TFF logoFORUMS Power Columns

TFF Home | About us


Iraq Forum

Features by others

Links to all issues

New stuff

Other associate articles

Burundi Forum

Publications on-line

Paul McCartney

Nyt på nordisk

Jonathan Power

EU conflict-handling

The 100 best books

Annual Reports

TFF Associates


Reconciliation project

Øbergs Kalejdoskop

Support TFF on-line

Activities right now

Gandhi & India

Teaching & training

Oberg's photos

Support TFF off-line

PressInfos - Analyses

Macedonia Forum

Lærestof på dansk

TFF News Navigator


After Iraq: Saving the
good in American
foreign policy



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

Comments directly to

October 25, 2006

LONDON - It was the rebelling colonial subjects of Britain in America who, in their Declaration of Independence in 1776, first synthesized the best ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers of Europe. And they did that in the most inspiring prose that makes the subsequent French document of thirteen years later, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, look like a shopping list.

The Americans invented the modern liberal republic. It was the Americans who took a brilliant idea, two and half thousand years old, which had briefly flourished but then faded away, and reintroduced it to the modern world - democracy. It was America that inspired the French Revolution, although as has often happened since, as Napoleon rampaged all over Europe, it came to regret what it had provoked.

As one who spent a portion of his youth working on Martin Luther King’s staff during his campaign against the slums of Chicago whilst the war in Vietnam was being waged, I have never confused the periodic failures of America abroad with the idealism, instinct for human rights and the belief in the ultimate power of the ballot box that is at the heart of American life. Some, like President George W. Bush, may come to power and pervert these ideals as well as waging an unnecessary war, claiming the lives of tens of thousands of innocents, but I have no doubt that in all good time America will revert to its fundamental benign beliefs.

At the same time, as Iraq underlines for a new generation the danger of shallow thinking as Vietnam did for ours, we need to be fully aware that on the other side of America’s revolutionary democracy coin there is an almost innate desire for a revolutionary foreign policy, and one too often puffed up with the notion of “manifest destiny”. Contrary to what many Americans realize, the U.S. has been from almost the beginning expansionist. As Fareed Zakaria has written, “Ever since the 13 colonies relentlessly marched west to acquire and occupy the continent, expansionism and imperialism have been part of the American ideal”.

These ambitions were not exhausted with the conquest of the Indians and later of California. In the 1850s, in the aftermath of the Mexican war, “depriving us of over half our national territory”, in the words of Octavio Paz, American leaders waxed lyrical on the need for further expansion. American diplomats tried to negotiate the purchase of parts of Cuba and Hawaii. Even Canada was a target. John Quincy Adams thought that in the end the U.S. would annex all of North America.

Would you be reading this now,
if it wasn't useful to you?
Get more quality articles in the future

Nevertheless, throughout the long history of U.S.-prompted “regime change” - in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Mexico, Iran, Chile, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Central America, Panama, Greece and, most recently, South Vietnam and Iraq, Americans have always been confronted by the question whether their practices conformed with their stated principles. As Robert Kagan writes in his profound new book “Dangerous Nation”, “When Americans’ pursuit of material and spiritual happiness thrust them into involvement with other peoples, the principal of universal rights they proclaimed often became part that interaction. The principle served as a kind of superego looming in judgement over Americans’ egoistic pursuits”.

William Fulbright, the chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee published a book in the middle of the Vietnam War, entitled “The Arrogance of Power”. One wonders what term of endearment he would use for his country today? Fulbright was Bill Clinton’s mentor but Clinton himself seemed unable to say more than that the U.S couldn’t be “simply another great power”; he appeared unable to put flesh on the thought. Bush with his “axis of evil” campaign did give America a role, but with the most counterproductive consequences. By making military might a substitute for negotiation and diplomacy he made the common mistake of those who fly too close to the sun.

In the months ahead as the inevitable American withdrawal from Iraq gets under way, the rest of the world must resist the temptation either to gloat or to diplomatically shun America. America’s basic principles are still needed in our volatile world. Americans for their part should recall at this moment of historic failure Montesquieu who, commenting on the fall of Rome and the empires of Spain and France, explained it was because “they had attained a greater Power than had wisdom sufficient to direct; for the sake of gratifying the passion of the Day, they lost sight of their lasting Interest.” Americans have to ask themselves once again, why have they given in to their baser, expansionist desires?


Copyright © 2006 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Get free articles & updates


Follow this link to read about - and order -
Jonathan Power's book written for the
40th Anniversary of Amnesty International

"Like Water on Stone - The Story of Amnesty International"




Här kan du läsa om - och köpa -
Jonathan Powers bok på svenska

"Som Droppen Urholkar Stenen"



Tell a friend about this article

Send to:


Message and your name






S P E C I A L S & F O R U M S

Iraq Forum

Gandhi & India

Burundi Forum

Photo galleries

Nonviolence Forum

TFF News Navigator

Become a TFF Friend

TFF Online Bookstore

Reconciliation project

EU conflict-management

Make an online donation

Foundation update and more

TFF Peace Training Network

Make a donation via bank or postal giro

Basic menu below












The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone + 46 - 46 - 145909     Fax + 46 - 46 - 144512

© TFF 1997 till today