The twenty-first century offered a host of new opportunities and challenges for American foreign policy. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War made the United States an unmatched international power. Its technology, economy, and culture exerted influence in virtually all corners of the globe. American dynamism produced a startling trend toward the Americanization of food, fashion, music, law, and even language. American notions of liberty and enterprise revolutionized education, work, and entertainment in many societies, replacing traditional assumptions about hierarchy and status. U.S. influence provided many people with new hopes of freedom and wealth, but also new difficulties in protecting cultural particularity.
The latter consequence of America's revolutionary impact overseas—international homogenization—has inspired determined and sometimes violent resistance among groups who find their values under siege. The long list of Americanization's opponents includes farmers, environmentalists, labor union activists, religious believers, nationalists, and social democrats—as well as terrorists like Osama bin Laden. For these groups, American-inspired liberty and enterprise have the effect of repressing contrary ways of life. American movies and other forms of popular culture, for example, undermine assumptions about religious piety and social roles in countries as diverse as Italy and Iran. The same can be said for many of Washington's claims about human rights. America's revolutionary presumptions may seem self-evident and universally beneficial to some, but they also appear self-serving and shallow to others.
Throughout their history, Americans have consistently emphasized the global virtues of their ideals. They have generally ignored the shortcomings and narrow-mindedness embedded in their political values. This duality has made the United States a far-reaching revolutionary force. Time and again, the nation has rejected ideological diversity. Instead, it has used persuasion, coercion, and force to impose its vision on others. Traditional points of view have appeared to Americans as fodder for radical change. Alternative revolutionary programs, especially communism, have suffered from extreme repression at the hands of freedom's advocates. Americans are revolutionaries because they wish to change the world in their own image, with very little compromise or variation. They are frequently dogmatic and self-righteous. There is little reason to expect these qualities to change in the twenty-first century.
Rousseau anticipated the paradox of America as a revolutionary power. Forcing freedom on the world, the United States has supported radical change while also repressing diversity. This paradox became more evident during the course of the twentieth century, but it surely dates back as far as Benjamin Franklin's Albany Plan of 1754. Even before they attained independence, Americans conceived of their revolution as an ongoing, global process of democratization. On the continent of North America, in the Western Hemisphere, and across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, this has meant the spread of individual freedoms and free markets. Americans have scoffed at foreign traditions and assumed that all human beings will attain happiness and wealth when their societies are governed by politically aware citizens and energetic business owners.
The steady growth of U.S. diplomatic power since the end of British rule allowed Americans remarkable success in remaking the world. The international system at the dawn of the twenty-first century was disproportionately an American system. It produced many benefits for citizens of the United States and other nations, but it also undermined the diversity upon which liberty, enterprise, and most other values must ultimately depend. Global American influence seriously limited the range of human experience. Like other revolutionaries in the past, Americans confronted the possibility that their achievements had become self-defeating.