This century, US foreign policy has been in the hands of a loose alliance of liberal interventionists and hawkish neoconservatives.
Both groups embrace American exceptionalism, see the US as the indispensable power that must exert leadership all over the world, favour overwhelming military supremacy, and endorse the broad goal of spreading liberal thinking to every corner of the world.
Despite occasional disagreements on tactics and the usual jostling for position, this broad alliance has held firm across both Republican and Democratic presidents.
Unfortunately, this foreign policy to which these elites supported has been a dismal failure.
Their shared strategy of using US power to spread liberal ideals around the globe – did not produce a more harmonious and prosperous world.
Instead, it helped lead to a series of failed states, deteriorating great-power relations, a global recession, declining confidence in democracy itself, and a xenophobic backlash against globalisation.
Today, these US strategic ideals are under siege and the liberal world order they sought to expand is on life-support.
It is disheartening to compare the situation we face now with the sense of optimism and purpose that prevailed in the aftermath of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
Despite policies formulated by some very talented people and representation by some very able individuals, the results are an abysmal failure.
The US military has bases or facilities in around 80 of the 195 countries. The extended duration of current wars, expansion of the US military to large and small bases across the globe, and an almost total
emphasis on what is called hard power have severely damaged US standing overseas.
Economic sanctions imposed on roughly one-tenth of the world’s nations, having a population of nearly two billion people and cumulative GNP of more than $15 trillion, have contributed anti-US feelings.
Now widely distrusted, and viewed as militarist, aggressive and even dangerous the US is viewed in a way they never were before.
Overextended, and urgently in need of a recalibration to bring US ambitions more in line with their diminishing means. Nothing suggests the current administration is either capable of, or willing or even interested in doing this.
Nor is it capable or willing to consider the interests of allies and rivals, a failure and weakness also displayed by earlier administrations.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent, widely hailed military success of the Desert Storm campaign catapulted the US to a level of prominence and influence rarely achieved in world history.
Given the realities of international politics, this preeminence could not be maintained. The decline of American power and influence presents a fascinating historical study.
US notions of the global relevance of their values and democratic practices, often arrogantly asserted or even imposed, along with unawareness of and insensitivity to the complexity of many international
problems, has backfired.
Despite preeminence as the Soviet threat receded, the US might have been better off to bear in mind a quote from President John Quincy Adams. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at