What is America’s New Role in the World? - The Intrepid

Friday, October 31, 2008

What is America’s New Role in the World?

Things can never go back to the way they were. For the past hundred years, America stood as the great example of how to achieve modernity. But, as American power and influence declines so ends the country’s monopoly over the process. America is still the most powerful country in the world. The American economy is still the largest and America’s army the strongest. But, the idea of the “city upon a hill” is all but dead.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the U.S. was a political and economic juggernaut. America produced half the world’s goods, America had the atomic bomb, and most importantly, America had won the war. The Soviet Union eventually rose to challenge America’s supremacy. But, it was never able to channel the same resources that the United States possessed.

In its ideological contest with the Soviet Union, the U.S. government expanded upon the principle that had long governed American expansion: The American Nationalist Ideology. First defined by historian John Fousek in, “To Lead the Free World: American Nationalism and the Cultural Roots of the Cold War,” the American Nationalist Ideology is rooted in the ideas of freedom, equality, and justice under law. In his book, Fousek utilizes this ideology to explain how after the Second World War American policy makers “justified and even necessitated the global expansion of US power.” Americans and U.S. policy makers shared the belief that the U.S. was a beneficent nation destined for world greatness and that America’s mission justified its political and economic expansion.

Though Fousek only utilizes this ideology to explain American actions after the Second World War, America has long prescribed to this ideology. American policy makers believed in their own beneficence when they tried to “tame” the Philippines after the Spanish American War. In defense of annexing the Philippines Albert Beveridge stated in his famous “March of the Flag” speech: “Would not the people of the Philippines prefer the just, humane, civilizing government of this republic to the savage, bloody rule of pillage and extortion from which we have rescued them?” For Beveridge, expansion of American power through imperialist tactics was reconcilable with American exceptionalism. American power could be expanded without threatening the core American values of freedom, equality and justice in law.

Similar examples are also prevalent in America’s missionary expeditions to China, Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and the various Latin American interventions of the early 20th century.

Since its inception, Americans and American policy makers have always believed in American exceptionalism. America is different in a way that makes it unique. Unlike other nations, when America pursues its national and economic interests it is to the benefit of the rest of the world.

This belief is still prevalent in American politics today and has played a substantial role in the dialogue of this 2008 campaign. Both McCain and Obama assert that America needs to reclaim its role as world leader. America once again needs to become the “city upon a hill.” But, rhetoric aside, this time has passed.

Developing nations no longer look to the U.S. model for modernization. Countries like China, Brazil, India, and Russia have all found different, and relatively successful methods of modernization. Sure, they all contain a smidge of capitalism, but they certainly aren’t all democratic.

So, if America has lost its place as world leader, what does it do now? Well, hopefully the next President of the United States will have learned one lesson from the follies of the Bush Administration: Unilateralism doesn’t work. America’s unilateral actions in Iraq have cost the country its soft power. This power can probably never be entirely reclaimed, but multilateralism might go a long way. The next American President will need to repair the broken bridges between America and its American allies.

Ultimately, Americans are going to have to humble themselves. American arrogance has pissed off most of the world. If Americans and policy makers want to influence the international system, they are going to have to give up their exceptionalist past.