The Foreign Policy the US Needs

George W. Bush
George W. Bush; drawing by David Levine

America is now being widely criticized as a new empire. Already toward the end of World War II De Gaulle wrote about FDR’s will to power, a will that soon took the form of an American-controlled network of unequal alliances, military bases abroad, and economic dominance. The harshest criticisms of US imperial aims were made against Bush after 2001: the US and much of the rest of the world fell out over America’s new unilateralism and its refusal to accept the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, and arms control generally. Most nations were appalled by America’s flaunting of its dominance; its use of preventive war, particularly the invasion of Iraq, was widely seen as proof of a will to reshape and dominate the Arab world.1 America’s new mixture of patriotism and religiosity annoyed many secularists at home and abroad, and the American way of fighting terrorism by bombing and torturing Iraqis and mistreating Afghans shocked many previously well-disposed allies.

Another category of criticisms concerns the American belief that globalization should come only in the orthodox form of American free-market and pro-business policies. Many Europeans see this as a denial of the state’s responsibility to provide social justice, public services, and safety nets for the poor, the unemployed, and workers. Other sources of dismay were America’s reluctance to include in international agreements provisions for standards of health or workers’ rights, or to accept codes of conduct for multinational corporations, as well as the connections between American corporations and American political agencies—not only in occupied Iraq.

The most flagrant and widely deplored contradiction is between America’s self-image as a force for democracy and human rights and a reality in which many rights at home are sharply limited, the death penalty continues along with the torture of “enemy combatants,” while the US repudiates the international laws of war. Abroad, the US support of dictators and its failure to protect victims of genocide in Rwanda and Darfur2 have contributed greatly to anti-Americanism. Foreigners can observe for themselves, on the one hand, the weakness of public services throughout the US, the cult of low taxes, and the distrust of any redistributive role for government and, on the other hand, the formidable apparatus of American military and intelligence services throughout the world and in the US itself. The strength of America’s destructive power and the lack of American interest in nation-building and development abroad have become all too evident.

Anti-Americanism is also fostered by various American illusions: “all human beings want what we want—freedom,” to paraphrase George W. Bush; hence democratization should be easy.3 Democratization has become confused with elections, and the legal institutions and protection of rights needed for a workable democracy are neglected. America sometimes downplays or denies its own nationalism in its rhetoric, and yet America has asserted its sovereignty more forcefully than any other advanced nation in recent history…

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