A Multilateralist View of U. S. Empire

Excerpts from The End of the American Era: U. S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century

by Charles A. Kupchan, Senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, 2002

[231]  Today’s leaders must therefore follow Franklin Roosevelt’s example, findg the middle road between doing too much an doing too little. To err on the side of either extreme is equally dangerous. On the one hand, an unchecked unilateralism would turn allies into opponents. It would also be to overextend by pursuing a level of foreign engagement for which there is insufficient political support, risking a backlash, and a precipitous return to isolationism,– exactly what happened to Woodrow Wilson. On the other hand, to retreat from the outset and dramatically reduce American’s global role would only fuel complacency and a gradual drift toward the illusory seclusion that the American nation has found all too appealing throughout much of its history....

          On one side have been the neoconservatives like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz.... They have backed a foreign policy that favors the unilateral use of U. S. force and that aims at preserving American hegemony as long as possible through actively resisting the rise of alternative centers of power. On the other side are more traditional conservatives like Condolezza Rice and Colin Powell. They have been more circumspect about the projection of U. S. power, believing that American should refrain from intervening in small wars in the periphery, husband its resources, focus on homeland defense, and devote attention to the major players– EU, Russia, and China. 

[235] The United States is more likely to stay engaged in Europe if it can pick and choose its fights than if Americans soon find themselves extending ironclad commitments to countries they cannot find on the map.... It is better to secure workable minimums than to overreach and end up empty-handed.

          American hubris will further complicate the task of finding a new and more discriminating internationalism. The United States is faced with a challenge that few great nations have managed to pull off–accepting the rise of alternative power centers and willingly ceding influence to them....

[247]  The United States cannot and should not resist the end of the American era. To do so would only risk alienating and provoking conflict with a rising Europe and ascendant Asia. Asking that the United States prepare for and manage its exit from global primacy, however, is a tall order. Great powers have considerable difficulty accepting their mortality; few in history have willfully made room for rising challengers and adjusted their grand strategies accordingly.

          If armed with the right politics and the right policies, the United States may well be able to manage peacefully the transition from unipolarity to multipolarity, thereby ensuring that the stability and prosperity attained under its watch will extend well beyond its primacy.    `