“The people who want government’s head to be in the clouds should remember that its feet are mired, understandably but inevitably, in the clay” (George F. Kennan, Around the Cragged Hill, 54-55).
I am not sure if Kennan ever read the Kybalion, but as Yath00m likes to put it, “The stars will always kiss the feet.” Lofty, ethical ambitions have a place in foreign affairs, but Kennan, the father of America’s Cold War strategy, sees that policymakers by necessity trudge through mud. It is for this reason he writes:
[G]overnment, while worthy of respect, should not be idealized…Its task…is largely to see to it that the ignoble ones are kept under restraint and not permitted to go too far…Its doings are something that should be viewed by the outsider only with a sigh for its unquestionable necessity, and by the participant only with a prayer for forgiveness for the many moral ambiguities it requires him to accept and for the distortions of personality it inflicts upon him.
—Kennan, Around the Cragged Hill, 54, 58.
This idea of necessity will return.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Walter McDougall writes in his book Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1777 that American foreign policy can be understood through the lens of Sergio Leone’s classic The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. While the left emphasizes The Bad (the slaughter of native Americans, enslavement of Africans, a predatory war against Mexico, the interment and nuking of the Japanese, and economic imperialism [so called]), the right emphasizes the The Good (FDR’s Atlantic Charter, the defeat of heinous regimes in Germany and Japan, and victory over Soviet tyranny). Those who see America as The Bad tend to believe that America ought to flagellate itself for past crimes. Advocates of America The Good tend to advocate their country’s forceful moral leadership of “the free world” (see George W. Bush and almost the entirety of the current Republican presidential candidates).