How much influence do we want and expect from the U.S. in the modern world? From the heydays of isolationism before WWI to the modern concept of "Realpolitik", America has undergone profound transformations both politically, economically and militarily. We changed from a 'sleeping giant' just before WWII to the most powerful nation on earth after the demise of the Soviet empire.
Our multiple forceful interventions in various parts of the globe have earned us the pejorative appellation of 'imperialistic'. We still have troops in Japan, Korea, Germany and another 20 countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. The main difference with former empires is that we no longer seek adding more territory; we simply consider theses bases as strategically essential to our security and economic interests. That presence has not prevented us from suffering terrorist attacks on our own soil and in various parts of the world.
Realpolitik is the guiding force behind our foreign policy; its definition according to Wikipedia is:" .. politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations". It is therefore to be expected that the U.S. will support dictatorships and authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia, China, Iraq under Sadam Hussein, Cuba before Fidel, Yugoslavia under Tito, Egypt and Jordan in modern times, even though our avowed ideal is to foment democracy. We did nothing to defend Tibet when Chinese troops invaded the Buddhist country because we had no special interest in that part of the world, thereby tacitly recognizing Beijing's rights to annex that small nation. Can we justify our occupation of Puerto Rico? Guam ? Samoa? Etc.
Article IV of our constitution indicates the following :" the congress shall have power to dispose of, and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property of the United States;" Without being a specialized lawyer, I can surmise that the quote refers to any conquered territory that is not a state; our Founding Fathers therefore had planned the possibility that the United States might extend the boundaries through military power, although perhaps limiting the scope of the young republic to the American continent.
The vigor and strength of the early days during the 19th century when the U.S. exploded as an industrial power, have been replaced by a certain complacency - we are the only superpower left and we can do anything - and by a political bottleneck that effectively impede the solution of urgent national problems. We have been fortunate that the private industry has, in many cases, taken over the search for new venues in replacing fossil fuel for example; our government knew without a doubt 30 years ago that we would eventually run out of oil and yet it only recently made feeble efforts to stimulate the production of ethanol. We knew since FDR and Lyndon Johnson that a large portion of the population does not have access to proper medical care and only recently have the candidates addressed the problem in their presidential campaign. As a "superpower" we should dedicate the majority of our resources, which are considerable, to the welfare of American citizens, including the fight against global warming.
We really need a new social contract and unshackle the modern American ('Man is born free but everywhere is in chains' said Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Enlightenment philosopher). The average citizen is chained to a big SUV, a never ending mortgage, humongous college costs that rise faster than his income, a Congress that spends his taxes and more on futile overseas ventures, an environment that has become more toxic, medical care that leaves him in debt for the rest of his working life if he has the bad luck of suffering a serious illness and television programs that brainwash him day and night into buying useless trinkets.
We have been lucky to receive thousands of new immigrants every year who dream of achieving their version of the American way of life; we are still strong and vigorous as a nation, but we face the danger of failing our future generations by neglecting the basic values that made us a role model for the rest of the world.