America's military might does not make it a great power. True, $700 billion a year does help her cause. No; America's source of pride is the Western philosophy and rhetoric that she has propagated around the world ever since the signing of the Constitution in 1787. America has never been clearly never a dominant colonial power to the extent that Britain and France have been. But, she has achieved global hegemony through both soft and hard power.
The proliferation of American ideals has not, however, always been met with open arms. In Simon Kuper's op-ed in the Financial Times, entitled "The sun sets on the west," he does not call attention to Western gunboats and tanks as the sources of Western-directed hate. Rather, he cites "our capitalism, our lecturing and out sexual license." In 1949, Sayyid Qutb, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood studying in Greeley, Colorado, was aghast by the intimacy between American men and women. In 1951, Qutb says: "I fear that the wheel of life will have turned and the book of time will have closed and America will have added nothing, or next to nothing, to the account of morals that distinguishes man from object and indeed, mankind from animals." The sour distaste of American morality is, I'm quite certain, a source of the hate shown towards the country. This is definitely true in the Middle East and Northern Africa. In Europe: not as much.
The notion of cultural Americanization begs a related question: is America an exceptional country? Clearly, the United States military can transport troops and resources at a scale and speed that no other country can match. Moreover, domestic crises at home, including bi-partnership disputes and financial instability, have repercussions all over the world.
However, the U.S.'s actual behavior deserves a more critical and realistic approach in order for one to see the flaws in her 'exceptional behavior.' Firstly, the United States rarely succeeds in helping transitioning regimes adopt democratic rule. Indeed, according to certain studies, states that attempt to transition from complete autocracy to mass democracy--Serbia and Croatia, and Armenia and Azerbaijan--are nearly twice as likely to erupt into war in the ensuing decade as are remaining autocracies. Intervention often does more harm than good. Secondly, America does not always act on its morals. The belief that she has always acted in the best interests of human rights is false. The United States blatantly targeted civilian lives during the World War II fire-bombings across Japan, massacred a large percentage of the Native America indigenous populations, and killed between 200,000-400,000 natives during the 1899-1902 conquest of the Philippines.
Nonetheless, America has stressed her exceptional status and distinctiveness when public faith in the country has faltered. But, with great power comes great responsibility. In 1961, John F. Kennedy proclaimed, "more than any other people on Earth, we bear burdens and accept risks unprecedented in their size and their duration..." What has perhaps been lost on U.S. presidents and policymakers is the best way to promote peace and stability. Military intervention is provisional. Cultural intervention endures.