No country can escape its geography and history when it comes to establishing its foreign policy principles and priorities. The US is not just a country; it is a continent, protected by two vast oceans, the Atlantic and the Paciﬁc. Of course, even its geographical advantages cannot protect the US from terrorist attacks but the enormous size of the US, plus its population and economic base, give it a unique position in the world. True, there are countries larger in size (Russia, Canada) and population (China, India) but no other country enjoys the panoply of resources that beﬁt the term ‘‘superpower’’ or ‘‘hyperpower.’’ As can be seen from Table 1.1, the European Union (EU) is already an economic superpower but it is far from being a political and military superpower like the US. Like all other countries, the US has always acted in defense of its national interests
but a continuous thread of idealism has also found a place in American foreign policy. Throughout its history the US has viewed itself as having a unique mission in the world, to promote its values of ‘‘freedom, independence, and democracy’’ and its market economy or capitalist economic system. Other countries, including all other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), France, the UK,
Russia and China, share, or shared in the past, their own messianic vision. Few have been in a position to promote their values abroad to the same extent as the US, especially in the latter half of the twentieth century. The 1990s were the climax of ‘‘the American century.’’ Not only had the US won the Cold War but its economy raced ahead of other industrial nations and its culture and technology had spread to every corner of the globe. Whether studying in China, Russia, Brazil, India or Germany, students were likely to be using Microsoft, listening to Madonna, watching Tom Cruise, drinking Coke and eating Big Macs. At the start of a newmillennium, with a new administration taking over inWashington,
there were many debates on the future direction of American foreign policy. A host of reports poured out of Congress, think tanks, and various national commissions seeking to deﬁne American external interests and priorities. A central theme of this debate was whether the US should use its extraordinary power only to protect vital American interests, about which there was no consensus, or whether it should play a wider role in the world. In general, those on the left argued that values (e.g. promotion of democracy, protection of human rights) were vital to American interests while those on the right were more skeptical of a values approach to foreign policy. Strangely, at this unique historical moment, there was very little discussion about the external spending priorities of the US nor about the most appropriate instruments the US should be using and developing to maintain its global position. Neither was there any substantive discussion on the kind of image that the US projected abroad. This changed, however, in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The divisions between and within political parties on foreign policy reﬂected a lack
of consensus on what role the US should seek to play in the post-Cold War world. These differences, however, are not new. To some extent they were masked by the largely bipartisan foreign policy approach during the Cold War but divisions over foreign policy have been the norm throughout American history. A brief survey is revealing of such differences.