There is an odd disconnect these days between popular perceptions of international relations and the actual state of affairs. Americans increasingly see the world as a source of threats, worrying about terrorism, nuclear proliferation or immigration. Non-Americans, meanwhile, see the United States itself as a dangerous rogue bent on imperial adventures.
Neither view is quite right: the United States profits far more from its engagement with the world than its citizens recognize. And it’s far more benevolent than outsiders think. Aside from managing the endgame in Iraq, therefore, the greatest foreign-policy challenge facing President George W. Bush in the next 18 months—and the toughest job his successor will confront—will be how to convince everyone else that things really aren’t that bad, and that desperate measures to change course would be unnecessary and unwise.
“Naive claptrap,” many will respond. Don’t I understand that radical Islamist terrorism is a grave and continuing danger, both to the stability of the Middle East and to the security of the West itself? That weapons of mass destruction are about to fall into the hands of angry lunatics in Iran and elsewhere? That authoritarianism is making a comeback, the globe is overheating and China will soon dominate everything? And shouldn’t I acknowledge, many will add, that a lot of these problems are the direct result of America’s greed, brutality and recklessness?