Kennedy didn’t see the U.S. as an empire. From Patrick J. Buchanan at buchanan.org:
Seven months after the Cuban missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy, at American University, laid out his view on how the East-West struggle should be conducted to avoid a catastrophic war that could destroy us both.
Kennedy’s message to Moscow and his fellow Americans:
“If (the United States and the Soviet Union) cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.”
As George Beebe writes in his essay, “It’s a Big World: The Importance of Diversity in American Foreign Policy,” in the July National Interest, Kennedy later elaborated:
“We must recognize that we cannot remake the world simply by our own command. … Every nation has its own traditions, its own values, its own aspirations. … We cannot remake them in our own image.”
To Kennedy, a student of history, acceptance of the reality of a world of diverse political systems, many of them unfree, was a precondition of peace on earth and avoidance of a new world war.
Kennedy was asking us to recognize that the world consists not only of democrats but also of autocrats, dictatorships, military regimes, monarchs and politburos, and the goal of U.S. foreign policy was not to convert them into political replicas of the USA.
Kennedy was willing to put our political model on offer to the world, but not to impose it on anyone: “We are unwilling to impose our system on any unwilling people — but we are willing and able to engage in peaceful competition with any people on earth.”