In a post at Foreign Policy magazine, former Condoleezza Rice speechwriter Christian Brose points to his participation in the drafting of a Rice speech that I’ve long found vexing. The passage I found most puzzling was this:
American Realism is an approach to the world that arises not only from the realities of global politics but from the nature of America’s character: From the fact that we are all united as a people not by a narrow nationalism of blood and soil, but by universal ideals of human freedom and human rights. We believe that our principles are the greatest source of our power. And we are led into the world as much by our moral ideas as by our material interests. It is for these reasons, and for many others, that America has always been, and will always be, not a status quo power, but a revolutionary power - a nation with New World eyes, that looks at change not as a threat to be feared, but as an opportunity to be seized.
Emphasis mine. Suffice it to say that this is not the conventional view by historians of American diplomacy. It is a revisionist view that has been advanced mostly by those on the extreme left and extreme right. Those on the left generally believed that the economic concept of the Open Door thrust America ever outward, in search of markets for its products and to deploying force to feed the machine of American capitalism. The right-wing interpretation basically agrees with this economically deterministic view but also overlays what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call a “neoconservative” ideological orientation onto basically the entire history of American foreign policy. Kagan, for example, interprets the foreign policy vision of the Founders as being in general alignment with the view that it would be a good idea for the United States to unravel and reweave the social and political fabric of the Middle East.
It would be really interesting for Brose to explain what he and Rice meant by this. Was it an endorsement of the Kagan interpretation of American diplomatic history? Does Brose really place the revolutionary character of American diplomacy before, say, 1898? What does he think about the book his Foreign Policy colleague Aaron Friedberg wrote about the role anti-state American ideology played in preventing the United States from even becoming a player on the world stage, much less a “revolutionary power” before 1945? (Cf., Fareed Zakaria.)
Moreover, if, as Brose and Rice argue, the United States has “always been a revolutionary power,” wouldn’t it necessarily follow, for example, that Soviet diplomacy from 1945 onward was fundamentally defensive and that the Cold War was, itself, an American creation? After all, how, if we were always a revolutionary power should the Soviets have responded after we dropped two nuclear weapons on Japan and began aiming our rhetorical sights on them?