September 9, 2004 [LINK]

Bush's "Ptolemaic" foreign policy

In Tuesday's Washington Post, David Ignatius lamented the self-centered "Ptolemaic" foreign policy of the Bush administration, alluding the Medieval cosmology which held the Earth to be the center of the Universe. He worries about the growing "disconnect" between (most) Americans' self-image as the bastion of liberty with a duty to save the rest of the world and the widespread foreign perception that we have become more of a menace.

The Ptolemaist in me wants to tell the rest of the world to go to hell. ... But we should consider the need for a Copernican revolution in the way we think about America and the world.

Such a "Copernican" worldview would indeed be a healthy dose of reality for the isolation-prone American masses, but the way he credits John Kerry for holding such a view raises questions. For one thing, resenting concentrated power is a universal human trait, whatever the merits of the issue at hand. The U.S. happens to be on top of the global heap right now, and we are thus the "natural" target for people in countries lacking in opportunity, especially the Third World. Furthermore, as Hans Morgenthau wrote, "world public opinion" is one of those nebulous chimeras that do more to distract diplomacy than enhance it. Even if it were a desirable goal, it is highly uncertain whether a Kerry administration could do much to improve U.S. popularity around the world without sacrificing important national interests.

NOTE: This is a "post facto" blog post, taken from the pre-November 2004 archives.