Morality alone can never be a basis for foreign policy

Friday, February 5th, 2010

A young Henry Kissinger allied himself with the foreign-policy realists of the time, who doubted that America could affect the internal evolution of many other societies at once:

Morgenthau wrote in Vietnam and the United States (1965) that because the resources of even a superpower are limited, morality alone can never be a basis for foreign policy. These men saw the missionary idealism of America’s ruling elite as naive. Kissinger believed that idealism had clearly failed throughout America’s diplomatic history — that it led to an inefficient cycle of intense hope and activity abroad followed by morose withdrawal once it became apparent that hope and activity were unlikely to remake the world. The clearest example is President Woodrow Wilson’s failed attempt to advance democracy and self-determination in the Muslim Middle East after the First World War, and the isolationism that followed.

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