ON COMING TO office in 2001, George W. Bush encapsulated his administration’s intended approach to foreign policy in a seemingly bizarre conjunction of qualities: “strength and humility”. Strength clearly signified a determination that America should, as Ronald Reagan said, “stand tall” in the world – though to what purposes American strength would be put remained to be seen.
In his first inaugural address, Bush promised to defend freedom, democracy and peace abroad, though not by direct intervention in the manner of Woodrow Wilson. On the traditional assumption that what’s good for America is good for the world, these goals would be secured as a second order effect of a concerted pursuit of “enduring American interests”. Bush’s understanding of these interests turned out to reflect a very conservative ideology, and his actions in pursuit of them before September 11, 2001 – over the Kyoto greenhouse gas accord, long-standing missile treaties, trade and tariff agreements, and the International Criminal Court – seemed to reveal a bully’s willingness to use American strength to override the wishes of other nations. His humility thus appeared as phoney as Uriah Heep’s, though distinctly less obsequious.
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