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Can the United States Be Balanced? If So, How?
Unformatted Document Text:  41 As discussed in chapter 2, Americans tend to see the United States as a positive force in world affairs, and U.S. leaders routinely invoke this sort of argument in order to defend America’s current position. Presidents and Cabinet officials are fond of reciting the positive benefits that U.S. global leadership has produced, such as the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Germany and Japan, the expansion of the world economy after World War II, the spread of democracy and human rights in the 1980s and 1990s, and the liberation of particular countries or peoples. This line of defense helps legitimate America’s structural position as the dominant world power, by suggesting that world politics would be even nastier if the U.S. position were weaker. 89 Similar arguments are also used to defend specific U.S. policies, by arguing that their net effect is positive. Thus, both the Bush and Clinton administration’s justified going to war in the absence of UN Security Council authorization by arguing that the net effect of these wars (in Kosovo and Iraq) had been positive. As President Bush proclaimed one year after the invasion of Iraq: “For Iraq, it was a day of deliverance. . . .The fall of the Iraqi dictator has removed a source of violence, aggression and instability in the Middle East. . . [W]ho can argue that the Iraqi people would be better off with the thugs and murderers back in the palaces?” Such efforts to defend the legitimacy of U.S. primacy may acknowledge that these actions have had unfortunate consequences (such as the deaths of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere), but nonetheless maintain that the overall balance of costs and benefits has been positive. 90 Just as predictably, of course, U.S. opponents challenge the legitimacy of U.S. primacy by suggesting that its effects are largely negative. In the case of Iraq, for example, critics highlight the failure to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the post-war sufferings of the Iraqi people, and the continued violence within Iraq in order to argue that the social and political costs of the war exceed the benefits claimed by President Bush and his supporters. At a more fundamental level, Islamic radicals such as Osama bin Laden portray America’s global role in wholly negative terms, accusing it of stealing Muslim oil wealth, imposing unjust economic sanctions on Islamic countries, installing military bases within the Muslim world, corrupting Muslim societies, and aiding Israel’s “pillage” of Muslim territories. 91 Indeed, al Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith has claimed the right to kill at least four million Americans (half of them children) by arguing that “America. . . is the leader of corruption and the breakdown of values, whether moral, ideological, political and economic corruption,” and by arguing that U.S. policies in the Middle East and elsewhere have caused the deaths of at least 4 89 For various statements of this position, see Wohlforth, “Stability of a Unipolar World,” Stephen M. Walt, “American Primacy: Its Prospects and Pitfalls,” Naval War College Review 55, no. 2 (Spring 2002); Samuel P. Huntington, “Why International Primacy Matters,” International Security 17, no. 4 (Spring 1993). 90 NATO’s intervention in Kosovo is defended primarily on moral grounds by former deputy national security advisor James Steinberg in “A Perfect Polemic: Blind to Reality in Kosovo,” Foreign Affairs 78, no. 6 (November/December 1999. For Bush’s defense of war in Iraq, which are typical of the Administration’s postwar justifications, see “President Bush’s Remarks,” New York Times, March 19, 2004. 91 See Osama bin Laden, “Letter to the American People,” as printed in Observer Worldview, November 24, 2002, available online at http://observer.guardian.co.uk , viewed on September 24, 2003.

Authors: Walt, Stephen.
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41
As discussed in chapter 2, Americans tend to see the United States as a positive
force in world affairs, and U.S. leaders routinely invoke this sort of argument in order to
defend America’s current position. Presidents and Cabinet officials are fond of reciting
the positive benefits that U.S. global leadership has produced, such as the reconstruction
and rehabilitation of Germany and Japan, the expansion of the world economy after
World War II, the spread of democracy and human rights in the 1980s and 1990s, and the
liberation of particular countries or peoples. This line of defense helps legitimate
America’s structural position as the dominant world power, by suggesting that world
politics would be even nastier if the U.S. position were weaker.
89
Similar arguments are also used to defend specific U.S. policies, by arguing that
their net effect is positive. Thus, both the Bush and Clinton administration’s justified
going to war in the absence of UN Security Council authorization by arguing that the net
effect of these wars (in Kosovo and Iraq) had been positive. As President Bush
proclaimed one year after the invasion of Iraq: “For Iraq, it was a day of deliverance. . .
.The fall of the Iraqi dictator has removed a source of violence, aggression and instability
in the Middle East. . . [W]ho can argue that the Iraqi people would be better off with the
thugs and murderers back in the palaces?” Such efforts to defend the legitimacy of U.S.
primacy may acknowledge that these actions have had unfortunate consequences (such as
the deaths of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere), but nonetheless
maintain that the overall balance of costs and benefits has been positive.
90
Just as predictably, of course, U.S. opponents challenge the legitimacy of U.S.
primacy by suggesting that its effects are largely negative. In the case of Iraq, for
example, critics highlight the failure to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the post-
war sufferings of the Iraqi people, and the continued violence within Iraq in order to
argue that the social and political costs of the war exceed the benefits claimed by
President Bush and his supporters. At a more fundamental level, Islamic radicals such as
Osama bin Laden portray America’s global role in wholly negative terms, accusing it of
stealing Muslim oil wealth, imposing unjust economic sanctions on Islamic countries,
installing military bases within the Muslim world, corrupting Muslim societies, and
aiding Israel’s “pillage” of Muslim territories.
91
Indeed, al Qaeda spokesman Suleiman
Abu Gheith has claimed the right to kill at least four million Americans (half of them
children) by arguing that “America. . . is the leader of corruption and the breakdown of
values, whether moral, ideological, political and economic corruption,” and by arguing
that U.S. policies in the Middle East and elsewhere have caused the deaths of at least 4
89
For various statements of this position, see Wohlforth, “Stability of a Unipolar World,” Stephen M. Walt,
“American Primacy: Its Prospects and Pitfalls,” Naval War College Review 55, no. 2 (Spring 2002);
Samuel P. Huntington, “Why International Primacy Matters,” International Security 17, no. 4 (Spring
1993).
90
NATO’s intervention in Kosovo is defended primarily on moral grounds by former deputy national
security advisor James Steinberg in “A Perfect Polemic: Blind to Reality in Kosovo,” Foreign Affairs 78,
no. 6 (November/December 1999. For Bush’s defense of war in Iraq, which are typical of the
Administration’s postwar justifications, see “President Bush’s Remarks,” New York Times, March 19,
2004.
91
See Osama bin Laden, “Letter to the American People,” as printed in Observer Worldview, November
24, 2002, available online at
http://observer.guardian.co.uk
, viewed on September 24, 2003.


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