Every nation sees itself as being in some way exceptional. Only the United States, though, has tried to develop foreign policies that reflect its exceptionalism. While other countries are content -- or obliged -- to practice a balance-of-power politics in the world, from the beginning most American leaders have argued that the United States, by dint of its unique geography and the superiority -- indeed, the universality -- of its democratic values, can and should pursue a loftier policy.
The horrors of September 11 confronted the United States with an extraordinary challenge and an extraordinary opportunity. The challenge was to increase our "homeland security" by measures that might have averted disaster, had they been implemented before the attacks, and that would minimize the risk of similar assaults in the future. The opportunity was to build on the sympathy and shock of other nations in order to construct a broad coalition against the sort of terrorism the United States had suffered.
It wasn't its innocence that the United States lost on September 11, 2001.
It was its naïveté. Americans have tended to believe that in the eyes
of others the United States has lived up to the boastful clichés
propagated during the Cold War (especially under Ronald Reagan) and during the
Clinton administration. We were seen, we thought, as the champions of freedom
against fascism and communism, as the advocates of decolonization, economic
development, and social progress, as the technical innovators whose mastery of
technology, science, and advanced education was going to unify the world.
Of course America needs a foreign policy! The title of Henry Kissinger's new
book suggests that it hasn't had one recently--a thesis supported by his many
criticisms of President Bill Clinton's diplomacy as well as by the statement,
early in the book, that "in the face of perhaps the most profound and widespread
upheavals the world has ever seen," the United States has "failed to develop
concepts relevant to the emerging realities." The problem with Does America
Need a Foreign Policy?, however, is that the foreign policy Kissinger proposes
is flawed. It is so deeply rooted in the past of world politics and in his own
conservative conception of Realpolitik that it is only partly relevant to the
realities of today.