Francis Fukuyama argues that the misbehavior of the United States in the last few years — he includes the Clinton years — is in fact systematic (“A Self-Defeating Hegemony,” Real Clear Politics, 26 October 2007):
But the fundamental problem remains the lopsided distribution of power in the international system. Any country in the same position as the US, even a democracy, would be tempted to exercise its hegemonic power with less and less restraint. America’s founding fathers were motivated by a similar belief that unchecked power, even when democratically legitimated, could be dangerous, which is why they created a constitutional system of internally separated powers to limit the executive.
Such a system does not exist on a global scale today, which may explain how America got into such trouble. A smoother international distribution of power, even in a global system that is less than fully democratic, would pose fewer temptations to abandon the prudent exercise of power.
A “smoother international distribution of power” could come about through any of a number of ways. The United States could revert to the former system whereby it conducted itself with a self-imposed restraint and voluntarily submitted to a series of treaty-based limitations on its power — ones largely imposed consistently on actors throughout the international system. This would require some measure of calm and circumspection on the part of the U.S. electorate, desiderata for which I am not going to hold my breath. The alternative is that restraint will be imposed upon us by the emergence of a competing power center. The latter is fraught with all the normal dangers of system transition.
So hopefully Mr. Fukuyama’s next book will be on the necessity for one world government.