The Curse of Unilateralism

The realization in the United States that the war in Iraq has been lost is perhaps the most momentous fact of international politics in 2006. The time of American unilateralism is objectively over. Whether US foreign policy will come to reflect this fact, only the future will tell.

Unfortunately, this also means that a unique opportunity has been lost. For only the US – with all its power and sense of mission – had the ability to establish a new world order at the beginning of the twenty-first century. To achieve this, the US would have had to subordinate its power to the goal of shaping the new order, much as it did at the close of World War II in 1945. Instead, America succumbed to the temptation of unilateralism.

National greatness for a world power always arises from its ability to shape the world. If a great power forgets this, or loses the ability to act accordingly, it begins to decline. It is almost tempting to think that America’s great Cold War opponent, the Soviet Union, with its sudden disappearance 15 years ago this month, left its own Trojan horse for America – the poisoned gift of unilateralism.

Without a fundamental turnaround in American political consciousness, the unilateralist amnesia of US foreign policy will have far-reaching consequences and leave a huge vacuum in the global system. No other nation – not China, Europe, India, or Russia – has the power and the sense of mission to take on America’s role. Only America was (and potentially still is) able to fuse realism and idealism, self-interest and ethics, in its foreign policy.