The United States is indeed exceptional. It is in the only country that ushers in a new Presidency by displacing thousands of the highest Executive branch officials. ‘Change’ you believe in because it is dictated by law and rooted tradition. It is one of the age’s secular mysteries how institutional integrity and coherent programs survive this upheaval. Foreigners in particular fret over how they are going to handle fresh personalities and new ideas. After all, all this motion could jeopardize their own plans and commitments. Anxiety is abated somewhat when they look back at other transitions to find that continuity eclipses innovation by a wide margin. There is more change of style than of substance. That holds for both persons and policies.
Placed in historical perspective, it is striking that shifts by Washington, and hence adjustments required of other powers tend to be marginal. Think of the Cold War. Premises and purposes varied ever so slightly between Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. Events more than leaders were the primary cause of significant alterations in its modalities. Stalin’s death, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis (above all), Vietnam, the 1973 complex of Middle East crises, the fall of the Shah, Afghanistan and then – finally and conclusively – the arrival in the Kremlin of Mikhail Gorbachev.
The post-Cold War era has witnessed similar continuity. Six successive administrations headed by four different Presidents have dedicated America to accomplishing the same ends. They have been: promote the extension of a globalized world economy grounded on neo-liberal principles are far as possible; foster democratic political systems headed by leaders sympathetic to Washington’s philosophy and leadership; isolate and bring down any government that actively resists this campaign; and maintain the United States’ dominant position as rule-setter in international organizations.