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American Foreign PolicyStudies in Intellectual History$
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Jean-Francois Drolet and James Dunkerley

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781526116505

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526116505.001.0001

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The strange career of nation-building as a concept in US foreign policy

The strange career of nation-building as a concept in US foreign policy

(p.33) 1 The strange career of nation-building as a concept in US foreign policy
American Foreign Policy

Jeremi Suri

Manchester University Press

The opening chapter of the volume approaches the peculiar US vocation for nation-building on a global scale from the perspective of domestic experience. Jeremi Suri uses the study of the post-Civil War South by C. Vann Woodward to provide for non-Americans a sense of the ideological interstices and remarkable longevity of this feature of American “exceptionalism”. Writing outside of the idiom but with full sympathy for its constituent parts and continuities, Suri describes a deep US civic culture that celebrates self-governance, popular sovereignty and open trade on an uninterrupted continuum from home to the rest of the globe. Denied the normal components of national identity, American elite and popular cultures have, from Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796 to Obama’s West Point speech of 2014, sustained a form of millennial conviction to universalise domestic beliefs. These ride above the particularities of culture, geography or ethnic encounters that necessarily confront a global power and which perforce cause alterations in tactics, but rarely for any length of time the broader strategic idiom. Equally, Suri, argues, the contradiction between national self-interest and the need to construct states and societies along recognisably US lines is repressed through narrow, ‘unionist’ perspectives. It is almost as if the American public imaginary cannot conceive of an allowable ‘other’, even though the efforts at self-fashioning undeniably create a multitude of victims.

Keywords:   Nation-building, Obama, democracy promotion, exceptionalism

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