Indispensable no more
How the US image overseas has changed, according to Lincoln Mitchell.
New York (Brussels Morning) During the height of America’s post-Cold War ascendancy, Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State at the time, referred to the US as the “indispensable nation”, and in the next sentence added, “We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future”.
Those comments were made during an interview on the Today Show in 1998 and reflected a consensus among the American foreign policy leadership at the time that the US was the most powerful, which was true, important, which was clearly not true, and moral, which was absurd, country in the world. The choice of words by the Secretary of State was unfortunate as they implied that, at that time, 5.7 billion people who were not Americans were somehow, along with their countries, dispensable.
Albright’s words quickly became almost a point of pride for American foreign policy. In the decade and a half after that it was not unusual to hear that phrase quoted by American diplomats and others at conferences, academic settings and in the media. It was generally understood that what Albright meant was that the US must play a major role in solving global problems, but the literal meaning of the words, and the American embrace of that idea, could not be unheard and revealed an important truth about America’s view of itself.