FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The Essays of Zbigniew Brzezinski

U.S. Foreign Policy: The Search for Focus

Courtesy Reuters

America was thrust into the world some 30 years ago. That jolting experience generated in America a degree of unity concerning foreign affairs unusual for a democratic and pluralist society. Largely as a consequence of that shock, America's foreign policy came to enjoy for a quarter of a century the advantage of broad popular support and of a seeming sense of direction.

Throughout much of that time, America's involvement in world affairs was characterized by an increasingly activist internationalism, by an idealistic optimism, and by a strong dose of populist Manichaeanism. The activist internationalism was in part a reaction to widely shared guilt feelings about America's earlier rejection of the League of Nations, and-as if to erase the past-America now became the most active promoter of international undertakings. The idealistic optimism combined a strong faith in the eventual emergence of a world of united nations with an unprecedented degree of popular willingness to share America's bounty with others. The populist Manichaeanism reflected the propensity of the masses to demonize foreign affairs, a tendency easily reinforced by the realities of Hitlerism and then of Stalinism.

Both World War II and the subsequent cold war gave America's involvement in world affairs a clear focus. The objectives of foreign policy were relatively easy to define, and they could be imbued with high moral content. To be sure, periodic frustrations in the conduct of the cold war prompted different Presidents to define their policies and priorities in varying terms, but the essential character of America's involvement remained unchanged. President Roosevelt focused public hopes on the "four freedoms," but the frustrations of Yalta-a case of unsuccessful Realpolitik at variance with the prevailing idealism-led not long afterward to President Truman's call for the containment of Stalinism and for the reconstruction of Europe. The frustrations of the Korean War in turn led to President Eisenhower's "Crusade for Freedom," including even the goal of liberating Eastern Europe (and thus repudiating Yalta). U.S. passivity in the face of the East

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