I am re-reading Anatol Lieven’s America: Right or Wrong — An Anatomy of American Nationalism, which I am reviewing and have a drop-dead deadline on Monday. At the end of the first chapter, he recounts something J.William Fulbright wrote in Arrogance of Power that I think deserves space on this blog:
Only a nation at peace with itself, with its transgressions as well as its achievements, is capable of a generous understanding of others. . . When a nation is very powerful but lacking in self-confidence, it is likely to behave in a manner dangerous to itself and to others.
Feeling the need to prove what is obvious to everyone else, it begins to confuse great power with total power and great responsibility with total responsibility: It can admit of no error; it must win every argument, no matter how trivial…. Gradually but unmistakably, America is showing signs of that arrogance of power which afflicted, weakened, and in some cases destroyed great nations in the past.
In so doing, we are not living up to our capacity and promise as a civilized example for the world. The measure of our falling short is the measure of the patriot’s duty of dissent.

I do believe that too much of our current debate about U.S. foreign policy focuses on cosmetics — but there is something to the notion that America is suffering from an arrogance of power and that the minor act of pursuing our interests while at the same time treating other mostly like-minded nations with some dignity would yield some good results.
Lieven writes that his book “is an appeal to return to the older American traditions of Realist diplomacy softened by ethics and conscience.”
This is something to think about. I will post my review of Lieven’s book once my article is edited and up on the website of the publisher.
— Steve Clemons