The protests and attacks in Benghazi this week have refocused American attention on the Middle East and foreign policy. When the United States agreed to a no-fly zone over Libya in 2011, the Obama Administration famously "led from behind," and intervened only with the help of NATO, and with approval from the Arab League.
This strategy marked a significant departure from the policies of the Bush Administration. As President George W. Bush noted in his 2003 State of the Union Address, he hoped that the United Nations would "fulfill its charter and stand by its demand that Iraq disarm." And yet, President Bush continued, "America's purpose is more than to follow a process; it is to achieve a result, the end of terrible threats to the civilized world. All free nations have a stake in preventing sudden and catastrophic attacks. And we're asking them to join us, and many are doing so. Yet the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others."
The United States' reliance on international organizations has an inconsistent history. From the League of Nations to the U.N. to the World Bank, from World War I to World War II to Vietnam, when it comes to international governance, Americans are often skeptical of competing interests abroad.
Columbia University historian Mark Mazower details this dizzying history in his new book, "Governing the World: The History of an Idea."