Name the three greatest moments in the history of American statecraft. The first, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, is surely beyond debate. For a mere $15 million and without shedding a drop of blood, President Thomas Jefferson more than doubled the size of the United States. With a brilliant mix of bluff and bluster, Jefferson not only outmaneuvered three great powers--France, Britain, and Spain--but also removed them as threats to the future expansion of the young republic. Those Americans "conquer without war," wrote the French envoy Louis Marie Turreau, expressing his surly admiration for the clever diplomacy of the Yankee upstarts.
The decade after World War II also deserves a five-star ranking. Indeed, 1945-55 is the golden age of American foreign policy, even though gainsayers would downplay the quality of U.S. diplomacy, pointing to America's towering predominance.-1 In those years the United States focused on building a strong institutional framework, reflected in an alphabet soup of acronyms: U.N., IMF, OEEC, WEU, ECSC, GATT, NATL, plus subsidiary alliances such as SEATO and CENTO. Add to that list the rearmament of West Germany in 1955, which completed the natl structure. Those who pooh-pooh these institutions as instances of pactomania or imperialism miss the point. The secret of their success lay in their transcendence: dedicated to the common welfare, they served American interests by serving those of others. No other hegemonic power--from Rome to Great Britain--had so profitably hitched its national interests to the well-being of other nations.
The third period deserving at least a magna cum laude coincides with the presidency of a most unlikely candidate, George Bush. Though he could never quite get his sentences straight, from 1989 to 1993 he presided over an extraordinary chapter in American diplomacy. First, a great power--the Soviet Union--expired peacefully on his watch. Yet as Martin Wight, the British student of international politics, has put it, a great power never "dies in its bed"; before breathing their last, the losers have historically unleashed a major war. Second, though
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