought the support of appropriate international organizations. There is little question that many are now perceiving the activities of the United States in an imperial, and not hegemonic, framework.

Finally, the third dimension of unilateral isolationism is an unshakeable belief in the universality of American ideals. In a very real sense, this attribute has been a distinguishing characteristic of American foreign policy since the foundation of the Republic (and even earlier). Americans did not invent this pretension-it is a legacy of the Enlightenment and one shared by many other nations. But few other nations can link up this assumption with such an extraordinary reservoir of power. President Bush expressed this assumption clearly in his State of the Union Address in 2002:

If anyone doubts this, let them look to Afghanistan, where the Islamic "street" greeted the fall of tyranny with song and celebration. Let the skeptics look to Islam's own rich history, with its centuries of learning, and tolerance and progress. America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere.
No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. We have no intention of imposing our culture. But America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and religious tolerance. 39

The statement is extraordinary because, while the President asserts that the United States has "no intention of imposing" its culture (and is undoubtedly sincere in his belief), he is obliged to enfold Islam only within liberal principles. The only "good" Muslims are liberals, and non-liberal Muslims are by definition "bad." In other words, adherence to American principles defines who are enemies and who can be allies, and trumps every other competing or alternative principle.

Unilateral Isolationism vs. Hegemonic Leadership

Separating the sheep from the goats is perhaps good domestic rhetoric, but is probably a poor basis for a foreign policy since it raises all sorts of questions about American intentions. Foreign policy should be directed toward reducing security threats to a state, not pursuing the eradication of evil. There were many opportunities to behave hegemonically after the events of 11 September 2001, but virtually none of these options were pursued. No other state in the international system contested America's invocation of its sovereign right of self-defense, nor did any state regard the incident as anything less than a horrific act of barbarism. America was assured of solid support in responding effectively, but narrowly, to the attack.

This universal sympathy was not completely altruistic; all states share a common interest in protecting the right of self-defense. In a hegemonic system, that right ought to be collectively defended, but the United States did not acknowledge, or use, the mechanisms of collective security. For the first time in its history, NATO invoked Article 5 and NATO members have participated in the war in Afghanistan, but the war itself is not a NATO operation. The United Nations itself had condemned Afghanistan's policy of harboring Osama bin Laden in 1999 in Security Council Resolution 1267, but the Bush Administration has never referred to this resolution as a basis for its actions against Afghanistan. 40

Collective security mechanisms were not invoked after 11 September because the Bush Administration wished to preserve the maximum flexibility in prosecuting the war. It is undoubtedly true that securing the sanction of various international organizations would have limited the options available to the United States. But maximum flexibility also produces constraints on foreign policy. What followed the attacks of 11 September were a series of rather breathless ad hoc arrangements conducted bilaterally between the United States and a number of likely and unlikely allies. The arrangements undoubtedly involved secret and silent agreements that will probably compromise some objectives of American foreign policy at some point in the future. For example, Russian support for the operation (or, at least, silence from the Russians) seems to have been procured by a decision not to raise the issue of human rights in Russian operations in Chechnya. Similarly, Chinese cooperation will likely cost the United States its voice on the issue of the treatment of Uighers in Northwest China. In short, the United States will be limited in its future foreign policy-it remains to be seen if those constraints will be more or less onerous than the constraints of seeking prior approval.

The larger question is whether the United States trusts the mechanisms it put in place during the Second World War actually to maintain systemic order. The Cold War damaged the integrity of some of those institutions by denying them fruitful avenues of compromise because of the ideological climate-the United Nations, for example, was too often viewed by some as an extension of American power and by others as an institution that undermined American interests. 41 Other institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have suffered similarly. It is in the clear interest of the United States to assure the integrity of these institutions since, without them, the United States has no viable alternative to unilateral isolationism.

There are two necessary components to developing this trust in hegemonic leadership. The first is a long-term perspective on defining success in foreign policy. It is unlikely that international institutions can move quickly in matters of great urgency, and unilateral action must be preserved as an option. But, in most cases, a long-term perspective is the most relevant one. US-China policy is a good example of where a longer term perspective advanced American interests quite well. In his first term, President Clinton was under extraordinary pressure to produce yearly results on human rights practices in China in order to secure Congressional approval for Most Favored Nation trading provisions. The results of these activities were not especially dramatic and they in fact aggravated US-Chinese relations to a considerable extent.

In his second term, President Clinton changed his policy, deciding that pushing the political agenda of human rights was never going to change Chinese behavior in any meaningful way. An alternative approach was advanced by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, one that emphasized the inherent political consequences of increased market-based economic activity:

The need for capital to fuel China's growth -- for which China must compete with other compelling new markets around the world -- increases the need for greater rule of law and predictability, at least in its commercial affairs. And the fellow travelers of the new global economy -- computers and modems, faxes and photocopiers, increased contacts and binding contracts -- carry with them the seeds of change. Can China successfully make the next great leap toward a modern economy in the Information Age without producing the result of empowering its people, further decentralizing decision making, and giving its citizens more choices in their lives? Possible -- but I doubt it. 42

In other words, Berger was willing to engage in an American version of wu-wei--letting the soft water of capitalism wear away the hard rock of authoritarianism. Such a policy requires not only great patience but also a deep trust in the efficacy of liberal institutions.

The second component of relying more heavily on hegemonic leadership involves a willingness to suffer losses, and the ability to distinguish serious losses from less serious ones. Stanley Hoffman, in his thoughtful book, Primacy or World Order, observed that the United States is almost obliged to play every game in world politics. 43 This observation accurately reflects the burden of hegemonic leadership. But it does not necessarily follow that the United States must "win" every game. The United States suffered what it viewed as significant losses during the Cold War (Vietnam being the most dramatic), but, in the end, the strategic losses were far less substantial than initially believed, particularly if one factors in the costs associated with attempts to prevent those losses.

Such critical dispassion is politically difficult, particularly in a world in which the media feels obliged to produce crises 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, political rhetoric in the United States continues to be generally unthoughtful and hyperbolic. It is impossible for statespeople to not respond in some manner to this pressure; it is necessary that they do not submit to it. One cannot wish for the illusion of the days when democracy ended at the water's edge: those days never existed, nor should they ever exist. More importantly, it is important that policy makers not inflame already bad situations by using loose rhetoric that both misleads and oversimplifies.

Ultimately, whether the United States chooses hegemonic leadership or unilateral isolationism as the way to use its power globally really depends on whether it trusts the political and philosophical foundations of the Rooseveltian system, and whether the global institutions associated with that system can be made to work effectively. By quite deliberate choice, the United States will not likely become an imperial power in the formal sense of the term. And it is extremely unlikely that the world would respond to that choice in anything but a profoundly negative way. But unilateral isolationism is closely akin to imperial behavior: the standard in both policies is adherence to the interests of the dominant power. In the current war on terror, the United States is not only demanding such adherence, it is using intrusive armed force, not just in Afghanistan, but in other countries, to enforce compliance. How long those armed forces will stay in the Philippines, Georgia, Somalia, and Yemen is unclear. Whether the United States will use its armed forces in Iraq, Iran, or North Korea remains to be seen. But the war on terrorism has been defined in a way that defies a reasonable definition of victory or conclusion, and the danger is that American armed forces might be obliged to stay on duty long enough to satisfy the criterion of being an imperial power.

Some are actually advocating the adoption of a quasi-imperial policy. 44 After the attacks of 11 September 2001, few Americans yet perceive American policies in these terms. Many outside the United States, however, are beginning to ask pointed questions about the ultimate goals of American policy. It is likely that more questions will be raised as time passes. There is no question that the United States must take actions to assure the security of its citizens, but those actions must be consistent not only with the imperatives of hegemonic leadership but also with the political and ethical values of the American people. At a time of great danger to the Republic, George Kennan offered advice to his superiors on how best to ensure the security of his country:

Finally, we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After all, the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping. 45

Imperial behavior has very shallow roots in American society and attempts to implement such policies have always proved short-lived. Hegemonic leadership is more likely to resonate strongly with American political traditions and its self-image.


1. "Everything is extraordinary in America, the social condition of the inhabitants as well as the laws; but the soil upon which these institutions are founded is more extraordinary than all the rest. When the earth was given to men by the Creator, the earth was inexhaustible; but men were weak and ignorant, and when they had learned to take advantage of the treasures which it contained, they already covered its surface and were soon obliged to earn by the sword an asylum for repose and freedom. Just then North America was discovered, as if it had been kept in reserve by the Deity and had just risen from beneath the waters of the Deluge." Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Book I, Chapter XVII, "Principal Causes Which Tend To Maintain The Democratic Republic In The United States"

2. This advantage was termed "free security" by the historian C. Vann Woodward in his article "The Age of Reinterpretation," American Historical Review, LXVI (October 1960), 2-8.

3. One should not forget that the great empires all disintegrated during American ascendancy: the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, German, Japanese, French, and British empires. Moreover, in the wars associated with these dissolutions, the United States was always on the victorious side. Traditional practice in international relations would have awarded the colonial territories to the United States.

4. One need only think of the political difficulties in maintaining military bases in Cuba (Guantanamo), the Philippines (Subic Bay), Okinawa, Saudi Arabia during and after the Gulf War of 1991, and those in Central Asia during the Afghanistan War of 2002 to get an idea of the complications associated with non-permanent stationing of troops.

5. Samuel P. Huntington, "American Ideals versus American Institutions," in American Foreign Policy: Theoretical Essays, edited by G. John Ikenberry (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1989).

6. "The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop."

7. Bruce Russett, "The Mysterious Case of Vanishing Hegemony; or, Is Mark Twain Really Dead?" International Organization Vo. 39, no. 2 (Spring 1985), p. 212.

8. J. David Singer and Melvin Small, Correlates of War Project, "National Material Capabilities Codebook," Originally Created in July 1990, Updated in April 1999, MILPERS File,

9. Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex (New York: Random House, 2001); Walter LaFeber claims that the decision to annex the Philippines had the clear support of President McKinley. See Walter LaFeber, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860-1898 Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Edition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), p. 361)

10. The distinction was made long ago by Antonio Gramsci in his discussion of hegemony. As described by Robert Cox: "Gramsci took over from Machiavelli the image of power as a centaur: half man, half beast, a necessary combination of consent and coercion. To the extent that the consensual aspect of power is in the forefront, hegemony prevails. Coercion is always latent but is only applied in marginal, deviant cases. Hegemony is enough to ensure conformity of behaviour in most people most of the time" Robert Cox, "Gramsci, Hegemony, and International Relations: An Essay in Method," in Gramsci, Historical Materialism, and International Relations, edited by Stephen Gill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 52. Alternatively, Raymond Aron tries to make a similar distinction between an imperial power and an imperialist power. See, Raymond Aron, The Imperial Republic (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974, Part II, Chapter IV.

11. The literature on hegemonic stability is huge. The liberal appropriation of the Gramscian notion begins with Charles Kindleberger, The World in Depression, 1929-39, Chapter 14, "An Explanation of the 1929 Depression," (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), pp. 291-308. See also Robert Keohane, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), Chapter 4, "Hegemony in the World Political Economy"

12. The classic formulation on the degree of freedom for imperial powers was articulated most dramatically by the Athenians to the Melians. When the Melians asked if they could simply declare themselves neutral rather than submitting to Athenian rule, Thucydides reports that the Athenians replied: "No, because it is not so much your hostility that injures us; it is rather the case that, if we were on friendly terms with you, our subjects would regard that as a sign of weakness in us, whereas your hatred is evidence of our power." Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, translated by Rex Warner, (New York: Penguin Books, 1972, Book V, p. 402.

13. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York: Vintage, 1989)

14. Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace, edited, with an introduction, by Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1957, pp. 12-13.

15. Edward Luttwak, Foreign Affairs, (July/August 1994). Moreover, many opponents of US policy in the past have based their willingness to take actions against the United States on the belief that it would not respond effectively because of the inherent weakness of democratic societies. The most recent example is Osama bin Laden's assessment that "Whether they try or not, we have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier." As quoted in Steve Macko, ERRI Risk Analyst, Osama bin Laden Threatens the U.S. on American Television," ERRI DAILY INTELLIGENCE REPORT-ERRI Risk Assessment Services, Thursday, June 11, 1998 Vol. 4 - 162

16. A very intelligent and perceptive analysis of the isolationist-internationalist dichotomy in American foreign policy is offered by Jeffrey W. Legro in his essay "Whence American Internationalism," International Organization, Vol. 54, no. 2 (Spring 2000), pp. 253-289.

17. As The Economist noted: "Most of all, Mr. Bush's decision sets a terrible example. With the world's biggest and richest country brushing aside criticism to take such a blatantly protectionist step, the gates may have been opened for scores of other countries with particular trade grievances to do the same." The Economist, "Anger Over Steel," 11 March 2002

18. See, for example, Robert S. McNamara and James G. Blight, Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century (New York: Public Affairs, 2001)

19. Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley, FDR and the Creation of the U.N. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), p. 9

20. Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), p. 395

21. Sumner Welles, Under Secretary of State, Memorial Day Address at the Arlington National Amphitheater, 30 May 1942.

22. Kenneth S. Davis, FDR: The War President, 1940-1943 (New York: Random House, 2000), p. 271.

23. The elections also brought in some of the strongest internationalists in American history: William Fulbright, Wayne Morse, and Leverett Saltonstall. See Hoopes and Brinkley, p. 164.

24. David McCullough, Truman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), p. 355.

25. "These policies and attitudes had yielded during World War II to full political involvement in world affairs as a member of a powerful team, to the wise generosity of Lend-Lease, and after the war to membership in the United Nations and enormous appropriations for relief and rehabilitation abroad. But there had been no genuine national conversion to the attitudes and policies and specific requirements--political, military, or economic--of world leadership, no confirmed acceptance of its continuing responsibilities on a scale commensurate with the need." Joseph M. Jones, The Fifteen Weeks (February 11-June 5, 1947) (New York: The Viking Press, 1955) Chapter 1, "In Washington"

26. See John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-47 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), pp. 236-243 for a description of the growing disillusionment with the Soviet Union.

27. Gaddis, p. 239

28. McCullough describes Truman's visit to the Brooklyn Navy Yard on 26 October 1945 to commission a new aircraft carrier: "It was a spectacle of national power such as no Commander in Chief had ever beheld. And it was all rapidly dissolving. Had he tried then, in these last gays of 1945, to halt the pell-mell demobilization under way and keep American fighting forces intact, he might have been impeached, so overwhelming was the country's desire for a return of its young men and women now that the war had been won, the enemy crushed. It wasn't demobilization at all, he later remarked. 'It was disintegration.'" McCullough, p. 474

29. Robert A. Pollard, Economic Security and the Origins of the Cold War, 1945-1950 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), pp. 21-22. See also Aaron L. Friedberg, In the Shadow of the Garrison State: America's Anti-Statism and Its Cold War Grand Strategy, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000)

30. United States, Department of State, Minutes of the Second Meeting Between President Truman and Prime Minister Pleven, Cabinet Room of the White House, January 30, 1951, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

31. An interesting summary of the effects of triumphalism can be found in Robert Kuttner, "After Triumphalism," The American Prospect, November 19, 2001. For a very insightful essay on the unnerving aspects of the end of the Cold War at the time see John J. Mearsheimer, "Why We Will Soon Miss The Cold War," Atlantic Monthly, August 1990

32. See Steven Erlanger, "Military Gulf Separates U.S. and European Allies," New York Times, 16 March 2002

33. David Halberstam, War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals (New York: Scribner, 2001), p. 75.

34. The words Fleischer used were that the Clinton Administration had "shot the moon" and had "ended up with nothing." He subsequently retracted those comments. See the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, Office of the White House, 28 February 2002.

35. William Safire, "Ending the War Process," New York Times, 11 March 2002

36. "This allows room for the Bush administration, which for its first 14 months had largely sought to steer clear of the Middle East conflict, to pressure Israel to adhere to the security plan even if some violence continues.
By creating conditions under which Arafat could leave Ramallah for the Cheney meeting early next week, U.S. officials feel that they are making it easier for Sharon to let Arafat go to Beirut on Wednesday and Thursday for an Arab League summit.
Arafat's attendance at the summit is seen as central to the discussion of a plan advanced by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah that would resurrect the "land-for-peace" proposals that have long been part of the Middle East formula." James Gerstenzang, "Back-Seat Plan Moves to the Forefront, L.A. Times, 21 March 2002.

37. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. The Cycles of American History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986), p. 58

38. Text of remarks by Vice President Dick Cheney before the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC, 16 February 2002.

39. President George W. Bush, "The State of the Union Address," Washington, DC, 29 January 2002

40. United Nations, Security Council, S/RES/1267 (1999), 15 October 1999

41. See, for example, the speech of Senator Jesse Helms to the United Nations General Assembly, 20 January 2000: "If the United Nations is to survive into the 21st century, it must recognize its limitations. The demands of the United States have not changed much since Henry Cabot Lodge laid out his conditions for joining the League of Nations 80 years ago: Americans want to ensure that the United States of America remains the sole judge of its own internal affairs, that the United Nations is not allowed to restrict the individual rights of U.S. citizens, and that the United States retains sole authority over the deployment of United States forces around the world."

42. Sandy Berger, "Building a New Consensus on China," Speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, New York, 6 June 1997.

43. Stanley Hoffman, Primacy or World Order: American Foreign Policy Since the Cold War (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978), p. 214.

44. See Sebastian Mallaby, "The Reluctant Imperialist: Terrorism, Failed States, and the Case for American Empire," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 81, no. 2 (Spring 2002), pp. 2-7. See also David Rothkopf, "In Praise of Cultural Imperialism," Foreign Policy (Summer 1997), pp. 38 - 53.

45. George Kennan, "Telegraphic Message from Moscow of February 22, 1946," in George F. Kennan, Memoirs, 1925-1950 (New York: Pantheon, 1967), p. 559.