America’s Hard Sell

In “America’s Hard Sell,” the cover article for the November/December 2008 issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Professor of PPS and Political science Bruce Jentleson, along with co-author Steven Weber of the University of California, Berkeley, call for rethinking the basic assumptions of international community in the 21st century. The authors will also post answers to questions about the article on the magazine’s web site on December 5. An excerpt of the article follows.

Cover image of Foreign Policy magazineAlthough their presidencies had little in common, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all spoke about the world from essentially the same starting point. In a time of sole-superpower dominance, most of the world had seemingly come to understand that the utility of military force was on the decline. Free markets were ascendant, creating wealth and contributing to the growing sense that a wave of democratic transition was inevitable. Mobile phones and the Internet were spreading elements of Western culture and behavior to a global population that was ready, even eager, to receive and assimilate them.

These presidents basically had it right. For most of the second half of the 20th century, five Big Ideas shaped world politics:

1) Peace is better than war.

2) Hegemony, at least the benign sort, is better than a balance of power.

3) Capitalism is better than socialism.

4) Democracy is better than dictatorship.

5) Western culture is better than all the rest.

On all five counts, the United States was widely seen as paragon and guarantor. American power brought peace through a combination of Cold War containment and deterrence. A United Nations was constructed largely according to American designs. American hegemony brought relative security and laid the foundation for progressively more open trade and capital markets…

Illustrations by SHOUT! for Foreign Policy magazineThe five Big Ideas of the past century are no longer the sound and sturdy guides they once were. The challenge runs far deeper than the bad atmospherics created by the Bush administration. Nor is it the case that our international institutions are simply in need of remodeling or refurbishment to reflect the shift in power and wealth across the globe. Rather, the rules have changed, and the biggest and most basic questions of world politics are open for debate once again...  

Reprinted by permission of Foreign Policy magazine
Illustrations by SHOUT! for Foreign Policy magazine