Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2008

Free Hand Abroad, Divide And Rule At Home

Yaeli Bloch-Elkon, Robert Y. Shapiro, Jack Snyder

March 2008

Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies


Under unipolarity, the immediate costs and risks of war are more likely to seem manageable for a militarily dominant power like the U.S. This does not necessarily make the use of force cheap or wise, but it means that the costs and risks of the use of force are comparatively indirect, long-term, and thus highly subject to interpretation. Unipolarity, combined with the opportunity created by September 11, opened a space for interpretation that tempted a highly ideological foreign policy cohort to seize on international terrorism as an issue to transform the balance of power in both the international system and American party politics. This cohort’s response to the terrorist attack was grounded in ideological sincerity, but also in the routine practice of wedge issue politics, which had been honed on domestic issues during three decades of partisan ideological polarization and then extended into foreign policy.