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A nation must think before it acts.
Among its other unexpected effects, the end of the cold war posed anew several moral dilemmas in U.S. foreign policy that had previously been subsumed in the larger struggle: how to respond to ethnic violence in marginal, nonstrategic areas; how far to go in support of humanitarian efforts abroad at a time of deepening socioeconomic malaise and political alienation at home; and how to interpret the national interest-whether broadly or narrowly.
To be sure, American concern for the plight of unfortunates in war-tom, starvation-ridden, devastated lands is not at all new. Before 1924, a virtually open immigration policy made the United States a ready destination for desperate millions; after 1945, the United States gave generously to Western Europe, Japan, and a number of Third World countries. At present, it contributes to international organizations-public and private-to alleviate hunger, fight disease, foster development, and encourage democracy, with funding in the billions of dollars. But a chronic-fatigue syndrome has also set in, and public support for massive aid to newly needy nations or military interventions to rectify political injustices is noticeably flagging. Despite that, a disparate group of influential notables in the media, academy, and think tanks, a group I call the “new moralists,” wants the United States to embark on new crusades to spread democracy, protect the victimized, and promote economic development. What is more, they expect U.S. military power to serve as the instrument for their sociopolitical engineering, even in areas that are not of strategic importance.