Public opinion polls confirm that the American people agree with the experts: U.S. foreign policy is in trouble. Behind the floundering, the American people sense an inner uncertainty: the president and his team are not sure of the American role abroad: whether, when, and how to lead. This vacuum at the center makes Bill Clinton’s foreign policy resemble nothing so much as Winston Churchill’s famous circus freak: the boneless wonder, ever flexible in principle, always reversible in practice.
Thus, once again, the central problem of American foreign policy has become-America itself. The “reinventing” of U.S. foreign policy has occurred twice before in the twentieth century. In 1919 and again in 1945, the United States emerged from a victorious war only to lose the peace. After World War I, we could not find a way to reconcile Woodrow Wilson’s crusade for the League of Nations with the prudent, balance-of-power approach preferred by many in the Senate, with the result that isolationism–a minority position–carried the day. After World War II, Joseph Stalin’s ambitions paralyzed Franklin Roosevelt’s concept of a U.N. Security Council whose Four Policemen were to enforce a democratic charter around the world. Then, several years of Soviet aggression were needed to prod the United States to develop the doctrine of containment and commit the resources to make it work.