When it comes to foreign policy, America has two choices: Either do what is in its interests or what is ethical. Only on rare occasions that these two options intersect, and when they do, the world will never see America's good deeds, but will only highlight its gains, and presumably shun its imperial practices.
But the world has always wronged America despite its ever changing foreign policy. Over the past half century, the United States has practically tried every possible scenario in the Middle East, for instance, as the region remains volatile and seemingly irreparable.
In 1953, America toppled popular Iranian Prime Minister Mohamed Mosaddeq. Three years later, it supported the popular Egyptian President Gamal Abdul-Nasser against a tripartite British-French-Israeli offensive on the Suez Canal.
The marines landed in Lebanon in 1958, and later in 1983, as peacekeeping forces. In the 1980s, America provided Saddam Hussein with satellite images of troop deployment during his war with Iran, and later ejected his army from Kuwait in 1991, stopping short of toppling him and coming late to the rescue of Iraqi Kurds, in the north, and Shiites, in the south, from Saddam's wrath.
The United States today maintains a fleet in Bahrain and bases in Qatar and Kuwait. In 2003, the marines made their way into Baghdad to topple Iraq's ruthless dictator Saddam Hussein and replace him with an elected government, giving more than 10 million Iraqis the chance to choose their leaders in 2005, and again in 2010.
Over the past half century, Washington has befriended unpopular Middle Eastern autocrats. Alternatively, it tried at times to isolate some of them like Syria's Bashar Assad and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. Washington has also tried to support democracy and bolster elected governments without military intervention, like in Lebanon.
Whether intervening on behalf of a popular tyrant, like Nasser, or against a loved ruler, like Mosaddeq; whether liberating Kuwait, failing to protect Iraqis from Saddam's wrath, or giving Iraqis their freedom from Saddam, America has been blamed.
The world is complicated. Since the dawn of civilization, empires have savagely treated other peoples, with rare exceptions, America is one.
America's ascension to world power has been unique. While history shows that empires grew around tyrants who establish a dynasty at home and later invade the world, the United States was built around the enlightened teachings of its founding fathers. America's ideals stressed liberty, freedom and the imperative of a government "for the people, by the people."
America's democracy did not spring up overnight, but rather took centuries of practice, including a civil war, and -- while the best in the world -- is still away from perfect.
The more America practiced its democracy and freedom, the more powerful it became on world stage. By the end of World War II, America had emerged as the bigger defender of the free world and its values.
Meanwhile, Americans believed, at times, that what is good for America is good for the world. By the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson had drafted a charter for world justice, only to see it scrapped by world powers. In response, America isolated itself.
Since then, the globe has become smaller and interconnected, and America's role has expanded, and so has objection from other nations -- all aspiring to play Washington's leading role, therefore criticizing an envied United States, fairly or wrongly.
World criticism forced America's dilemma to resurface again: Should America stick to its principles and leave a troubled world alone, or should it play the game according to the rules prevailing amongst nations?
World powers play by mostly unethical rules. When America disregards its principles when seeking its interests, the world cries foul. When America tries to marry its foreign involvement with its noble principles, the result would look like Iraq in flames in 2006 and 2007, when American forces seeking to apprehend terrorists were accompanied by an interpreter, and used force as sparingly as possible.
America's disciplined use of force is unheard of, in the region, when compared to images of plain cloth Iranian security agents firing shots at demonstrators, a few months ago, or Iran's Lebanese proxy militia, Hezbollah, burning down a TV and a newspaper that belonged to a rival party in 2008, in a show of crude force.
To be fair, one should mention the inhumane American practices in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. In the first, perpetrators were punished severely. In the second, America's vibrant democracy ended whatever torture and forced the government to look for more humane alternatives.
Many Americans should stop their self-flagellation on foreign policy, and should stop thinking of their country as a world monster.
Marrying realism and idealism might be possible. It only needs a smart government and a public that understands world affairs in their context, without believing that the world is victim of the power of America and its allies.