"A Sense of Drift, a Time for Calm," , Summer 1976
"As America enters its third century, we find an odd conjunction in American political life -- a convergence of two different critiques of America: the Vietnam-based, guilt-ridden anguish of the left, and the striking emergence, in the last year, of a new pessimism within what is often called the neoconservatives. Each group inadvertently reinforces the other, and adds to our national sense of drift and uncertainty.
Vast differences, of course, exist between the two groups here described, and it is for this reason that one must assume, and hope, that their present conjunction is inadvertent and temporary. Increasingly, the left has looked on the state as an enemy, a force that must be weakened since it cannot be captured. The conservatives on the other hand now see strong state power as their potential ally, and view what they regard as its erosion as a grave threat. These are not straw men; they are the focus of the debate. Both approaches are equally misguided. Liberals, predictably, will find themselves in the middle of this overly simplified spectrum. Their present anguish is by now well documented. It stems primarily from Vietnam, but many other issues merged over recent years to reinforce the lessons of that ugly war. The roll call of policies which liberals advocated and which turned out to be corrupt is almost too long to list.
A few key elements of this view of America as a corrupting influence in the world should be mentioned, however, if only to remind us of just how sad our recent string of revelations has been. Beyond Vietnam they include: Cambodia, Chile, Bangladesh, Burundi, Angola, Cyprus, FBI and CIA abuses and excesses, Watergate, Lockheed and other improper business practices overseas, ITT, and assassination attempts. Each revelation was an essential part of the process of redefining our past and rethinking our future; those who argue that the revelations themselves are wrong are missing the deeper significance of what they call an 'orgy of self-destruction.' It is essential to understand our past in order to reshape our future.
But the left's critique of America's role in the world has taken on some ominous overtones. There are those who now accept the proposition that because America has done some evil things, America itself is an evil force in the world. The theological overtones are disturbing, of course, but so is the ease with which some people can now embrace extreme extrapolations.
But even more fundamental is the abuse of reason which is involved in such black-and-white views of foreign policy. At its best, foreign policy is often a choice between the lesser of two evils. And many policy issues come down to a choice between conflicting positive principles -- when, for example, the principle of nonintervention in the internal affairs of another country conflicts with a concern for human rights.
These conflicts must be resolved in ways that do not seem immoral or unreasonable to most people. That this so often has not always been the case does not mean that our nation is itself evil or incapable of finding a better foreign policy. It does mean that we have been badly led. Thus, in their sweeping horror at the consequences of the use of power, in their willingness to assume the worst about their own country, in their disillusionment with the bright, liberal rhetoric of the Kennedy years, the left critique -- at least at its anguished worst -- is a cul-de-sac, a dead end, which could lead to isolation from the rest of the nation."
Holbrooke, as the CEO of Global Business Coalition, speaks at a news conference at the European CEO Summit on Business and AIDS in Oct. 2006.