United States Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century: The Crisis and Renewal of the Republican Empire

Article excerpt


The last decade of the 20th Century has been a consistent record of bi-partisan failure to develop a coherent foreign policy successfully confronting both the unprecedented opportunities and threats of an evolving world in search of a new geopolitical equilibrium. Attempting to exercise global power in an ethical manner, the United States in the latter part of the 1990's has usually accomplished neither. A decade of tentative approaches to global affairs has resulted in the general degradation of America's reputation and power, and a broad spectrum of weakened but still dangerous adversaries are forming new alliances to challenge US military, political and economic primacy. The failure to formulate a realistic intellectual framework clearly declaring US foreign policy values and priorities has far-reaching and potentially devastating consequences for this country. Resolving this crisis of leadership, and reconstructing American foreign policy before another contender fills the void, must be among the highest priorities of the next Administration. This article examines United States foreign policy at the end of the 20th Century. It proposes a new nationalistic approach that advocates achievement of a broad range of objectives within a global environment emphasizing stability; the expansion of individual liberty under the rule of law; and a respect for universally accepted ethical norms. This is the doctrine of Ethical Nationalism, with an intellectual pedigree firmly grounded in the Utilitarian and Positivist philosophies of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Auguste Comte.


"Escaped from the house of bondage, Israel did not return to the ways of the Egyptians. To her was given a special dispensation, to her were given new things under the sun. And we Americans are a chosen people, the Israel of our time. We bear the ark of the liberties of the world."

White Jacket, by Herman Melville

"America is the only nation that governs and does not rule; the only nation that has made war without loving it; achieved the greatest power in the world without seeking it, and held in its hands the most terrible weapon of death without longing to use it". (1) Andre Malraux, 1962

We Americans are a blessed people in a blessed land. We exist in a time of unprecedented prosperity. Our farms feed ourselves and much of the world. The devastation of war has not touched our soil in 140 years. Millions every year risk their lives, in ways legal and illegal, to become part of the on-going experiment called the United States of America. Many die in the attempt; a few arrive with malice, and wreak havoc far disproportionate to their numbers before they are inevitably brought to ground; but most come with a hope and ambition that transcends color and language, and contribute to that constant national re-invention and re-invigoration that makes us so unique. At the end of one century and the beginning of another, we seem (at least from a distance) for all appearances as the Golden Land of immigrant lore, the shining city upon the hill, the embodiment of Lincoln's "Best, Last Hope of Mankind" (Second Annual Message to Congress, 1 December 1862).

In this century, we have defeated the three great tyrannies of history. Two of them (monarchialism and communism) were defeated by strength of belief and steadfast purpose. One, fascism, was destroyed through force of arms. For all our faults and the recognized forever-evolving, incomplete nature of our society, it is the United States which is emulated more than any other model of a just state in the contemporary world. We seem to be, for at least the moment, without serious competitor or enemy.

And yet....

This admittedly imperfect yet extraordinary Pax Americana threatens to be of remarkably short duration in comparison to its far less just and compassionate Roman and British predecessors. As I write these words on the cusp of two centuries (refusing to add to the inaccurate and overused Millenarian fever), the United States is rapidly squandering the surplus of moral and political authority it amassed during the preceding decades. …