The following article will appear in the February 9, 2017 issue of The New York Review.
For three decades, roughly since the end of the cold war, American foreign policy has been the subject of a passionate battle among three groups with radically different views of the part the United States should play in the world and of whether force or diplomacy should be its primary method.
Neoconservatives, who were passionate advocates for the Iraq war, want the United States to be the world’s policeman, concerned not only with states’ external behavior but with their internal adherence to American values, which, they believe, the United States should impose principally through the use of force. They care little for international agreements, believing that bad guys will flout them and good guys don’t need them.
Liberal internationalists, most of whom are supporting the current nuclear agreement with Iran, also want the US to act globally. But they want to build an increasingly strong international system of cooperation and alliances and avoid unilateralism. They see international progress deriving from increasing interdependence and agreed-upon rules to which the United States, however exceptional it may be, must adhere.
For realists, international relations are propelled by powerful states promoting their own self-interest. This view holds that the US should concentrate on its relations with the other great powers and on the balance of power in the most important regions and not waste resources on other parts of the world. Generally, realists argue for a much more limited US involvement in the conflicts of the Middle East.....