Two primary reasons, by my estimation:
1) As the world’s major power – the hegemon – we have a de facto responsibility to intervene on behalf of smaller nations when the situation warrants it. Of course, it’s always at the discretion of the American government to distinguish between circumstances that absolutely require our unsolicited involvement and those that do not. Some people would prefer that the U.S. minds its own business, so to speak, and there’s some credibility to that – but our government is almost obligated to act in a policing manner (and a fair number of countries want our assistance).
2) Interests. America maintains innumerable economic, political, and cultural interests around the world. If we feel threatened, we get involved. If an ally is threatened, we get involved.
ajbry’s points are good and the same thing I would have said. Another reason I would add is that many Americans traditionally (probably far less now) has this idea that the United States is the upholder of democracy and must ensure that all countries have some form of democracy in the world. If a country is oppressive, we must go in and instill a democratic government.
I believe it stems from where America came from. America wants to be a great independent mass. This independence allows the government and the citizens to think that their way is far greater in most situations because “their way” is how America made it in the first place. It’s a very hard thing for a government to admit that their system may be flawed in some aspects so I can see why Americans have this great need to justify every move they make. I believe it’s natural.
Because of the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary.
President Monroe issued a statement as a warning to Europe, and then Teddy Roosevelt decided to take things further, going to far as to say that as long as everone played nicely, the US would mind its own business, but as soon as someone started acting like a big jerky, it would be up to the US to function as “an international police power”.
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