America, Liberty and the 'Burden of Responsibility'

America needs to take up the “burden of responsibility” again and restore its global leadership in order to advance the cause of liberty, says Kim Holmes, author of “Liberty’s Best Hope: American Leadership for the 21st Century.” Holmes served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs until 2005 and now leads the Heritage Foundation’s foreign and defense policy groups.

Debuting his newly released book at the Heritage Foundation Tuesday, Holmes stressed the importance of certain “fundamental principles” focusing on liberty – principles that our allies, especially in Europe, no longer share with us.

Holmes calls the current European attitude – concern with issues like climate change and an exchange of nationalism for international sovereignty – “post-liberalism,” as compared to classical liberalism, or concern with individual liberty. Liberty is no longer at the forefront of the agenda of our European and other allies, and diplomacy is the weapon of choice among them and the American left. What this means for America, he says, is “our alliances have ideologically disintegrated.”

In his book, Holmes argues that America needs to make a change in order to build an international system conducive to freedoms – the freedoms of others as well as our own. The change we need is to “frame foreign policy in terms of liberty.”

A big part of that step, Holmes argues, is to boldly state goals and use strength and pressure to advance liberty. (Professor Henry R. Nau referred to the other, “soft power” option as “Lilliputian diplomacy,” alluding to the small-peopled nation in “Gulliver’s Travels,” and agreed with Holmes that “there is no diplomacy without a show of credible force.”) As Teddy Roosevelt said, we need to “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Holmes reminded the audience that “first and foremost, we must be seen as a winner. Nobody wants to follow a loser.” Nobody is going to forgive us any wrongs if we throw up our hands and admit defeat in Iraq, as Holmes says. And, we must sometimes be tougher with even our allies – there is a double standard in our alliances; when our allies loudly disagree with us, they are praised for asserting themselves, but when we do so, we are called arrogant because we are a big power.

Dov S. Zakheim, a former foreign policy advisor to President Bush, agreed, saying he has had experiences where telling a foreign official “if you don’t do X, we won’t do Y” has worked.

Another part of this change is to go back to fundamental values ourselves. “If we want to be a global leader, we must get our own house in order,” in terms of both economic and other freedoms. In order to have the national identity needed to advance liberty, he says, Americans must first recognize that the talk of “hope” and “change” by the leftist candidates – notably Sen. Obama – is really quite pessimistic. “They are really ashamed of America,” Holmes said, calling the campaigns of Obama and other leftists as “a very long campaign of apology.”

The alternative? To Holmes: “Liberty has to be at the heart of our alliances.”

The event can be viewed at the Heritage Foundation’s Web site and questions can be emailed to