12 Pages

Introduction: presidents, American democracy promotion and world order

The relationship between American foreign policy and the promotion of democracy around the world has never been a simple one. Indeed, if one were to believe what was once written by the overwhelming majority of students of American grand strategy, democracy was never, ever, a major American foreign policy aim. Rather its mission was either to expand its power while denying it was doing so, promote its economic interests (hardly the same thing as extending freedom to others), or maintaining something broadly understood as the balance of power: stability by any other name. For many years in fact authors as ideologically diverse as Hans J. Morgenthau and Noam Chomsky, Kenneth Waltz and William Appleman Williams could write, and sometimes write with great verve, about the international role of the imperial republic without even contemplating the possibility that the promotion of democracy mattered at all. And one could readily understand why – especially during that longue durée known as the Cold War. The conflict with the Soviet Union may have been fought under the banner of defending or extending the ‘free world’. But in the pursuit of this entirely laudable goal, Washington more often than not found itself supporting regimes that were anything but free, most notably in what soon came to be known as the Third World. Perhaps one should not have been surprised by this. As has been argued elsewhere, the habit of backing right-wing autocracies was a long established one in the American foreign policy tradition, and certainly preceded the rise of the USSR. Justified on different grounds from protecting ‘moderate’ elites from irrational mobs, through to that old imperial favourite that only ‘civilized’ people (invariably ones with white skins) were mature enough to run their own affairs, the United States’ record on democracy promotion was not always the positive one some later claimed it to be.1