Absolute power corrupts, doesn't it? Frank Fukuyama analyzes the roots of America's foreign policy disarray:

The fundamental problem remains the lopsided distribution of power in the international system. Any country in the same position as the US, even a democracy, would be tempted to exercise its hegemonic power with less and less restraint. America's founding fathers were motivated by a similar belief that unchecked power, even when democratically legitimated, could be dangerous, which is why they created a constitutional system of internally separated powers to limit the executive.

Such a system does not exist on a global scale today, which may explain how America got into such trouble. A smoother international distribution of power, even in a global system that is less than fully democratic, would pose fewer temptations to abandon the prudent exercise of power.

I do think that one of the deeper differences between the traditional right and the neocons is that traditional conservatives are quite happy to see other great powers exert influence in various parts of the world; and are not adamant that the United States must control everything and police everywhere. That, in itself, reflects the more profound philosophical divide within conservatism: between those who value power over everything, and those that, in the end, are happy to let go and co-exist with other entities. Just as the neocons cannot tolerate foreign powers exercising influence in the world independently of the United States, so they are intolerant of divided power at home. Traditional conservatives are proud of the way the Founders divided and defused power in the Constitution and quite content to allow other great powers - Europe, Russia, China, for example - exercise influence in various parts of the globe. And the massive over-reach, domestically and abroad, of the Bush-Cheney protectorate has done a great deal to revive the tradition Fukuyama understands well.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.