President Obama has been fulfilling his campaign promise to restore diplomacy, including “engagement” with our enemies, to American foreign policy. His overtures to Cuba, Venezuela, and particularly Iran, along with his well-received meetings with our allies in Europe and his outreach to Russia, reflect his aim to reinvigorate America’s position in the world by returning to the multilateralism, reliance on transnational institutions such as the United Nations, and diplomatic discussion and negotiation presumably neglected by his predecessor, whose unilateralist penchant for using force entangled the United States in a brutal war, alienated our allies, and tarnished our global reputation.
This belief in the power of diplomatic engagement to defuse crises and resolve conflicts without the use of force reflects Western ideals that since the Enlightenment have shaped notions about interstate relations. These ideals assume that human nature and civilization are progressing away from the violence and disorder fostered by irrational superstitions, such as ethnic, religious, or nationalist loyalties, to a world in which the essential rationality of human nature will be liberated and thus able to create a more stable and just universal social and political order. This ideal further assumes that there is a global “harmony of interests” because all peoples desire the same ends as Westerners: peace, prosperity, and political freedom.