The United States has attained an international preeminence beyond challenge. As leader of the West during the years of confrontation with the Soviet bloc and, most recently, of the international coalition ranged against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it is now well placed to define both the character of this new stage in international history and the West’s role within it. Yet that task is proving to be extremely difficult and perplexing. Events since the conclusion of the Gulf War have qualified confidence in the ability of the United States and its allies to shape the future according to their values and interests. The task has become too frustrating and unrewarding. It has to be justified by a sense of responsibility as much as strategic necessity, but the nature of the responsibility still lacks clarity. This is the year in which President Bush will need to justify an activist foreign policy if he is to be reelected. He must do this against those in his own party who are raising old isolationist banners and Democratic opponents who sense a popular theme in the proposition that, with the evaporation of the Soviet threat, it is now time to concentrate on the multiple domestic problems of the United States. The peace dividend is still eagerly anticipated, along with the associated and enticing prospect of a quiet life.
West European leaders profess to worry about an increasing introspection in American policy. They know that if events take a dramatic turn for the worse they will find it difficult to manage on their own. Yet there is also the thought that without the Soviet threat European security problems might be manageable without calls on Washington for assistance. That was the implication of the agreements on defense and foreign policy reached at the December 1991 European Community (EC) summit at Maastricht. These were carefully framed so as not to suggest an alternative to the Atlantic connection, but they did allow for a greater range of continental
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