Yes, Virginia, America does aspire to rule the world.
So says Council on Foreign Relations stalwart Mead (Special Providence, 2001, etc.), who writes, “There is an American project—a grand strategic vision of what it is that the United States seeks to build in the world.” And what is that? Briefly put, a world order that shares our values and a shield to protect our domestic security. There’s nothing particularly wrong with those aims, Mead writes, but American efforts are misguided in their application, which tends to be incoherent, unstudied, and ineffectual. (Think faulty intelligence over Iraq. Think bin Laden at large.) We can do better, Mead argues, on the hearts-and-minds front, though he has no problem with the thought of striking fear in the hearts of recalcitrants; what is wanted is to strike a balance between the use of too little or too much power, military and economic. Will it work? Well, Mead notes, there are some powerful demographic and social forces at work that are going to make America’s future in the world very interesting. Abroad is the growing spread of what he memorably calls “Arabian fascism.” In sad old Europe, there’s hatred for American-sponsored “millennial capitalism,” which is unknotting the old social safety nets. And at home, a growing fundamentalist Protestant population with increasingly great political power is inclined to see fascist Arabia and secular Europe as threats to its perceived view of how a well-run Christian American world ought to look. A glum outlook all around, though Mead harbors hope for a brighter future (without the Bush administration, apparently) in which First World wealth can be put to work doing social good in the Third World, “enabling people around the world to change their lives by the power of capital.”
Part pessimism, part pipe-dream: overall, an interesting exercise in geopolitical description—and prescription.