A Retreat From Power?
In an article that appeared in these pages seven years ago, Owen Harries, the editor of the quarterly National Interest, predicted that if the United States were to decline over the coming decades, it would not be as a result of overtaxed capabilities, or what was then being called “imperial overstretch.” It would be because “the American people and their leaders [had] decided that they want other things more than they want to remain the leading power in the world.”1
Seven years and one collapsed Soviet empire later, Harries’s warning has proved both prophetic and ironic. America does appear, finally, to be in the early stages of its oft-predicted decline as the world’s preeminent power, and the cause is neither ineluctable historical currents nor overstretch. A combination of post-cold-war disorientation, a constellation of competing political forces at home, and the surprising triumph of the very “declinist” thinking Harries was then attacking has led American political leaders to accept the inevitability of a more limited American role in the world. But what Harries could not have foreseen was the part conservatives and Republicans would play in justifying and carrying out this “impulse to retreat” (as he dubbed it in 1988).
For the first two years after George Bush’s defeat in 1992, there would have been little point in examining Republican foreign policy. The party’s attitudes were disparate and half-formed, consisting of the sniping of an opposition that was then in control neither of the presidency nor of the Congress and, therefore, without the need or perhaps even the ability to achieve coherence. Since the recent Republican ascendancy in Congress, however, some of these attitudes have begun to evolve into laws and policies. In the months and years to come, they will increasingly shape America’s course in the world, and so it is not too early to ask where exactly the Republican party proposes to take us.
To answer this question properly, it is necessary to have a look at where we have been. For perhaps the first thing to be said about today’s Republicans is that they are not where they left off at the end of the cold war, when Ronald Reagan led the nation in what was as close to a global crusade as America has ever attempted.
Reagan’s was, of course, a crusade against Communism and the Soviet empire, but it was also more than that. Under Reagan, the United States vastly increased its worldwide influence in both strategic and ideological terms. In Europe, in Latin America, in Asia, and even in Africa, Reagan wielded American influence on behalf of liberal-democratic principles, increasing American security by bringing a greater and greater portion of the world into what one scholar has called a “democratic zone of peace and prosperity.”2 These initiatives, too, played a key role in accelerating the unraveling of the Soviet empire. When the harvest of Reagan’s globalism was reaped in the Bush years, the United States emerged with a combined military, economic, ideological, and cultural predominance unknown in human history.
The Reaganesque approach to world affairs not only hastened the collapse of the Soviet empire and created a new Pax Americana, but also won enormous support from the American people in three straight presidential elections. At the dawn of the post-cold-war era, the Republican party had established itself as the foreign-policy party in America—a fact attested to by Bill Clinton himself when he focused “like a laser” on the domestic economy during the 1992 election campaign. Well he might have done so, for he had no chance of contesting George Bush or any Republican on matters of world affairs.
Once it found itself in opposition to the Clinton presidency, the Republican party might have been expected to be the first to insist on the need for maintaining America’s preponderance of power and influence, and to attack the Democrats’ foreign policy from a Reaganite direction. They certainly had ample opportunity to do so. Clinton’s term began with the enunciation of the “Tarnoff doctrine,” in which the Under Secretary of State, Peter Tarnoff, eerily echoed views expressed by Cyrus Vance during the Carter years in the late 70’s about the “limits of our power.” It continued with Warren Christopher’s humiliating trip to Europe, where the Secretary of State weakly attempted and monumentally failed to win agreement on a more aggressive NATO policy in Bosnia—one of the more serious lapses of American leadership in Europe since the creation of the alliance.
Over the next eighteen months, Clinton wavered in the face of Haitian dictators, withdrew from a humiliating debacle in Somalia, swallowed a Jimmy Carter-brokered deal with North Korea, and reversed his policy of confrontation with China’s Communist leaders. Until the successful intervention in Haiti in September of last year, President Clinton could point to scarcely a single instance where he had used American power effectively in the service of American interests or ideals. To the extent that the United States remained powerful and influential in the world, Clinton was living off and depleting the inheritance left by his predecessors; he was certainly adding nothing of his own to the capital fund.
Clinton and the generation of Democrats he represents had proved that they remained temperamentally scarred by Vietnam. While most Democrats of the Truman era and most Republicans of the Reagan era had maintained an unwavering confidence in the Tightness of the American cause and the appropriateness of using power in its service, Democrats of the Vietnam era seemed incapable of holding such convictions, and certainly incapable of expressing them. Jimmy Carter, as President, had devoted himself like a penitent sinner to the undoing of America’s past wrongs. A decade and a half later, the Clinton administration was still trying to base its foreign policy on some higher plane that transcended national self-interest, and was still hoping to gain its objectives through talk rather than by wielding power. It was an impossible task which every day revealed the Vietnam-era demons still coursing through the Democratic soul, and it did much to weaken Clinton’s support among an already skeptical public.
Clinton’s Carterite record, then, was vulnerable to a Reaganite attack—but it did not receive one. In 1993 and ’94, outspoken Republicans and many if not most conservative policy intellectuals responded to Clinton’s weakness and timidity abroad by accusing him instead of reckless adventurism and, for lack of a better phrase, “imperial overstretch.” They opposed him not for doing too little but for doing too much; not for being afraid to use American power but for using it too indiscriminately.
Thus, on Bosnia, Senator John McCain led the Republican attack, warning that any use of military power there would result in another failure like Vietnam or Lebanon. Senator Judd Gregg flatly declared that the United States had “no national interest” in Bosnia. Senator Dan Coats called it a “quagmire.” These and other such warnings would be repeated in late May of this year in the face of the most recent Bosnian crisis.
On Haiti, Republicans were unanimous: former President George Bush opposed intervention on the grounds that “no U.S. lives are at risk in Haiti today,” and Henry Kissinger declared that the United States must not “make itself the policeman of domestic institutions around the world.” Even Congressman Newt Gingrich, usually thought of as a global activist, argued in general that the United States was “overextended around the world.”
In a few short years, America had passed through a looking glass into an upside-down world where (some) liberal Democrats were calling for U.S. military action abroad while conservative Republicans warned of swamps, sand traps, neocolonialism, and “another Vietnam.” The result was a timid and uncertain Democratic President whose few half-hearted gestures toward internationalist leadership were attacked and constrained by a Republican opposition in Congress.
Why did the Republican party collectively choose the direction it did? And—even more to the point—why has it persisted in this path even after the November 1994 mid-term elections, when it took control of the Congress and, in effect, “reelected” Ronald Reagan? The answer involves a unique interaction among political judgments, changing institutional interests, and a broad shift in foreign-policy doctrine.
The political judgment of the Republican party after 1992 was that in the absence of the cold war and the Soviet foe, the American people no longer cared very much about foreign policy, and certainly opposed any further sacrifice of blood or treasure without assurance that vital national-security interests were at stake.
One might assume that, in this judgment, Republicans were responding accurately to the wishes of the majority of Americans. And it is true that there was much talk in the press and in Congress of a national “uproar” following the debacle in Somalia, just as there were predictions of a national disillusionment following the intervention in Haiti, and just as, even today, there are casual references to an “isolationist backlash among the American people.” But in fact it is not so clear where this uproar and this backlash are to be found.
Polls, at any rate, do not support the theory that Americans have been in an especially isolationist mood. Indeed, they suggest otherwise. Not only have majorities been willing to see U.S. troops sent abroad for a variety of purposes not directly related to vital national-security interests; but from October 1993, one week after the killing of American soldiers in Somalia, through April of this year, polls taken by NBC, ABC, and other organizations have consistently showed majorities even in favor of contributing U.S. troops to UN peacekeeping missions. Despite a plank in the Contract With America opposing such participation, a Los Angeles Times poll in January 1995 found 57 percent willing to allow troops to serve under UN command “in some circumstances,” and surveys conducted by other organizations in November 1994 and March 1995 found only 41-percent support for the Contract With America proposal.
The anticipated political backlash to Clinton’s “reckless” adventure in Haiti also never materialized. In polls taken in the summer of 1994, before the intervention, a majority favored U.S. participation in an international military operation to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency there, with about half of these favoring U.S. action only under UN sponsorship. In October, a few weeks after the intervention, Time/CNN found 55-percent approval for Clinton’s action, and in a poll taken in April of this year 62 percent of respondents believed the U.S. had done the right thing by sending troops to Haiti. The same poll showed that majorities of Americans also wanted UN peacekeepers in Bosnia to “get tougher,” even if that would mean using U.S. troops and suffering some American casualties.3 This sentiment was confirmed in the first week of June: while Senator McCain was insisting the American people would not support the introduction of U.S. troops in Bosnia to help UN forces, polls by CNN and Newsweek revealed that, on the contrary, substantial majorities did support such action—even after the downing of an American fighter jet.
One need not accept all these survey results as a definitive measure of American popular opinion. Other surveys may have produced different responses, and members of Congress have their own ways of trying to measure the attitudes of their constituents apart from polling data. But the evidence is strong enough to support one very limited conclusion: the American people have not been experiencing an “isolationist backlash.” They may not know exactly what they think, their opinions may fluctuate, and they may be capable of being persuaded one way or another. But they have not been driven by events in Haiti, Somalia, or Bosnia into opposing active American involvement overseas.
If Republican foreign policy has not accurately reflected the popular mood, it has, however, reflected the party’s new institutional interests. Congress as a body has always had nonpartisan aspirations to wrestle with the President for control of foreign and defense policy, and Republicans are as susceptible to this particular temptation as are Democrats. To be sure, Gingrich and Henry Hyde tried this year to restore some of the executive’s freedom of action by repealing the War Powers Resolution; but they failed to gather enough Republican votes. Republicans have also tried to place new restraints on the President’s ability to employ force overseas by insisting on congressional approval for U.S. involvement in international peacekeeping efforts. Moreover, the national-security provisions of the balanced-budget amendment passed by the House would make it impossible for the President to propose deficit spending for defense unless both chambers agreed that the nation was in imminent danger. Although this measure is admittedly intended to make it easier for us to go into debt for defense than for other purposes, the net effect would be to increase the role of Congress in deciding whether international danger exists—traditionally a prerogative of the President since America became a world power.
Inherent in the institution of Congress is a tendency toward a restrained foreign policy. The last time a hot-blooded Congress forced a timid President to conduct a more aggressive foreign policy than he desired was in 1898, when members of the Senate threatened to declare war on Spain whether or not President McKinley asked them to do so. During the 1980’s, when Speakers Tip O’Neill and Jim Wright tried to block the Reagan administration at every turn, Republican members liked to complain that Congress was institutionally incapable of conducting foreign policy. The nation, they said, could not afford to have 535 Secretaries of State, none of whom, at the end of the day, had to take responsibility for any foreign-policy failure. Yet purely as an institutional matter, and political orientation aside, Senator Jesse Helms will probably end up having more in common with such past chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as William Borah, the leading isolationist of the prewar period, and even with J. William Fulbright, than he will with any President, whether Republican or Democrat.
A final ingredient in the new Republican attitude is the development, or rather the recovery, of a policy doctrine which places institutional capabilities, political judgments, budgetary concerns, and partisan interests into a single, coherent, and defensible intellectual framework. This is the doctrine of “realism,” and it is one which enjoyed a long lineage in the Republican party before it was replaced, but not entirely eliminated, by Reagan-style idealism in the 1980’s.
The defining characteristic of the realist vision has always been a deep pessimism about the ability of a democracy to carry the burdens of power responsibly. Moved by disgust at the wild, irrational swings of national mood between the start of World War I and the beginning of World War II, realists spent the cold war worrying that uncontrollable national passions would lead the country into disastrous global crusades. Unwillingness to accept the realities, and the limits, imposed by the international balance of power, the political theorist Hans Morgenthau once wrote, would lead either to a “total war” of nuclear annihilation or, when the dreams of a new world were dashed, to an equally perilous, insular nationalism or even isolationism.
The alternative, realists constantly reiterated, was to keep America focused on its “national interest”—a thing which they insisted was not only definable but everywhere demonstrable. To achieve this end, however, meant checking the American tendency toward idealism and messianism. At the core of the realist view was a conviction, stated frankly by writers like Walter Lippmann, George Kennan, and Morgenthau, that American foreign policy had to be protected from American democracy.
This cluster of ideas, which is also associated prominently with the name of Henry Kissinger, dominated Republican foreign policy in the Nixon and Ford years. It was the rationale behind the policy of détente, which called for accepting rather than challenging the rising power of the Soviet Union, and for eschewing the ideological battle against Communism.
Reagan attacked the realist approach as early as his run for the presidential nomination against Ford in 1976. As we have seen, Reagan, the most successful Republican politician since Teddy Roosevelt, not only had no use for realist prescriptions but during the years of his presidency constantly appealed to what realists considered the most dangerous instincts of the American people, offering a vision of absolute victory over Communism and of a world free from the danger of nuclear holocaust. Although his policies were usually pragmatic, they were cast, as Harry Truman’s had been, in the large framework of the American mission.
But the end of the cold war once again changed the balance of power within Republican ranks. When Communism collapsed, many conservatives considered the battle won abroad, and shifted their attention to defending American culture and values at home. After 1990, what remained in Republican foreign-policy circles was the old core of realists, and it was they who returned to dominance in the Bush administration, bringing with them as well an emphasis on limits. Indeed, the odd thing about the Bush presidency was that the same administration which in the space of two years launched successful invasions of Panama and Iraq also helped to usher in the now-pervasive conviction that America’s abilities to influence the world had somehow declined.
Then-Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who as a former aide to Henry Kissinger was in many ways the quintessential realist in the Bush administration, gave a speech early in Bush’s term which was not very different in tone from the one Peter Tarnoff would give four years later on behalf of the Clinton administration. At the end of the cold war, Eagleburger declared, both the United States and the Soviet Union had “crossed the finish line out of breath,” and both were faced “with a diminished capacity to influence events and promote our respective interests throughout the world on the scale we have become accustomed to.”
To the realists, the disappearance of the Soviet threat and the emergence of the United States as the “sole remaining superpower” posed a danger—namely, that the American people would be carried away by their old Reagan-era idealism into a dangerous utopianism. Thus, Henry Kissinger warned in Diplomacy that for the third time in this century, the United States might succumb to the “temptation to recast the international environment in America’s image.” Kissinger did not use the word “arrogance,” but it was arrogance and the idea of American “exceptionalism” that the realists both feared and disdained. “American confidence and optimism,” wrote a much-changed Owen Harries in October 1994, were an “invaluable source of strength in times of adversity. In times of triumph they can be a handicap.” For its own good, a confident and optimistic America needed to be deflated a bit.
In Harries’s new calculus, though American power in the post-cold-war world appeared to be on the ascendant, and its capacity to shape that world “in America’s image” greater than at any time in its history, this was an illusion. “If you have two superpowers and you take one away, what is left is something less than a superpower.” Unlike some other conservatives, Harries understood that the Clinton administration’s efforts abroad represented not recklessness but weakness—but he welcomed them on that score, hoping they would “bring back a sense of limits and caution” and introduce a “sense of realism in American foreign policy.”
Kissinger, too, insisted that something had been subtracted from American power by the collapse of the Soviet empire. The United States might be “more preponderant than it was ten years ago, yet, ironically, power has also become more diffuse. Thus, America’s ability to employ it to shape the rest of the world has actually decreased.” Kissinger wanted Americans to accept gracefully a return to a world like that of the “European state system of the 18th and 19th centuries,” a world where the United States would be no more than “primus inter pares.” Although he urged that we not view our inevitably diminished stature as a “humbling of America,” humility was, after all, what was being prescribed.
And so we come back to the present moment, and to the party which “reelected Ronald Reagan”—a party that has found its home in Congress, where curbing presidential power is what they do best; a party that has convinced itself that the American people are in an isolationist mood; and a party seeking reasons to spend less on everything, including foreign policy. In short, a party looking to limit things has found a doctrine which makes of limits a virtue.
Seventy-five years ago, at a moment not dissimilar to today’s, Republicans opposing Woodrow Wilson’s utopian internationalism abroad and mild restructuring of government at home urged instead a “return to normalcy.” In the 1920 presidential campaign, these Republicans disparaged Wilson’s dream of taking a disorganized world of imperialist powers and bandits and making it “safe for democracy,” and they celebrated the defeat of his League of Nations covenant, which, in their view, would have deprived America of its sovereignty and freedom of action. Pointing to marines stationed in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, and recalling Pershing’s ultimately futile expedition into Mexico, they proclaimed that the United States could no longer behave as the “world’s policeman.”
Republicans believed then that their repudiation of Wilsonianism was good politics as well as good policy: the American people wanted a break from so much international involvement. And it was easy to stir xenophobic and even racist passions against the League of Nations. These are the Republicans who later came to be demonized as “isolationists”; but in fact most of them were not. At the time, and in the absence of any threatening adversary, the idea of a “return to normalcy” after the excesses of Wilsonianism seemed plausible enough.
“Return to normalcy” well summarizes the disparate sensibilities that are swirling through Republican ranks today, and that the doctrine of realism serves to undergird. Like their Harding-era counterparts, Republicans now see a chaotic world of ethnic and nationalist violence, problems that the United States should not begin to try to “solve.” Although they favor American leadership in the world, most Republicans want the U.S. to pay more attention to problems at home; to shed some of the burdens of superpowerdom; to avoid as much as possible the entanglements of multilateral and international organizations; to look after American interests “first”; and to keep American soldiers out of harm’s way except where “vital” interests are at stake. However messy it may be, the world looks secure enough to them to afford this more “normal,” less demanding, and less expensive foreign policy.
As in 1920, it all sounds reasonable enough. We know now, however, that that earlier “return to normalcy” left Americans materially and psychologically ill-prepared to face the challenges of the more dangerous 1930’s, and that over time, “normalcy” slid dangerously close to a genuinely irresponsible isolationism.
The term “isolationist” has never fairly described any American foreign policy at any time, and it is of no greater value today. A party that demands the immediate expansion of NATO eastward; that stands for international free trade and rigorous efforts to enforce global nuclear non-proliferation; and that speaks constantly of the need for American leadership in the world is not an isolationist party. Nor does history simply repeat itself. But without conjuring up alarmist visions of a new Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, it does not take a great deal of foresight to see the dangers that might arise from an American “return to normalcy” in the 1990’s.
Today’s relatively benign international order was created by the United States in World War II and in the subsequent four-and-a-half decades of the cold war through great effort and at great expense. It is especially the product of the ideologically-charged global activism that characterized the Reagan years, when Americans, guided by Reagan’s simple vision, came to understand the close links among the spread of democracy, the expansion of free markets, the deterrence and punishment of aggression, and American security. This benign order is neither the natural state of the world nor the inevitable product of a Hegelian dialectic. It is, on the contrary, a fragile, temporary situation, and dependent for its continuance on high levels of American power, influence, and engagement. If America begins to behave like a more “normal” power, the rest of the world will adjust accordingly—adjust, that is, to the diminution of American influence and involvement.
Would that be desirable? We do not need to go back to the 19th or 18th centuries to see what such a “normal” world would look like. In the first four decades of this century, before the United States defeated Japan and Germany, imposed democratic governments on them, and deprived them of their military might, and before the United States held the balance of power in both Europe and Asia, the world behaved normally enough.
In Asia, the normal situation was confrontation and war between an aggressive Russia and an aggressive Japan, a constant struggle for control of China and the Korean peninsula, and a periodical closing of the “Open Door” in America’s face. Today one could add to that explosive combination an increasingly powerful and assertive China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.
In Europe, the normal situation consisted of one simple fact: that Germany was too big and too powerful for the rest of the continent. Kissinger has rightly extolled the genius of the statesmen who created the Concert of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon. But after the unification of Germany in 1871, that Concert survived barely twenty years, and for the next five decades Europe experienced almost constant tension and then, finally, the two most destructive wars in the history of mankind.
The rise of the United States to preeminence in the world created a new configuration of international relationships which, for a time at least, offered an antidote to these recurring crises. A decline to “primus inter pares” in a “multipolar” world would change that configuration once again, and in ways that could only harm American interests. Peter W. Rodman, a former government official who now directs the national-security program at the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom, has recently warned that a diminishing American role in Europe and Asia could not but weaken the bonds that so far have kept German and Japanese geopolitical ambitions in check:
An American withdrawal—or even the perception of it—could lead to new independent-mindedness on the part of these countries, creating massive insecurity on the part of all their neighbors.
The diminution of American power and influence would also help determine the course Russia takes in the coming decades. If Americans believe Russia has adopted a nationalist, paranoid, and aggressive posture today, we need only wait until Russian leaders confront, on their western and eastern frontiers, rearmed and independent-minded Germans and Japanese unmoored from their security links with the United States.
A return to the complex great-power competition that characterized the first decades of this century would mean a severe reduction in the freedom of action America enjoys today. Balance-of-power politics requires a degree of self-denial that Americans have not been forced to exercise since the 18th century. It requires extensive compromise in order to woo and keep allies—compared to which today’s difficult compromises on trade, on arms control, and on international values are child’s play. Americans would have to learn, above all, to accept a lower level of national security, since the very essence of a multipolar world is a degree of insecurity shared by all. Nor have we yet had the chance to experience what a multipolar, balance-of-power world might look like when five or more great powers of relatively equal strength are all armed with nuclear weapons.
We have, thank goodness, not yet reached that point. The declinists notwithstanding, today’s world has not already become multipolar. Germany and Japan still prefer U.S. predominance to any alternative arrangement, and even Russia wants America to remain active in Europe; the nations of Central and Eastern Europe yearn to be under our protective umbrella; the peoples of this hemisphere compete for inclusion in our economic sphere; and the nations of East and Southeast Asia fear only that we will withdraw our military power from their region. In other words, this is still the world of a “sole superpower,” and still ours to preserve as such.
Yet the very success of American foreign policy so far in checking the ambitions of other world powers might become its undoing. As a result of that success, Rodman writes, “it is true that America faces no overwhelming or immediate threat.” But the “fallacy,” he continues,
is to assume that removing the pivotal factor in the benign international situation—the American contribution—will not topple the whole structure. It will.
For the past three years, self-described “conservative internationalists” like Rodman have urged the repudiation of Clinton-style internationalism while insisting that the United States preserve its role as the preeminent balancing power in Europe and Asia—the “core” of American security interests. They propose that the United States assume greater, not lesser, responsibility for the peace and stability of the present international order.
Theoretically, this brand of conservative internationalism is not incompatible with attacks on Clinton’s foreign policy. In practice, however, the tide of a Republican-led “return to normalcy” threatens to wash over all forms of internationalism without discrimination, including the kind Rodman and those who think like him favor. As he has been among the first to point out, “The brave words in the Contract With America about ‘revitalization’ of our defense capabilities” have not translated into a serious effort to undo the “precipitous drop” in those capabilities. Indeed, Republicans helped defeat their own party’s proposal for increased spending on ballistic-missile defense.
As in defense, so in other areas of foreign policy. In their otherwise laudable effort to reduce spending, congressional Republicans mean to cut massively into foreign-aid programs. It is true that such programs often do not help the economies of developing countries; but they do bring influence—an extremely valuable commodity—and they make up less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Similarly, in their efforts to limit the President’s capacity to deploy U.S. troops overseas, Republicans have begun to constrain the ability of any future administration, Democrat or Republican, to conduct a vigorous foreign policy.
There is something in this of trying to have things both ways: calling for American leadership while systematically paring down the tools necessary to exert that leadership; vowing that we must shoulder the responsibilities of the world’s foremost democratic power while opposing almost any exercise of that power on behalf of American values, even in our own hemisphere; urging an expanded NATO while doing nothing to provide the increased resources and political will that such vastly increased responsibilities require.
The analogy with the 1920’s is again instructive. Then, too, there were “conservative internationalists” like Henry Cabot Lodge who simultaneously worked to defeat Wilsonian internationalism and who yet believed the United States had an important role to play in preserving the postwar order in Europe. But in the end, the first goal obliterated the second. It may be partly true, as Rodman insists, that Clinton’s foreign policies have helped drive Republicans toward isolationism. This was also partly true in the days of Wilson and Lodge. History has nevertheless not looked kindly on their behavior.
In theory, either of the political parties could ensure continued American predominance in the 21st century. The Democrats did so in the past under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and today even some Clintonites speak as if they yearned to do so again. But the fact that they summoned up the courage to put force behind their words once, in Haiti, has yet to compensate for the many ways they have weakened America’s standing in the world. The present generation of Democratic leaders simply does not have the stomach for world leadership.
That leaves the Republicans. Perhaps, as the 1996 elections approach, they will stop thinking of themselves simply as the congressional party, and will begin to articulate the kinds of foreign and defense policies they would like to carry out from the White House. Perhaps, too, they will cease their flirtation with realism, with an emphasis on limits and decline, and return to the confidence and optimism that both Truman and Reagan once inspired. And perhaps in doing so they may recall that American foreign policy succeeds best when it reflects the ideals of the American people—who are a more sensible lot than the realists would have us believe. This, at any rate, was the true understanding of America’s nature and America’s purpose which for more than a decade made the Republicans the foreign-policy party in America.
1 “The Rise of American Decline,” May 1988. The phrase “imperial overstretch” was the historian Paul Kennedy's in his book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. This book and its reception were the occasion for Harries's article.
2 Zalmay M. Khalilzad, “From Containment to Global Leadership?,” RAND (1995).
3 “Americans on UN Peacekeeping,” a report by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, April 27, 1995.