From Kendall Stiles, Case Histories in International Politics, 5th Ed (2008)

For Academic Purposes Only



"National interest" is an incredibly elastic concept - capable of stretching to encompass any potential foreign threats for which an overzealous internationalist wants to prepare.  It can also shrink to cover only life-threatening dangers on your doorstep.  Because of the concept's malleability, we could easily dismiss it as a mere rhetorical flourish.  Beneath the rhetoric, however, lies a fundamental question of what really matters in American foreign policy.  Drawing the line between vital interests and peripheral preoccupations is the great question of our time.

Historically, "national interest" has come to include increasingly more issues.  In the early days of the nation-state, it was possible to say the national interest was nothing more than the monarch's interests:  "I am the state," Louis XIV once declared to no one's objection.  As states came to be based on popular sovereignty, however, the interests of the citizenry as a whole had to be taken into account.  The happiness of the people - which included economic vitality, agricultural prosperity, a sense of confidence and security, and so forth - became the principal end of national policy.  It even extended to the security of citizens living outside the territory of the state.  Most powerful states have been quick to intervene - often militarily - when their citizens come under attack overseas.  The most powerful ones even try to anticipate potential threats, taking steps to mitigate them in advance, perhaps by creating a "buffer zone" of friendly governments along the border or by moving troops overseas to facilitate quick deployment at great distances.

Each time a state expands its definition of the national interest, it must face a cost-benefit calculus:  How much happiness and security do my people demand, and how much can they afford?  Chances are high that no state will be able to do everything it takes to make its citizenry absolutely secure, so compromises are inevitable.  In the history of the United States, decisions about these compromises have occasionally become a matter of heated debated, as we will see.


Americans have not always accepted the U.S. role as leader of the free world.  Prior to the entry of the United Sates into World War I, for example, most opinion makers in the country agreed that the United States should remain aloof from European troubles.  After the war, U.S. membership in the League of Nations and the establishment of a standing army were rejected by Congress.  Meanwhile, the White House and State Department had grown attached to American leadership and repeatedly advanced its necessity.  At the heart of this debate was the question of whether American idealism - its quest for peace and justice - should push the country into a leadership role in world affairs (exporting idealism, as it were) or whether it should avoid all "entangling alliances" (to use George Washington's phrase.)  This debate was ultimately resolved with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the U.S. foreign policy establishment found itself without a clear purpose.  The question of what to do in the next century gripped policy analysts in a dramatic way.  Such publications as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, National Interest, National Review, and the Atlantic Monthly, to name but a few, devoted considerable space to a single question:  What should be the guiding principles of U.S. foreign policy in this new era?  We will review the major points of this debate by organizing the various proposals into three general categories:  the "national interest" approach, the "hegemonic imperative" school, and the "multinationalist" position.

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The "national interest" position, often espoused by politicians seeking the votes of unemployed steel or textile workers, aims at defining national interest in narrow terms.  John F. Kennedy's pledge on behalf of the American public in 1961 to "bear any burden" in the cause of freedom rings hollow to analysts who see a declining U.S. economy and an urban and even suburban social infrastructure in shambles, where problems of the outside world seem trivial at best.  To the 1972 McGovern Democrats' call of "Come Home America," many neoconservatives add the refrain "America First."  As put by Charles Krauthammer, "[T]he internationalist consensus is under renewed assault.  The assault this time comes not only from the usual pockets of post-Vietnam liberal isolationism (e.g., the churches) but from a resurgence of 1930s-style conservative isolationism" (Krauthammer 1990/91, 23).

Republican Patrick Buchanan and Democrat Tom Harkin made "America First" a prominent campaign theme during the 1992 presidential election, and numerous analysts have written extensively about the need for relative retrenchment in U.S. foreign policy.  Alan Tonelson argued that the George H.W. Bush administration's attachment to Cold War activism was misguided and neglected the simple fact that U.S. power must be founded on a strong domestic society and economy.  "The contrast between American victories in the Cold War and the Gulf War, and growing domestic social and economic decay shows that the traditional benchmarks for evaluating United States foreign policy are sorely inadequate" (Tonelson, 1992, 145).  William Pfaff argued that, as the world system becomes more complex and unpredictable, U.S. capability will be based as much on inner strength and resistance to instability abroad as on the ability to project power beyond the country's borders (Pfaff 1990.91).  Paul Kennedy and Arthur Taylor, in testimony on Capitol Hill, argued that the only way to stop the decline of U.S. strength is by redirecting resources from international commitments to domestic retooling and reinvigoration (U.S. Congress 1990).

Most national interest authors emphasize the need for the United States to withdraw from nonessential international obligations.  The Atlantic Monthly's July 1991 cover story criticized the failures of internationalism, which, in the authors view, was out of step with the American public and had led to wasting billions of dollars on problems of only remote importance to the U.S. citizenry (Tonelson 1991).  They urged a renewed emphasis on programs that directly benefit the United States, although they did not dismiss all international activities.  "An interest-based foreign policy would tend to rule out economic initiatives deemed necessary for the international system's health if those initiatives wound up siphoning more wealth out of this country than they brought in" (Tonelson 1991, 38).

In the tradition of avoiding "entangling alliances" (Hendrickson 1992), the new national interest would exclude international commitments that involve long-term and open-ended obligations, on the grounds that these limit U.S. flexibility and self-reliance.  Such analysts see no further need for our involvement in NATO given the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, as well as U.S. maintenance of military bases across the world, and call for a large-scale withdrawal of troops.  Furthermore, they question the merits of an overwhelming nuclear missile deterrent in the face of the collapse and democratization of the United States' principal nuclear adversary, the Soviet Union, and call for unilateral disarmament (Krasner 1989).

During the 1990s, the national interest position focused on U.S. involvement in UN activities and payment of dues to the agency.  following the gruesome deaths of U.S. marines in Somalia, Senator Jesse Helms of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee blocked U.S. participation in other UN missions (Sterling-Folker 1998, 287).  Congressional leaders also blocked the payment of UN dues until the United States nearly lost its voting rights (Tessitore & Woolfson 1999, 300).

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Some national interest advocates emphasize the need for reducing oil dependency and import dependency generally, while others focus on the need to control foreign investment flows into the country to preserve U.S. control of critical resources, industries, and even symbolic entities such as Rockefeller Plaza and the Seattle Mariners.  Protectionism, investment controls, export promotion, and maintenance of an undervalued currency are among the international economic policies consistent with this approach.

Analysts who accept the national interest approach emphasize the primacy of American sovereignty; however, liberals and conservatives disagree on what in America needs fixing.  Liberal neoisolationists stress repairing urban decay, alleviating poverty, fighting racism, and rebuilding schools.  Neoconservatives, in contrast, seek reductions in government regulations and handouts to the poor, and a reversal of the decline of "family values."  Conservatives dismiss liberal isolationism as merely a ploy "to spend the maximum amount of money on social programs at home and the minimum abroad" (Kristol 1990, 20).

Although the national interest approach seems particularly appealing during tough economic times, the Bush administration and liberal internationalists outside government argued strongly against it.  Such retrenchment, so the logic goes, will take the United States down the well-worn path toward isolation, xenophobia, and ultimately the collapse of the modern world order.  Richard Nixon argued that the choice between domestic resurgence and international activism was a false one.  "We do not face a choice between dealing with domestic problems and playing an international role.  Our challenge is to do both by setting realistic goals and by managing our limited resources" (Nixon 1992, 277-278).  Antiisolationists argue that even a limited retrenchment from international obligations, whether collective or unilateral, could lead to an increase in America's insecurity as renegade states, reactionary dictatorships, and protectionism abroad flourish and undermine U.S. interests.


Many feel that the United States is still, both by duty and by right, the leader of the free world.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, we no longer need to worry about an overwhelming threat to our security.  But with that collapse go much of the order and stability of the international system and the risk of new, unforeseen dangers and stability of the international system and the risk of new, unforeseen dangers (Gaddis 1987; 1991).  As pointed out by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell, none of the troop deployments during the George H. W. Bush administration (Panama, Persian Gulf, Somalia) were anticipated at the time of his inauguration - a fact that reinforces the need for the country to be prepared for threats to peace, no matter how remote they may seem (U.S. Congress 1992, 367).

Many like-minded authors argue that the United States has the capability to lead and lacks only the will.  Joseph Nye, an antideclinist, disagrees with President Bush's lament that the United States lacks not the will but the wallet by saying that the reverse is true:  In terms of what we can afford as a nation, we are far too tight-fisted in dealing with global problems (Nye 1990).  Alexander Haig echoed the sentiment, pointing out that it is up to the executive to promote a domestic consensus about the need for American leadership abroad and then to act on that consensus (Haig 1991).

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There is a further sense from many authors that the United States has the right not only to lead but also to act unilaterally.  Although they pay some lip service to multilateral institutions, and the natural gifts required to create world order.  Charles Krauthammer pointed out:  American preeminence is based on the fact that it is the only country with the military, diplomatic, political and economic assets to be a decisive player in any conflict in whatever part of the world it chooses to involve itself" (Krauthammer 1990/91, 24).  Coupled with the assumption of preeminence comes a disdain for the cumbersome mechanisms the United Nations and the assumption that the UN will never have effective reinforcement powers.  This tone has been criticized as vain "triumphalism."

During the 1990s, U.S. dominance came to be seen almost as a birthright.  The Clinton administration worked to preserve U.S. power through a variety of maneuvers aimed at rewarding countries that had accepted a subordinate position and co-opting those that had not (Matsanduno 1997).  The United States, furthermore, has returned to some old, romantic notions of spreading democracy worldwide (Ikenberry 1999).  Foreign aid, military deployments, and other initiatives are increasingly designed to strengthen liberal regimes and punish autocrats.  Many governments have begun to fear that the United States is "throwing its weight around" with no regard to the implications of its actions.  This attitude was at the heart of the debate over UN authorization of the American attack on Iraq in 2003.

Some analysts suggest that the U.S. leadership role is merely an extension of old Cold War attitudes and behaviors, as if the Soviet Union had never collapsed.  Richard Lugar declared, "Americans must demonstrate staying power and the ability to master and prolong the peace" (Lugar 1002).  Many call for maintaining alliances, defense spending, and nuclear weapon arsenals at roughly constant levels in anticipation of future conflicts.

In their exuberance, some have gone so far as to declare the end of international conflict.  With the end of the Cold War, so the thinking goes, we are at the conclusion of the grand struggle between liberalism and authoritarianism - the "end of history" itself (Fukuyama 1989(.  Given this situation, we may find ourselves well and truly in an age without the threat of global war.  Naturally, some have steered clear of such dramatic predictions and contented themselves with pointing out the unique nature of America's position in the world, with a call for continued leadership and international engagement (Huntington 1989).

The "errors of endism" are probably obvious enough but bear repetition here.  Sanders has warned that attachment to a "unipolar myth" will quickly lead to frustration by those who ignore the reality of the diffusion of power in the last few years.  This frustration with America hot always getting its way may in turn lead to nationalist retrenchment, with equally serious consequences (Sanders 1991).

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The most extreme version of the presumption of American global leadership emerged in the 1980s from the Project for a New American Century led by William Kristol, a student of Leo Strauss.  He was joined by Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and others who would feature prominently in the administration of George W. Bush.  Harking back to the words of Teddy Roosevelt, these writers emphasized the need for American "greatness."  The United States should lead - not necessarily to make the country safer or the world better, but for the sake of leadership itself.  As put by Anne Norton, "It is not threats that should incite war, but opportunity" (Norton 2004, 191). Rather than advocating cautious gradualism and prudence, this group called for quick, decisive blows that would establish American preeminence.  It entails:

...enthusiasm for innovation, for intervention, for utopias.  Nothing can wait, everything must be done now.  No one need be consulted, for local custom and established preferences must fall before the rational force of liberal (yes, liberal) values.  Liberal values require not the consent of the governed, but the force of arms.  (Norton 2004, 191)

We will see that this attitude has colored the Bush administration's bold initiatives in security affairs.

In economic affairs, the question is whether the United States is using its position of dominance for good or for ill.  An established tradition in international relations literature holds that for the world to enjoy open markets and free flows of ideas and money across international borders, it takes a "hegemon."  A hegemon, in this context, is a powerful, benevolent nation that can provide money, markets, and technology to weaker countries as an inducement to them to lower international barriers (Gilpin 1987).  In 1944, the Bretton Woods system was set up the United States and the United Kingdom as a framework for this sort of bargain.  The United States was successful in persuading most nations of the world to join the pact but in the 1980s began increasingly to ignore its provisions.

In the 1990s, even though the U.S. economy was growing at the rate of nearly 4 percent per year, the Clinton administration adopted a fairly combative approach to international trade and economics generally.  It cut back foreign aid, negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which took advantage of the United States' strong position relative to Canada and Mexico, and repeatedly pressured Japan to allow increased amounts of U.S. imports with specific targets for market shares in semiconductors, autos, and automobile parts (Mastanduno 1997).  Although the United States concluded the Uruguay Round negotiations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994, it did so by employing very harsh tactics, threatening to pull out at several junctures if its demands were not met.  The United States increasingly makes use of dispute settlement panels and threat of unilateral sanctions against what it considers unfair trading partners, even at the expense of security agreements (Maswood 1997, 534).  Throughout, U.S. policymakers stress that they are merely trying to promote liberal economics through U.S. leadership - the essence of hegemony.

More subtle are the debates among would-be supporters of U.S. hegemony concerning the goals of U.S. leadership.  On the one hand, some feel that U.S. international ism should be firmly rooted in American idealism and that the nation should debate its energies to supporting and sustaining democracy and human rights.  For example, candidate Bill Clinton argued for, among other things, sanctions against China for its repression of students in 1989; support for Somalis, Kurds, and Bosnians fighting against authoritarian enemies; and admission of Haitian refugees into the United States on humanitarian grounds (see also DLC 1991).

On the other hand, many feel that the United States need not be a crusader.  Its international engagement should be based on a sort of expanded self-interest, they argue.  A stable world order is good for America because it minimizes surprises, allows for methodical planning, and usually results in economic prosperity.  The object of U.S. foreign policy should be to discourage instability by supporting the status quo, particularly where existing regimes are already pro-United States.  Krauthammer and others stress that the great enemy is no longer an organized opposition but rather disorder itself.  They emphasize the need to maintain this "chaotic sphere" in international relations by controlling the spread of weapons, intervening in civil wars before they spread, maintaining existing troop deployments in an effort to respond more rapidly to crises, and otherwise taking on the burden of enforcing international law - unilaterally if necessary (Krauthammer 1990/91; Gaddis 1991).  Nowhere in this discussion, however, is there any mention of U.S. compliance with international law if such compliance undermines U.S. interests.

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The George W. Bush administration has begun to formulate what has been dubbed the "Bush Doctrine."  Simply put, it means that, particularly where terrorist threats are concerned, the United States should not wait until the attacks occur to retaliate, but rather seek out plotters and strike preemptively.  This philosophy underpins the decision to attack Iraq in advance of its attacking U.S. interests directly.  Presumably, this action would be taken not be seeking international approval through the UN, but as part of America's role as global hegemon.  As put by Director of Policy Planning in the State Department, Richard Haass:

We're not looking to turn international relations in 2002 into the Wild West.  We understand that restraint and rules still need to be the norm.  But there may well be a place for exceptions.  You have to ask yourself whether rules and norms which have grown up over hundreds of years in one context are adequate to changing circumstances.  (Chicago Tribune, September 4, 2002)

Prior to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, senior members of the Bush administration called for a more "muscular" foreign policy involving preemptive strikes against America's threats.  Paul Wolfowitz, while serving in the first Bush administration, spearheaded the drafting of the Defense Planning Guidance, calling for preemptive strikes against potential enemies as opposed to the mere containment of threats.  He was joined by Richard Perle and other "Vulcans" who favored an activist role for the United States in shaping the world.  As explained by Daalder and Lindsay:

This group argued that the United States should actively deploy its overwhelming military, economic, and political might to remake the world in its image - and that doing so would serve the interests of other countries as well as the United States.  They were less worried about the dangers of nation-building and more willing to commit the nation's resources not just to toppling tyrants, but also to creating democracies in their wake.  (Daalder & Lindsay 2003, 47)

In September 2002, President Bush released the annual National Security Strategy.  In it, he promoted a vision of American leadership that is expansive and dramatic.  In order to reshape the balance of power in the world so as to "favor human freedom,' the United States must be willing to confront those who would acquire weapons of mass destruction for radical purposes.  "[A]s a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed....[W]e will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively" (Daalder & Lindsay 2003, 123).  As he put it more directly in a speech to the West Point graduating class in June 2002, "[W]e must take the battle to the enemy, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.  In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action."

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The strategy has broad support in American society, which helps explain why the invasion of Iraq was very popular.  Even with the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction (a key rationale for the invasion) and the difficulties in suppressing the insurrection, a slim majority still approves of the decision to go to war.

Critics, on the other hand, stress the alienation these policies have prompted around the world.  Not only have the enemies of the United States been galvanized by the new policy of preemption, but most of the nation's allies are uncertain of the government's intentions.  As put by T.D. Allman, "Although from a very great distance, George W. Bush looked like an acceptable representative of the American nation, as he drew closer, the smirk about the mouth, the hostile glint in his eyes, became apparent.  These, combined with the rippling of ire of his response to even the more well-reasoned unwillingness to line up behind him and America 100 percent, no questions asked, angered and frightened people" (Allman 2004, 151).  As a result, the Bush Doctrine became a campaign issue in 2004 with Democratic nominee John Kerry taking on the multilateralist standard.


The difference between the multilateralist and hegemonic approaches are rather subtle but nonetheless profound.  To begin, most multilateralists are skeptical of the argument that the United States has either the capability or the prerogative to lead the world.  Foremost among their concerns is the fact that the world is no longer bipolar and will never be unipolar.  At best, the world is tripolar, with Germany, Japan, and the United States at three opposite poles (Tarnoff 1990).  With the end of the Cold War, raw military might has become largely obsolete.  We live in an age of economics.  As pointed out by Fred Bergsten, "The central task in shaping a new American foreign policy is to set priorities and select central themes.  Those choices must derive from America's national interests, which have shifted sharply in the direction of economics" (Bergsten 1992, 4).

The economic issue has led many to urge a collaborative U.S. policy based on close cooperation among the United States, Japan, and Europe (via Germany) (U.S. Congress 1990).  The tripartite arrangement will go the farthest to promote open markets, liberal monetary policy, and free investment activities (Tarnoff 1990).  Analysts emphasize the need to work through multilateral institutions, such as GATT and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and to create yet more, stronger rules and enforcement mechanisms to preserve open markets (Aho & Stokes 1990/91).  They assume that a failure to continue expanding free trade will lead quickly to a rapid retreat into protectionism.

This urge to "go multilateral" stems not only from an acceptance of the U.S. decline into parity (or at least the rise of Europe and Japan), but also from a  hope that security concerns will continue to remain back-burner issues in the future.  Some have pointed out that democracies do not go to war with each other, concluding like the "endists" that the threat of global conflict is virtually over (Jervis 1992).  War has become less likely because of the nature of states, and it has become less profitable and therefore less attractive to rational actors interested in maximizing gains over losses (Kaysen 1991).  The implication of these developments is that we have reached a point when collective security may finally be a feasible method for dealing with all international conflict - a solution that would eliminate the need for American unilateralism.  Russett and Sutterlin feel that now is the time to give the UN the authority and capability to intervene actively in conflict situations not only to "keep" the peace but also to "make" it.  The success of the UN in the Persian Gulf War:

...can enhance the United Nation's ability not just to restore the status quo as it existed prior to a breach of the peace, but also to change the parameters of the global order to something more favorable than existed under the prior status quo.  In this it may even go beyond the vision of the U.N. founders.  (Russett & Sutterlin 1991, 82)

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In the Clinton administration, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Vice President Al Gore were noted for their enthusiasm for the multilateral approach.  Their propensity to urge an assertive U.S. leadership role, including a military one, has been described as "assertive multilateralism" (Sterling-Folker 1998, 284).  A draft presidential directive PRD-13 - called for a broader and more dynamic UN role, including a standing UN army and a willingness to place U.S. troops under UN command.  Though no longer U.S. policy as early as 1994, this position was assailed by Republican critics and remained an issue into the 1996 presidential campaign.

Although it is assumed that the UN will continue to be supportive of U.S. goals of promoting democracy, spreading free trade, and enforcing international law, there is an implicit acknowledgment that in the future the United States must accept that it will not always get its way.  Former U.S. envoy to the UN, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, deplores the fact that the United States has a bad habit of giving lip service to the letter of international law without complying with its spirit.  We sign the Optional Clause of the World Court, thereby showing our support for rendering its decisions binding, and then we deny their validity on technical grounds when they go against us.  We draw up a UN Charter that pledges our support for establishing a UN-commanded standing military force, and then we refuse to allow U.S. troops to participate in peacekeeping operations.  It is time, so the multilateralists say, to play by all the rules, not just those we like.

It may seem ironic that multilateralists, while accepting the fact of American decline, believe that American idealism can now be adopted as the global standard.  The hope is that, given the core values of fairness and tolerance, a weaker United States will actually live in a manner closer to its own rhetoric.  On the down side, multilateralists fear that American decline and increased great power parity may create an urgent need to institutionalize idealism quickly.  Failure to do so may lead to a collapse of the precarious consensus we now enjoy.

Critics of multilateralism come from many corners.  Neoisolationists fear that multilateralism will become yet another way to "sell the farm" to foreign interests.  Yielding to international pressures does not come natural to most Americans, particularly those who deny any automatic or inevitable international role for the United States.  They do not see the need for continued international involvement as a prerequisite for national renewal, and they see multilateral institutions as an impediment to national strength, not a help.

Unilateralists deny the inevitability of U.S. decline and feel that multilateralism, though acceptable when applied to other nations, should not be U.S. policy.  They point to the economic troubles experienced by Europe and Japan in the second half of 1992 as evidence that nothing is inevitable about their ascendance.  They further point to the paralysis of the European Community in the face of full-scale civil war in Yugoslavia as evidence that the United States should not expect international leadership from Brussels or Berlin.  The UN has been incapable of enforcing international law, and international economic institutions have more often than not provided a cover for unfair trading practices by the United States' economic rivals, so the logic goes.  Thus, although the unilateralists share the multilateralists' internationalism, they emphasize leadership.  Furthermore, they share with the neoisolationists the view that the United States should never voluntarily submit to international law if this law is dysfunctional and runs contrary to U.S. interests (however defined).

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If you, the reader, are still a bit uncertain about where you stand on the question, do not be dismayed.  Even the experts have to hedge a bit.  Former Secretary of Sate James Baker, a unilateralist at heart, emphasized the need for the United States to share both burdens and powers with its allies via multilateral institutions (U.S. Congress 1992).  Joseph Nye likewise seems to straddle the fence on whether the United States should take control of global institutions or be more of a team player (U.S. Congress 1990).  Even military analysts who seem most readily inclined to accept unilateralism have paid lip service to the U.N.

Some neoisolationists are still quick to acknowledge that there might be a role for some U.S. troops overseas (as a trip wire, perhaps) and caution against the dangers of a too-rapid demobilization (Hyland 1990; Brzezinksi 1991).  They will accept that although weapons manufacturing is no longer essential, maintenance of production lines, jobs, and even technological research may continue to have a place in a peacetime economy.  Even the threat of protectionism is seen by many as merely a bargaining strategy to persuade other nations to open their markets and embrace true free trade.

The record of the Clinton administration was mixed, and the door remains open to further presidents to adopt any number of courses of action.  Although assertive multilateralism is on the shelf for now, given George Bush's basic skepticism of UN intervention, the United States has a record of supporting multilateral ventures.

The disasters that took place on September 11, 2001, prompted a strong and virtually unanimous response from policymakers and legislators on both sides of the aisle.  The war against terror became the new, defining focus of U.S. foreign policy, playing much the same role as anticommunism during the Cold War (Chicago Tribune, September 6, 2002).  The United States was determined to lead the fight, without direction from the rest of the world (although U.S. officials were careful to obtain UN approval first).  Operations Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan was very much an American operation, as was the establishment of the Karzai government after the defeat of the Taliban.

It was not until the summer of 2002, when Bush administration officials leaked plans to invade Iraq and replace Saddam Hussein, that some voices of dissent and concern were raised.  Perhaps most troubling to Bush was the opposition of loyal Republicans who served in the Senate and had previously supported his father.  James Baker opined that a military strike, while well intentioned, was ill advised without a UN resolution to back it up (Baker 2002).  Senior Democrats have gone on record against the proposal.  Even after the war's successful outcome in April 2003, some questions arose as to whether ignoring international law was necessary.

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Thus a new debate has begun, focused on the limits of the Bush Doctrine of unilateral, preemptive strikes.  It seems to be having some effect, since in September 2002 the White House indicated some willingness to consider a debate in Congress and at the UN prior to launching an attack.  It may be useful to dust off the pages of the Great Debates of the past as the United States attempts to find it way through a post-September 11 world.

The invasion of Iraq...provides a laboratory to test the validity of these various approaches.  National interest advocates were split on the issue, since they disagreed on whether Iraq posed a clear and present danger to the U.S. homeland.  Once it was clear there were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, they concluded that the effort was a waste of precious resources that would have been better spent protecting U.S. territory and moving against al Qaeda targets.  Needless to say, advocates of the hegemonic imperative were the authors of the policy, although some have been surprised at how difficult the operation has proved to be.  Troop levels and budget expenditures have been far higher than anticipated.  The insurgents, once dismissed as "dead-enders" by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have become the focus of concerted military operations.  And multilateralists are resisting the urge to say "I told you so."  Secretary of State Colin Powell, an unlikely multilateralist, resigned his position with few regrets, other than his inability to stop Vice President Dick Cheney and the other "Vulcans" from their ill-advised purposes (Woodward 2004, 129)


Is the current war against terror best carried out as a multilateral or unilateral strategy?


A supporter of the multilateralist approach would likely argue as follows:  (1) Because terrorism violates the rules of civilization itself, fighting it is inherently multilateral.  Only supporters of terrorism would object.  (2) Because terrorism is ubiquitous, only a global approach will be successful.  The difficulties involved in the war in Iraq provide ample evidence of this.  (3) The United States is a relative newcomer in the fight against terrorism, and it could benefit from undertaking joint operations with states such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Israel which have far more experience.


Supporters of a unilateral approach have pointed out:  (1) The September 11 attacks were aimed solely at the United States, so it is incumbent on the United States to respond directly, with or without the rest of the world's support.  (2) Only the United States has the capability of projecting force worldwide, and it will therefore be expected to lead to anti-terror campaign.  (3) Because so many countries sponsor and tolerate terrorism, it is best not to depend too much on international collaboration, but to move forward unilaterally.  The refusal of France and Russia to join in the war in Iraq is ample evidence of this.