Today's must-read post is an excellent overview of the challenges facing American foreign policy - and the ways in which that same foreign policy has made them worse in recent years - by Ian Welsh over at The Agonist.
Ian's conclusion is not happy reading:
the key point is that the US finds itself weakening, and perversely be more and more isolated yet dependent on other players. The relationship with China is, at best, co-dependent. Britain, a true ally, is likely to cease being a very reliable ally soon. Russia is hostile, and Japan is dependent. Al-Qaeda has been having a number of very good years. Iran was willing to give the US everything it wanted except for its rulers to step down, and a refusal to accept that surrender led Iran to conclude, quite logically, that nothing they could do would appease the US and that they must act as if war is inevitable.It's a long post, but I really do recommend it.
In most of these cases, simply understanding the motivations and world view of the other players could have avoided these problems. England deserved to receive something for its loyalty. Invading Iraq was playing into al-Qaeda's hands. Interfering in Russia's close sphere of influence was the equivalent of bear baiting (imagine China spending money and men and getting a Chinese friendly/US hostile government installed in Canada or Mexico).
Understanding how other nations thought, what their interests were, would not have just helped keep allies like England happier, it could have helped defeat enemies like al-Qaeda, gotten the majority of what the US wanted from Iran; and avoided turning Russia into an angry rival.