One of the best, indeed quite possibly the best, books on the derailment of U.S. foreign policy in the early 21st century is Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray -- and How to Return to Reality. It was published last year by Ambassador Jack Matlock, one of the finest members of the diplomatic corps of his, or any, generation.
In too brief a word, Ambassador Matlock argues that a misinterpretation, in part a purposeful one, of the end of the Cold War led a group of ideologues, generally identified as neo-conservatives, to the conclusion that America could democratize the world largely through the threat and/or use of force, that what they call "regime change" was an acceptable policy for the U.S., and that strength trumped principle in American foreign policy.
Ambassador Matlock, who served as our ambassador to the Soviet Union under President Reagan and who admired that iconic Republican president, refutes at every point these notions. Mighty as we are, we cannot govern the world by force or intimidation. Traditional military power might awe inferior regimes but not insurgents. And we pay a heavy price in respect when we operate outside our proclaimed principles.
All this would seem self-evident, except the cycles of history suggest that, sooner or later, possibly beyond a second Obama term, the foreign policy of bullying, cloaked again in a phony Wilsonian patina, will re-emerge. It will do so, that is, if we have figured out a way to keep our own society and economy from collapsing because of the trillions of dollars we have put into unnecessary foreign wars instead of into nation building at home.
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