Courtesy Reuters

The Question of Hegemony

An implicit alliance has emerged in Washington since the Cold War's end: internationalist liberals, anxious to extend American influence and to federate the world's democracies, and unilateralist neoconservatives, who believe in aggressive American leadership for the world's own good, have joined forces in what some call the New Wilsonianism.

The United States enjoys a hegemonic position in these first years of the new century, in terms of both its military power and its economic weight and dynamism. The technological capabilities of the former extend to something resembling a doomsday extermination of civilization, yet the exercise of American power has repeatedly proven incompetently conceptualized and directed, and in significant respects irrelevant to the world's military and political challenges.

Examples of such mishandling include not only the Vietnam War, the maladroit Central American and Caribbean interventions, and the Somalia fiasco, but also the 1999 intervention in Kosovo. There, NATO fought a war that proved to be different from the one Serbia was fighting, leaving the Serbian army intact while failing to prevent the purge of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. In the end, Russian diplomatic intervention was required to produce an outcome that preserved NATO's reputation. The Kosovo campaign -- well-meant but lacking coherent political direction or geopolitical vision, reliant on technology but recoiling from the risk of casualties -- revealed an American approach to the exercise of power that is scarcely one of a determined hegemon. One of France's commanders in the Bosnia campaign, General Philippe Morillon, asked at the time, "How can you have soldiers who are ready to kill, who are not ready to die?"

A hegemonic spirit nonetheless underlies both the liberal activism and the neoconservative unilateralism evident in much of recent American foreign policy. It is behind the aggressive congressional initiatives to impose sanctions or boycotts on states regarded as miscreants -- and even on allies insufficiently accommodating on trade. It was also responsible for the Clinton administration's program to enlarge NATO's membership and extend its operations "out of area,"

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