Wes Clark on American Power

Wesley Clark’s article in this month’s Washington Monthly (via Intel Dump) goes into great detail explaining that America has never had imperial empire-building tendencies, a la the Romans:

Americans tended, on the whole, to be “leavers,” not colonizers. Interests in foreign adventures soon faded, military expeditions were scaled back and withdrawn, and local forces, sometimes with U.S. assistance and advice, took over. The United States had power and influence, yes, and its businesses sought to compete globally for gain, but it was not interested in legal control or classic empire.

But then, there’s this:

Simply put, the United States needs a new strategy for the 21st century—a broader, more comprehensive, and less unilateralist approach abroad, coupled with greater attention to a sound economy at home, and sensible long-range policies. The Bush administration’s strategy of preemption, published in the 2002 National Security Strategy, was focused against Iraq. At home, the formula of the supply-siders—tax cuts for the wealthy to feed trickle-down economics—has about run its course.


The first of these basic principles should be inclusiveness. The United States represents evolutionary values of human dignity and the worth of the individual-ideals that have steadily swept across Europe and into much of the rest of the world. We have been proselytizers, advocating our values, assisting states abroad, encouraging emerging young leaders to study and visit the United States. During the Cold War we were careful to reach across the Iron Curtain. And when the Cold War ended, we worked hard to encourage the enlargement of democracy around the world. We should be seeking allies and friends around the world.

Second, we should be working to strengthen and use international institutions, beginning with the United Nations and NATO. Such institutions can provide vital support to American diplomacy, bringing in others to share the burdens and risks that we would otherwise have to carry alone. The United Nations especially can contribute legitimacy to U.S. purposes and actions. International law is of little significance to most Americans, but it carries heavy weight abroad. Both the United Nations and NATO need refinement, particularly the United Nations--but these refinements can be made only through American constructive leadership, for we are the lone superpower, with the resources and incentives to do so.

Phil Carter thinks this will be hard to do.

But there's another problem: underlying Clark's desire for "inclusiveness" and going through international institutions is the assumption that such institutions sincerely want to work with the US. But most such institutions (UN, the EU) are instinctively anti-American, and see themselves as tools to check America's power. The attitude is: If America wants to do it, it's probably wrong, so let's just roadblock anyway.

As Sabine Herold, France's new anti-union activist, said:

"I think one of the big problems in France is that we are anti-American without knowing why," she says. "Its just kind of a natural thing. I mean so many people I meet are anti-war, and theyll just say that Bush is stupid and the Americans are awful imperialists. Its just their typical answer, and they never think of why. Thats crazy. I think its because were all being brought up like that, especially at school. Its incredible how were taught about America -- theyre always explaining, for example in geography or history courses, how Americans are imperialistic."

Before being inclusive, this sort of ingrained and institutionalized blame-and-hate-America attitude needs to be addressed.

Posted by Vivek at November 4, 2003 3:48 AM