Fareed Zakaria, "The Myth of America's 'Free Security' (Reconsiderations)," World Policy Journal, Vol. 14, no. 2 (Summer 1997)

Once, the story goes, there was a great and pure republic called the United States of America. It was governed by statesmen who husbanded the nation's power and exercised it prudentially. They thought little about world affairs because they were sheltered from the harsh realities of international power politics by two weak neighbors and two large oceans. England's Royal Navy policed the seas, establishing a Pax Britannica that sheltered the United States. Besides, America's history was not one of imperialism - with the exception of a few irrational spasms as in 1898 - but of economic growth and nation building.

With the rise of Germany at the turn of the century, however, everything changed. American statesmen now had to think seriously about foreign policy. The era of free security was over; Americans now had to provide for themselves. America finally had to enter the world. Since then, it has acted fitfully on the world stage, not quite understanding power politics, nor its own historical traditions. To fulfill its destiny, America must act in the world with wisdom and restraint, which requires wise and restrained counselors.

The story should be familiar. It is the version of America's diplomatic history, as presented by some of the most intelligent, perceptive students of American foreign policy - Walter Lippmann, Nicholas Spykman, George Kennan, and Hans Morgenthau that dominated the twentieth century. Lippmann fully expressed this view in his influential book, U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic:

The country...had a secure policy from the decade after the end of the War of 1812 to the end of the war with Spain in 1898.... In that long period from 1823 to 1898 the nation had lived in a state of illusory isolation: it was committed to the Monroe Doctrine, which rested upon the support of British sea power, without having been made to understand that the defense of the Western Hemisphere did in fact require the support of British sea power.... This unearned security during a long century had the effect upon our national habits of mind which the lazy enjoyment of unearned income so often has on the descendants of a hardworking grandfather. It caused us to forget that man has to earn his security and his liberty as he has to earn his living.(1)

It is a story of innocence but, like many such stories, it is not entirely accurate.

The myth of America's free security came about in the service of sensible policies. Rejecting proponents of isolation and overextension alike, Lippmann and the other "liberal realists" advocated a restrained foreign policy that would protect America's vital interests (with force if necessary) and eschew lofty rhetoric, idealistic projects, and grand promises that could not be fulfilled except at great cost. Containment was realistic, rollback impossible, and massive retaliation incredible. Europe was essential, but much of the Third World was irrelevant.

To avoid any suspicion that this worldview was foreign, even un-American, these thinkers reinterpreted American history, firmly grounding their realpolitik in the American tradition. They traced it back to the Founding Fathers, with both Alexander Hamilton and his ideological antithesis, Thomas Jefferson, pursuing a diplomacy that was shrewd and sensitive to the balance of power. Nineteenth-century foreign policy, with the acquisition of Oregon, Texas, and California as the highlights, continued the pattern of carefully defined goals backed by sufficient force to execute them.

The Tradition of Restraint

This tradition of restraint, they lamented, evaporated with the presidency of William McKinley, whose declaration of war on Spain and the annexation of the Philippines and other overseas territories launched the United States on a different path. In his In Defense of the National Interest, Morgenthau remarks that it is only fitting that McKinley should have got on his knees and waited for divine counsel when he wanted to annex the Philippines; there was no earthly reason to do so. The most important identifiable realist historian of American foreign relations, Norman Graebner, agrees, saying that with the Spanish-American War "the nation began to discard its precise and limited approaches of the nineteenth century, conducted through diplomacy and power." Like Samuel Flagg Bemis and (to an extent) Ernest May, Graebner emphasized the discontinuity in American foreign relations in the late nineteenth century and stressed the importance of domestic (almost pathological) factors to explain America's abandonment of its tradition of restraint, born in the cradle of free security.

It seems odd, however, to regard as "restrained" the process by which the 13 colonies, nestled east of the Allegheny Mountains, relentlessly marched west to acquire and occupy the continent. While European statesmen, Talleyrand included, assumed that a western frontier at the Allegheny Mountains would be the "natural boundary" of the United States, providing the newly independent settler with ample land and security, since independence, Americans had viewed the country's borders as temporary obstacles to fulfilling their "manifest destiny."

As American power grew so did the country's ambitions, and its "natural boundary" extended accordingly: first, west to the Mississippi River; then south into Florida; farther west to the Rocky Mountains; south to the Rio Grande; northwest into Oregon; and then, finally, still farther west to the Pacific coast. In 80 years, the 13 breakaway colonies on the eastern seaboard of North America had become a vast continental nation larger than any in Europe, save Russia. This expansion did not take place in a fit of absentmindedness but rather as a result of a sustained, relentlessly expansionist foreign policy that used all means necessary - diplomacy, money, and war - to achieve its goals.(2)

Nor were these ambitions exhausted with the conquest of California. In the 1850s, in the aftermath of the Mexican War, America's leaders held forth with great fervor on the virtues and necessity of expansion. President Franklin Pierce declared in his inaugural address in 1853 that his administration would "not be controlled by any timid forebodings of evil from expansion." In 1853, Secretary of State Edward Everett, among the less expansionist statesmen of his time, confidently asserted: "The pioneers are on their way. Who can tell how far and how fast they will travel? Who, that compares the North America of 1753...with the North America of 1853...will dare to compute the time-table of our railway progress?" His successor, James Buchanan, announced that "expansion is the future policy of our country."

Expansion was not limited to rhetoric, for American diplomats attempted to negotiate the purchases of parts of Mexico, Cuba, and Hawaii. The American minister to Mexico even asked his hosts to "anticipate the inexorable" by selling his country six provinces that, unlike the Rio Grande, would form "a natural territorial boundary."

American statesmen had for decades eyed several neighboring regions, but, uneasy about confronting Europe's great powers, they had always concluded that the time was not right. James Madison and James Monroe had both assumed that the colonies in Canada would soon fall into America's hands, "even against [Britain's] strongest efforts to retain them." John Quincy Adams had referred to Cuba as a "natural appendage" to the North American continent. His minister to Spain agreed and added, "Such I believe is the general opinion in the United States." Adams thought it only a matter of time before the United States annexed all of North America: "It is a physical, moral, and political absurdity that such fragments of territory, with sovereigns at fifteen hundred miles beyond sea, worthless and burdensome to their owners, should exist permanently contiguous to a great, powerful, enterprising, and rapidly growing nation."

However, the nation's deep division over the future of the South's "peculiar institution" prevented the successful completion of these projects. The Civil War resolved the dispute over slavery, and with that great obstacle to expansion eliminated, with the country unified and its economic power growing, expansionist plans might have been eagerly undertaken. Armed with a strong tradition of expansionist ideology, backed by the power of immense industry driven growth, supported by a newly unified nation, America's leaders after the Civil War should have had little trouble extending their country's borders.

Upon the close of the Civil War, the expansionist climate in the United States possessed "a vigor greater than any of the past" thanks to popular recognition of the country's enormous mobilized power.(3) The Monroe Doctrine Committee, one of the many nationalist groups that attracted great followings across the country, urged expansion southward, by force if necessary, as its popular jingle made clear: "If the old-world minions on our Continent remain, we'll take the old familiar guns, and go with Grant again!" As Henry Adams, the grandson of John Quincy Adams, observed, many politicians now envisaged the ultimate acquisition not only of the entire continent but of all adjacent islands as well.

The Pattern of Natural Expansion

Perhaps the best example of how little the statesmen of the time conformed to the myth of being naive or restrained or isolationist in their temperament and policies is William Henry Seward. One of America's most distinguished statesmen and politicians, Seward was no ordinary diplomat. He had been governor of New York and a close runner-up for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1860. Upon election as president, Abraham Lincoln appointed him secretary of state. Throughout the Civil War, Seward had been Lincoln's closest adviser as well as a skilled diplomat, deftly maneuvering to keep Great Britain and France from allying with the Confederacy.

On May 10, 1867, with that terrible conflict now two years past, Seward prophesied in verse about his nation's future:

Our nation with united interests blest, Not now content to pose, shall sway the rest; Abroad our empire shall no limits know, But like the sea in boundless circles flow.

The poem hardly exaggerated Seward's hopes for the limitless expansion of American influence. Seward's plans for expansion were often cloaked in soaring, imprecise rhetoric. His vague, if uplifting, phrases could not serve as the basis for a coherent foreign policy: what did he mean when he said that "the borders of the federal republic shall be extended so that it shall greet the sun when he touches the tropics, and when he sends his gleaming rays towards the polar circle"?

On several occasions, however, and in specific terms, he portrayed as inevitable the annexation of Alaska, Canada, and Mexico. Seward also spoke of the need for island bases in both the Pacific and Caribbean to project American power abroad and to defend the country's interests. If Seward's rhetoric was ambiguous, his actions were clear. From 1865 until the end of his term in 1869, Seward led vigorous American efforts to extend the country's borders on all these fronts and more.

While not all of his "inquiries" can be deemed serious, he initiated at least some official steps toward expanding American political control in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Mexico, Darien Island, Hawaii, the Danish West Indies, Santo Domingo, Haiti, Culebra, French Guiana, Tiger Island, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and St. Bartholomew. Of these, Alaska was his only success and, along with the unplanned acquisition of the Midway islands, remained the only extension of American rule abroad for almost 20 years. He was so confident of the continued continental growth of the United States that he even devoted serious consideration to the new location for the capital of this far-flung empire, deciding on Mexico City as the most strategically placed site.

After the Civil War, however, the United States confronted another internal obstacle - the structure of the American state. Much as the executive branch tried to expand American interests abroad, Congress demurred. And in those days, Congress was king - Andrew Johnson was impeached for attempting to fire his own secretary of war. It was not until the collapse of the congressional bid for supremacy and the rise of the modern (some would say imperial) presidency in the 1890s that America resumed its natural course of activism and expansionism. What requires explanation are the brief periods of American isolationism, not the dominant pattern of natural expansion.

Since the middle of the twentieth century, historians have commonly asserted that through most of the previous century, the United States enjoyed a tacit alliance with Great Britain and was, in particular, protected from the vagaries of the world by the virtually omnipotent Royal Navy. In this version of history, America's increased activism and expansion during the 1890s and 1900s was because of the rise of the German threat. The rise of the German threat, which in these accounts dates to the mid1890s, forced the United States to become active on the world stage.

The Royal Navy's Sheltering Hand

This interpretation of nineteenth-century history would certainly have stunned American statesmen of the late nineteenth century, who without question regarded Britain as the greatest threat to the United States. Britain was the country with which the United States had the most serious and most numerous political conflicts, and the Royal Navy, in particular, was seen as the single greatest threat to the physical safety of the country.

This reaction could hardly be considered peculiar since the United States had fought two wars with England, the last of which it lost resoundingly as the Royal Navy sailed up the East Coast, shelling Washington and setting fire to the White House. The war plans of the period confirm that, as Geoffrey Barraclough writes, "[Before 1914] for Americans the tangible threat of British seapower was more real than the hypothetical threat of German land-power."(4)

The myth of Anglo-American solidarity was born during the First World War and perpetuated in the 1920s by such writers as Walter Lippmann and Nicholas Spykman, who were determined first to rouse support for the war effort - a worthy goal. In order to convince people, however, they misinterpreted American history. They argued that isolationism was understandable in the late nineteenth century, when America was secure under the Royal Navy's protection. The rise of Germany made such a stance impossible; the ocean that served as a moat was now a causeway for the German fleet. America had no choice but to enter world politics, for its very security was imperiled. As Barraclough writes, "This is reading history backwards."(5)

Ironically, this redefinition of the concept of the ocean - from moat to highway had in fact taken place, but during the 1890s and for a very different purpose. In justifying American expansion, the naval historian Alfred Thayer Mahan had reversed the traditional idea of the ocean as protection against European intrigue and compared it to a "great highway; or better, perhaps...a wide common, over which men pass in all directions." The point, of course, was not that the Germans could use this highway to attack America, but that America could use it to secure sea lanes, bases, even colonies.

The Germans, for their part, assumed in the 1880s and 1890s that were a war involving the United States to break out, an alliance of America and France would face a German-English alliance. Bismarck had advised Lord Salisbury in the 1880s that England had to confront America's rising naval power in the Atlantic, which meant allying with Germany. This alliance between a great naval power and a great land power made geopolitical sense, but England instead chose to accommodate the United States and challenge Germany.

The reasons for this are clear. Britain had exposed interests in the Western Hemisphere, especially Canada, and it had a healthy respect for American power. A second, important reason was the cultural, political, and ideological affinity between the two peoples, particularly at the elite level. Leaders of both countries consciously attempted to turn these "natural affinities" into a political and strategic bond. Both these factors predate the rise of the German threat, which certainly gave a strong impetus to an already burgeoning entente.

Nonetheless, the myth of the sheltering Royal Navy was born during the First World War. Theodore Roosevelt - that great anglophile - attempted to snuff if out in the crib. In a remarkable letter to Rudyard Kipling in 1918, he pointed out that "for the first ninety years the British Navy, when, as was ordinarily the case, the British Government was more or less hostile to us, was our greatest danger." America was in the war as the great balancer, not as the historical friend of London.

The Anglo-American Cold War

Anti-British sentiment in the United States had reached its peak at the close of the Civil War. London was widely perceived as having allied itself with the Confederacy in both word and deed. Directly north of the United States lay a large, visible, and constant reminder of British power. Some expansionists, who had long eyed Canada, believed that a fully mobilized United States had the perfect opportunity to act. A marching song popular with Yankee regiments explicitly expressed this idea:

Secession first he would put down Wholly and forever And afterward from Britain's crown He Canada would sever.

This sentiment was shared by enough important American politicians and journalists to worry the British. In 1865, when the House of Commons debated measures for the defense of Canada, virtually every member assumed that America would take advantage of the slightest opportunity to move north. A pamphleteer explained that conditions for opportunistic expansion were ripe: "Canada is quite defenseless, and what is more indefensible. The United States have an enormous army and navy which will soon be idle and in want of employment. They want something to reunite them, and they imagine a foreign war would have that effect." In Canada, Archbishop Conoily of Halifax made a similar classical realist assumption: "No nation has ever had the power of conquest that did not use it or abuse it, at the very first favorable opportunity."

But none of these predictions were fulfilled, in large part because no matter how popular the cause, neither the president nor his secretary of state believed Canada was worth the prospect of a conflict with mighty Britain. Not that Seward did not want to annex Canada. In his earlier imperialist writings and speeches, he had always referred to Canada as part of America's destiny. He may even have encouraged the Irish Fenian Brotherhood to conduct raids across the northern border between 1866 and 1870 in the belief that it would place the annexation of Canada on the agenda between the United States and Great Britain.

However, Seward always took pains to make clear that he would not attempt to wrest Canada forcibly from Britain. Any union between the two North American nations had to be "free and spontaneous" and with "the fullest consultation with the government of Great Britain." When Seward raised the matter with the British and found them unreceptive, he quickly dropped it.

Seward and his successor, Hamilton Fish, maintained this cautious approach in the face of popular and even senatorial sentiment to the contrary. At the outset of Fish's tenure, however, Charles Sumner delivered an extravagant speech on the Alabama Claims negotiations between Britain and the United States. He claimed that Britain had violated its declaration of neutrality by allowing British shipbuilders to supply the Confederacy with a number of cruisers - the most notorious of which was the Alabama which had done $125 million of direct damage and $2 billion of indirect damage to the North. It was assumed, as Sumner later stated explicitly, that Britain would repay this absurd figure by ceding Canada to the United States.

President Ulysses S. Grant and Secretary of State Fish were both expansionists, and both were particularly enthusiastic about a union with Canada. But like Seward, they particularly Fish - recognized that a conflict with Britain would be enormously costly. By raising the stakes so dramatically, Sumner had unintentionally sobered up the expansionists, and much of the casual anti-British rhetoric gave way to caution. In Henry Adams's words, "It was not until England began to scold that our people began to hesitate." Britain's permanent under secretary in the Foreign Office noted that expansionist Americans would often "draw in their horns" when they faced a foe with whom "bluster and bully" alone would not work.

The U.S. naval buildup in the 1880s was, of course, accompanied by a discussion of the threats the nation faced - chiefly, those posed by the Royal Navy. The United States was portrayed by pro-navy writers and politicians as "ringed by hostile states bent on laying waste its coastal cities and destroying the national wealth concentrated there." Harrowing images of British gunships shelling New York and San Francisco were regularly drawn; later, the navies of Chile, Brazil, and even China were added to the list of enemies. The historiography of the War of 1812 was debated and rewritten so that the lessons would accord with the need for a large navy.

Of all America's moves in Latin America, its intervention in the Venezuelan crisis of 1895 drew the greatest international attention. Since 1841, Britain and Venezuela had quarreled over the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana at the mouth of the Orinoco River, a strategically valuable location that was rich in gold. Venezuela had periodically attempted to draw the United States into the border dispute, but Washington had shown little interest. When, in the 1880s, Britain had enlarged its claim and Venezuela responded by suspending diplomatic relations, Secretary of State Thomas Bayard sent a protest to London. The American minister in London thought the matter so unimportant that he did not bother to convey the message to Whitehall.

An American Protectorate

Venezuela's pleas came with increasing urgency during the first months of Grover Cleveland's second term. A Cleveland administration that had during its first term treated these requests casually had since grown accustomed to an activist policy, and it now decided to act more forcefully. Washington protested Britain's enlargement of its boundaries. By December 1894, the matter found its way into Cleveland's annual address to Congress, in which he proposed to work toward a resumption of diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Britain and the arbitration of the border dispute. The State Department forwarded the proposals to London.

In February 1895, Congress followed the president's lead and announced its opposition to the British claims. Public support for this hawkish policy toward Britain was strong. Venezuela, for its part, was doing all it could to entangle the United States further. It granted a large concession of mineral-rich land to wealthy American investors. It hired William Scruggs to publicize its plight, and his pamphlet, British Aggressions in Venezuela or the Monroe Doctrine on Trial, became the most widely read and circulated piece of literature on the issue. Public and congressional interest, Scruggs's persistent lobbying, and a minor incident on the Uruan River pushed Cleveland and Secretary of State Walter Gresham toward a more activist policy. In May 1895, however, Gresham died and was replaced by Richard Olney.

Formerly a railroad lawyer and then a labor-busting attorney general in the first Cleveland administration, Olney was not by nature jingoistic. His July 20 memorandum to Great Britain during the Venezuelan crisis defined the new diplomacy of the United States. The first part of Olney's memorandum outlined the history of the dispute, laying the blame primarily on Britain for the lack of a successful resolution. Occurring within the Western Hemisphere, the controversy necessarily concerned the "honor" and "interests" of the United States, and Washington could not view it "with indifference." Were a European power to deny to any state on the American continent its right to self-government and freedom, the United States would feel compelled to intervene.

Asserting an American protectorate over the entire hemisphere, Olney famously went on, "Today the United States is practically sovereign on this continent and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition." Olney explained that American influence was so strong "because in addition to all other grounds, its infinite resources combined with its isolated position render it master of the situation and practically invulnerable as against any or all other powers."

The magnitude of American power and the absence of significant threats made the expansion of American influence in the area inevitable. Before December 1895, when the British reply to Olney's memorandum arrived, news of the new secretary's actions leaked to the public and was received with great acclaim. Representative Thomas Paschal of Texas wrote to Olney: "Turn this Venezuelan question up or down, North, South, East or West, and it is a winner." Meanwhile, newspapers stoked anti-British sentiment.

In July 1895, as Olney was penning his strong words, a new prime minister entered 10 Downing Street. The Marquess of Salisbury was one of the shrewdest politicians in all Europe, a man of great wealth, position, confidence, and strong will, and possessed of an unyielding belief in Britain's dominant place in the world, particularly vis-a-vis its young offspring, the United States. He could not have been expected to view Olney's demand that Britain submit the boundary dispute to arbitration, however delicately framed, with great favor. His personal view of arbitration was simple: "Like competitive examinations and sewage irrigation, arbitration is one of the famous nostrums of the age. Like them it will have its day and pass away, and future ages will look with pity at those who could have believed in such an expedient for bridling the ferocity of human passions."

Salisbury's reply was true to form. Britain was in no way interfering with Venezuela's right to self-government or freedom, he asserted. It was merely negotiating over territories the British Crown had possessed for decades before the existence of an independent Venezuela. Then Salisbury attacked directly Olney's reassertion of the Monroe Doctrine. While the United States had vital interests in the Western Hemisphere and would naturally act to protect those interests, "no nation, however powerful, [is] competent to insert into the code of international law a novel principle which was never recognized before, and which has not since been accepted by the government of any country." Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain had suggested that Salisbury point out to Washington "that Britain is an American power with a territorial area greater than the United States themselves, and with a title acquired prior to the independence of the United States."(6) With regard to the boundary dispute itself, Salisbury refused arbitration.

Cleveland and Olney were furious. The president's message to Congress that month brought the United States another step closer to war with Britain. Cleveland adamantly defended the foundation of the Monroe Doctrine in international law and repeated that America regarded the British incursions into Venezuela "as a willful aggression upon its rights and interests." He closed with these ominous words: "In making these recommendations I am fully alive to the responsibility incurred and keenly realize all the consequences that may follow."

The administration probably expected public support for its resolute stand, but it was disappointed. Americans reacted to Cleveland's message with great caution. Even Irish-Americans showed little zeal for twisting the lion's tail. Many newspapers, traditionally anti-British and pro-expansion, were stunned by the possibility of an actual war with Great Britain, and even Joseph Pulitzer's fiery New York World called for a peaceful end to the conflict. The Nation opined that Cleveland had received "the most unanimous and crushing rebuke that the pulpit of this country ever addressed to a President."(7)

The business world, with its extensive financial and trading ties to England, was even more nervous. A few days after the president's message, the stock market crashed and remained highly volatile for the remainder of the crisis. Cleveland was later to write to a friend: "Nothing has ever hurt me so much as to know that these people who praised and flattered me...were ready to denounce and abuse me when my obligations to the country at large interfered with their money making schemes."

The United States recognized the British threat and backed down. Within ten years, this pattern would change, and Britain, recognizing America's growing might, would begin to practice a policy of sustained, strategic, and successful appeasement that has lasted to this day.

The Magnitude of American Power

The liberal realist interpretation of history depicted American expansion in the nineteenth century as a response to threats from European powers when these moves actually reflected the desire on the part of American leaders for greater influence. Countries that violate prudential rules of limited intervention, according to this strain of realism, must be abnormal and the roots of their behavior must lie in domestic pathologies. America's pathology was, Kennan wrote, its "legalistic-moralistic" tradition that ran "like a red skein" through American history and produced such horrific consequences in the modern period.

The threats America often reacted to after the 1890s, according to Kennan, were not real. But the history of American foreign policy over the nineteenth century demonstrates the malleability of the very concept of "threats." Whenever American leaders decided to expand their country's interests abroad, they quickly discovered foreign threats to the area in question and - sometimes out of genuine belief, sometimes to manipulate the debate - justified their policies as dictated by the nation's dangerously vulnerable position. As McGeorge Bundy, John F. Kennedy's national security adviser, said when he admitted that American intervention in Vietnam was not motivated by the Viet Cong attack at Pleiku or any other specific act of Vietnamese aggression, "Pleikus are streetcars. If you are waiting for one, it will come along."

In fact, American foreign policy has always been driven, in the first place, by an awareness of American strength and the search for greater influence over the international environment. What changed at the turn of the century was not American intentions but American capabilities. Liberal realists have always been uncomfortable with the sheer magnitude of American power because it brings with it aspirations to worldwide influence and the abandonment of the need for restraints. We see it today; the United Sates may or may not be pursuing a wise foreign policy in various parts of the world. The dominant reality, however, is that it has a large margin of error. Many wish it were more constrained.

By the 1890s, the United States had grown so strong and had so many resources at its disposal that its behavior came to resemble that of other great powers. It enlarged its military and diplomatic apparatus; it annexed territories; it sought basing rights; it participated in great power conferences. It sought influence beyond limited security aims because it was strong enough to do so.

This shift in behavior did not represent a qualitative change in the tradition of American expansion. American statesmen had led the spread of the country across the continent - the Louisiana Purchase, Texas, California, the Oregon Territory, Alaska. Throughout the nineteenth century, they had their eyes on Cuba and Mexico to the south and Canada to the north. Theodore Roosevelt's one-line interpretation of American foreign policy is closer to the truth than the volumes of liberal realist writings: "Our history has been one of expansion.... This expansion is not a matter of regret, but of pride."


This article is adapted from a paper presented at a conference, "American Mythologies," sponsored by Bard College, November 2-3, 1996. A revised version will appear in the author's forthcoming book, Strong Nation, Weak State: The Rise of America to World

1. Boston: Little Brown, 1943, pp. 3, 30, 49.

2. Historians often use the word "expansionist" to mean imperialist. I use it in a more commonsense way to mean an activist foreign policy. Thus the Soviet Union could be termed expansionist in the 1970s even though it did not annex parts of Africa and Asia.

3. Albert K. Weinberg, Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansion in American History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1935), p. 224.

4. An Introduction to Contemporary History (New York: Basic Books, 1964), pp. 111-12.

5. Ibid.

6. In Chamberlain's view, London did not have to worry about provoking a war with Washington because America's unwieldy state structure ensured that action would be slow in coming. "First they would have to get the assent of the Senate - then appoint a commission then make an enquiry - and then?"

7. December 26, 1895, p. 456.

Fareed Zakaria is managing editor of Foreign Affairs.

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