The use of force as an instrument of foreign policy has been an important and salient issue in America’s grappling with its role as the world’s sole superpower for more than two decades now. Europe could not muster the resources required for putting an end to the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and was relieved by the arrival of the US cavalry, but Europeans and others were irritated by George W. Bush’s use of force against another bloody tyrant. And American opinion vacillated from one end of the spectrum to another as Washington had to deal with successive challenges and crises in Somalia, Darfur, North Korea, Iraq and Iran, to name just a few. Was America willing and ready to serve as the global policeman? What were the practical and moral constraints on the use of force? And was it not true that if you had credible deterrence the actual use of force could be avoided?
In this context, the Middle East worlds of the Arabs and of Islam have occupied a special place. These are unstable parts of the world. Their attitudes toward America are ambivalent at best. Societies that are still grappling with the challenges of modernity and the West view America as the epitome of their predicament. It is to use the Ayatollahs’ language, “the great Satan” and therefore the legitimate and prime target for terrorist and other attacks. But it is also the power they want to come to terms with. It was from these lands that the attack on America was launched in 2001 and further attacks are waged and plotted. It is there where Washington’s allies wonder whether the cavalry would be available yet again should they be attacked by domestic or external foes. And it is there where Iran is building a nuclear arsenal and a stockpile of ballistic missiles.