[OUTLOOK]U.S. values smart but hypocriticalU.S. President George W. Bush has announced that spreading “democracy and freedom” is the most important goal of U.S. foreign policy. This announcement is like a declaration of war to non-democratic countries, because it implies that the freedom of an individual is more important than the sovereignty of a country. On the premise that people all over the world long for “democracy and freedom,” President Bush declared in particular that he will spread democracy in the Middle East. He intends for revolutionary change in the Middle East.
Such statements made by President Bush immediately sparked sharp criticism and protests. They say that it is a conspiracy in that President Bush is using “democracy” to put many other countries under the influence of the United States. Realists who work on international relations claim that Bush’s idealism is rash and “spreading democracy” has a risk of creating international conflicts.
Actually if you think about it, President Bush is not the only one pursuing idealist goals. The previous presidents of the United States frequently urged goals for the whole world, while failing to debate the national profit of the United States. In other words, U.S. presidents seem to have a tradition of pursuing unrealistic goals. The reason for this can be found in its unique history.
The United States of America was born the moment the Americans denied Europe. In particular, the United States established its identity by censuring and rejecting the old order of Europe, such as feudalism and absolute monarchy in domestic politics and power politics and balance of power policy in international relations. It was the opinion of the United States leaders that these ideas should never be imported into America: There was continuous war in Europe because of the power balance policy and the system of reinforcing military power was for the interest of absolute monarchy. However, this does not mean that the United States did not use the power balance strategy at all.
The United States showed wisdom from the beginning in taking advantage of the competitive relationship between England and France. After that, the United States continued to show duplicity by approaching international relations from a “moral and lawful” point of view on one hand, as George Kennan pointed out, while acting extremely realistically on the other hand for specific national profits. For example, in their relationship with Korea for the past half-century, the United States has supported and wanted the democratization of Korea, yet it has also showed duplicity by cooperating with the military regimes, too. This duplicity is what brings about criticism of hypocrisy for the country, and this is also why the foreign policy of the United States seems confusing to people.
The United States is a unique country indeed. It is the country with the strongest tradition of isolationism yet the country that intervenes in other countries’ affairs most frequently. It strongly advocates universal values yet deals with them in the most utilitarian methods. The United States of America is not a simple country at all. The tension between idealism and realism makes it especially hard to define the diplomatic policies of the country in simple words. Furthermore, judging whether the diplomatic policy of the United States is hardline or moderate can be meaningless depending on how the terms hardline and moderate are defined.
U.S. President Bush announced that he would spread “democracy and freedom” but we cannot really know what that actually means. It is easy to say that democracy and freedom will spread to North Korea, but the specific actions the statement implies are not clear. Considering the duplicity of the U.S. diplomatic policy, it might be safer to look at the declaration to spread democracy and freedom as a political rhetoric. Taking care of actual specific problems in a utilitarian method instead would be a wise way of maintaining relations with the United States.
However, ultimately we cannot hope for the United States to completely give up its idealism to overcome its duplicity. Although there is an element that gives the impression of hypocrisy, we have to remember that it is much better that the only superpower in the world has yearnings and an attachment to universal and rational values rather than having absolutely no idealistic concerns. It would not be an overstatement to say that the United States presisely has the potential to be a great country because of its duplicity.
* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is a professor emeritus at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kyung-won