Kissinger And The American Tradition In DiplomacyFor Americans, the objectives of foreign policy may be properly understood only as a means to the end of protecting and promoting individual freedom and well-being. In Kissinger's account, the United States sees itself as a an exceptional nation, due to its republican form of government, the benign circumstances attending its development, and the innate virtue of its citizenry. For Kissinger, the American tradition points in two opposite and equally unfortunate directions. The first response is the withdrawal of America from international affairs, so as to perfect its own democratic institutions and serve as a beacon for the rest of humanity. The second, more recent response after WWII, is to engage in crusades for democracy around the world, as a means to transform the old international system into a global international order based on democracy, free commerce, and international law. In such a world, peace will be the natural outcome of relations among peoples and nations, rather than the result of an artificial, unstable, and unjust balance of power. For most of its history, Kissinger argues, the United States chose the first course, isolationism. But during the second half of this century, the second American path, that of crusading internationalism, dominated. Woodrow Wilson is the exemplar par excellence of American internationalism. For Wilson, America's role in the world was justified not by the need to sustain the balance of power, but by the obligation to spread its principles throughout the world. These principles held that peace depends on the spreadof democracy. Although Wilson could not persuade his countrymen to support the great project to democratize the world, Wilsonian idealism has lived on. According to Kissinger, "it is above all to the drumbeat of Wilsonian idealism that American foreign policy has marched since his watershed presidency, and continues to march to this day."
Kissinger acknowledges and celebrates the fact that the United States did succeed in bringing down the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, according to Kissinger, American foreign policy during the Cold War was excessively moralistic and insufficiently attuned to the realities of international relations..