The following article appeared in
the Wednesday, December 29, 1999, issue of
The Washington Post, page A27. Mr. Ellsworth is a member of the Board of Trustees
of the National Humanities Institute.
Though we have no connection with the McCain campaign, we take
exception to The Post's editorial attack [Dec. 14] on Sen. John McCain's
national-interests-based foreign policy. The editorial appears to align The
Post with one or both of two new elite ideologies--neo-liberalism and
neo-conservatism--each of which expresses eagerness to promote its own
conception of American virtue around the world through any means
necessary, including force.
Though increasingly reflected in the media, these ideologies are not
by the majority of the American people, as numerous public opinion polls
indicate. Moreover, they are dangerous, not only to important U.S.
national interests but to America's fundamental values.
The United States cannot effectively preserve its global
alone maintain key alliances, fight terrorism or control the proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction--if it is constantly seen as too ready to
interfere in the affairs of others. America is uniquely positioned for
international leadership as a benign superpower, but if it appears to be a
threatening hegemon, insensitive to the interests and perspectives of other
nations, that leadership will likely be both excessively costly and
The warnings of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan about a global
backlash against U.S. values and the bitter divisions within the U.N.
Security Council illustrate that the international legitimacy of both American
interests and values is already in question.
Moreover, contrary to what The Post's editorial suggests, military
intervention in the name of democracy is highly questionable from a moral
standpoint. The ends do not justify the means. The fact that America is
indeed a shining example of freedom and prosperity does not mean we
should expect other nations to accept the United States as an unquestioned
authority on their internal affairs. Military intervention to promote
democracy in other countries may appear to the rest of mankind to be a
form of salvation without representation.
President Clinton's humanitarian interventions have to some extent
refugee flows (as in Haiti) and stopped ethnic cleansing (in Bosnia and
Kosovo), but they have not moved their targets much closer to
democracy. The beneficiaries of our humanitarian interventions are, in fact,
basket cases, American protectorates, or both.
The problem is that not even the United States has sufficient power to
impose democracy on reluctant populations. If a society's culture and other
circumstances are not suitable, democracy will not grow.
America would not be true to itself if our nation did not stand up
possible to naked aggression and genocide. Beyond that, however, how
do we decide exactly which of the "American democratic and humanitarian
values" The Post mentions should be promoted with American military
might? Who will define them? Through what process? Who will establish
the relative priority of, for example, efforts by some to curb abortion
worldwide and others' attempts to protect the environment?
In today's political context, when the administration is preoccupied
domestic concerns and Congress (in the absence of leadership from the
White House) is also more responsive to domestic pressures, how will we
ensure that force is actually used to promote democracy rather than in
response to domestic interest groups?
The values advocated by The Post are important but not vital, and
not be advanced or defended with military force. The assumption that our
values are universal is false because it is demonstrably untrue; immoral
because of what would be necessary to make non-Western peoples adopt
Western institutions and culture; and dangerous because it could lead to
The United States has an opportunity to provide global leadership in
21st century. That opportunity includes using American military force
decisively and even ruthlessly if necessary. But arrogantly attempting to
reshape the world in our own image--and appearing as an aspiring
hegemon rather than a benign superpower in the process--is contrary to
America's essential mission.
Robert F. Ellsworth is vice president of the International Institute of
Strategic Studies and a former deputy secretary of Defense, ambassador
to NATO, and member of Congress. Dimitri K. Simes is president of The
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
*Robert F. Ellsworth is vice
of the International Institute of Strategic Studies
and a former deputy secretary of Defense, ambassador to NATO, and member of Congress.
Dimitri K. Simes is president of The Nixon Center. [Back]
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