American Values or Human Rights? U.S. Foreign Policy and the Fractured Myth of Virtuous Power
American exceptionalism placed American values at the center of foreign policy, fostering belief in the essential union of American virtue and power. Developing a theme of Henry Kissinger's, this article argues that in Vietnam this union was severed and undermined: America's power was defeated and its virtue assailed. Nixon offered only a pretense of reunion. Carter attempted the real thing by putting universal human rights, not American values, at the heart of foreign policy. His failure was followed by Reagan's denial of sin and reassurance of American values, though the Gulf War of his successor had a deeper impact on the national psyche. Clinton's foreign policy remained subject to the "Vietnam syndrome" and he, despite rhetorical dazzle, developed no new consensus on the disposition of American power. September 11, however, produced a sense of injured innocence in whose defense American power could again be virtuously deployed. The subsequent patriotic surge encouraged George W. Bush to revive American values in foreign policy, with potentially dangerous consequences.
Presidential Studies Quarterly
© 2003 Blackwell Publishing. The definitive version is available at [www.blackwell-synergy.com.]