Egypt and the Idealist-Realist Debate in U.S. Foreign Policy
I don't pretend to have any answers (at least not before I have more caffeine in my bloodstream :-)). But there's an added complication... When a nation acts unambiguously in its own national interests (rather than on higher principle) and proclaims it openly, it risks losing the longer term support of its allies. Sure the Soviets and Western Allies supported each other in WWII, but it was done on mostly pragmatic grounds (even if both parties could say they were parties in the war on Fascism); as soon as the war was over, they turned on each other. I, for one, bristle when I hear American commentators advocate some form of overseas intervention on the grounds of 'national interest'. I'm sure I'm not alone on this. [The message seems to be 'the world is our playground and we can do anything we want in other neighbourhoods if it suits our purposes'].
Of course, I just pulled one small part of the whole article out in my OP so it is well worth reading the whole thing since what you bring up is discussed there. My general observation though is that pretty much every country in the world except the U.S. unapologetically does what it perceives to be in its own national interest. For some bizarre reason much of the world for some reason thinks that the U.S. should not do that though and instead should do what is often not in their self interest. From what I have seen the U.S. often is criticized for being out of step with the rest of the world so if the U.S. unapologetically did what it perceived to be in its own national interest then that should satisfy the critics around the world, right?
The article spends some time discussing how determining what is in one's country's self interest is actually very difficult though so doing it is even more difficult. Within the U.S., of course, there are differences of opinion about which course to generally follow, thus the title of the article. I realize that generally Americans believe that their country is exceptional, but I have often heard non-Americans state they dislike that belief of Americans. It seems that gives Americans permission (not that they need it) to just do as the rest of the world does and do what is best for themselves.