These built-in difficulties to the making of U.S. foreign policy emanate primarily from one source: the widespread public belief, reiterated endlessly by our government and political parties, that the United States is uniquely virtuous in word and deed. This axiom derives from our historical democratic perspective and overwhelming power since World War II. Today, it assumes that we are the greatest force for good in the world and that the use of our power can be unbounded since it is profoundly moral. American politicians who do not affirm this are unlikely to prosper. This belief is not without some truth, but it holds great danger in an age where power is diffusing but American mythology remains strong.
This faith in our unique virtue causes us to believe that we have not only the capacity but also the inherent latitude for action that no other country possesses. We are the white hats, the famous city on a hill, and our cause is invariably just, particularly when we use force. We can if necessary also override our own laws, engage in all sorts of secret activity—including even targeted assassinations—to protect our democratic system or further our perceived interests. There are always voices expressing opposition in specific instances, but inevitably a story of American virtue triumphs: we invaded Iraq not only because of its supposed holdings of weapons of mass destruction; we were freeing the people of Iraq and were sacrificing our citizens for this noble cause.
This [belief] in our unique virtue generates other attributes of our foreign-policy making. Here are a few of the most obvious ones: