Question: Is America an empire today?
Peter Beinart: I think the larger principle . . . the reason that America was relatively successful in establishing its legitimacy – certainly easy in comparison to the Soviet Union at the beginning of the Cold War – was that America helped to forge a series of rules for how countries should behave in . . . in . . . in . . . in foreign policy that we not only expected other countries to comply by, but that we complied with ourselves. Those rules were not absolute. They didn’t mean that every country had equal power; but there was a fundamental recognition that there were a set of rules in international affairs that we did not simply define ourselves; that other nations had a role in defining; and that if they constrain those other nations, they to some degree constrained us as well. That was what the building of the United Nations, the IMF what became the World Bank, what became the WTO, what NATO . . . what those things were all about. They were based . . . based on the principle at least – even though America was by far the most powerful country in those institutions – the principle at least that might did not make right; that there were principles that existed above and beyond the United States; that we had to try . . . sometimes modify our behavior to comply with. I think that the fundamental thing that has happened in the Bush era is the sense that other people in the rest of the world believed that while America still insists that other countries adhere to certain rules that we lay out, we no longer ourselves abide by those set of rules; and we no longer ourselves give other nations any role in defining the rules that, in fact, constrain us as well as them. And that although we keep on speaking about these rules as universal – democracy, human rights, peace – they don’t seem universal to other nations because other nations are playing the role in defining them. To other nations it seems imperial. It seems as if America is simply saying democracy, and human rights, and peace and all these other nice things are simply whatever America decides it wants to do.
Recorded on: 9/12/07