Power and Weakness by Robert Kagan
There is a great deal of food for thought in Power and Weakness by Robert Kagan, from Policy Review. (via bruce sterling). It’s a long but good article.
… The United States is a behemoth with a conscience. It is not Louis xiv’s France or George III’s England. Americans do not argue, even to themselves, that their actions may be justified by raison d’etat. Americans have never accepted the principles of Europe’s old order, never embraced the Machiavellian perspective. The United States is a liberal, progressive society through and through, and to the extent that Americans believe in power, they believe it must be a means of advancing the principles of a liberal civilization and a liberal world order. Americans even share Europe’s aspirations for a more orderly world system based not on power but on rules–after all, they were striving for such a world when Europeans were still extolling the laws of machtpolitik.
But while these common ideals and aspirations shape foreign policies on both sides of the Atlantic, they cannot completely negate the very different perspectives from which Europeans and Americans view the world and the role of power in international affairs. Europeans oppose unilateralism in part because they have no capacity for unilateralism. Polls consistently show that Americans support multilateral action in principle–they even support acting under the rubric of the United Nations–but the fact remains that the United States can act unilaterally, and has done so many times with reasonable success. For Europeans, the appeal to multilateralism and international law has a real practical payoff and little cost. For Americans, who stand to lose at least some freedom of action, support for universal rules of behavior really is a matter of idealism. …