We all remember, from our childhood, "the Emperor's New Clothes". (If not, Google it.) In the story, everyone assumes that everyone else sees the new clothes the emperor is wearing, and that he himself is the only one not seeing the clothes because he is so stupid.
What does this story has to do with "American interests"? I think American interests (similarly, Chinese interests, European interests, etc) are nothing more than the Emperor's New Clothes: it does not exist. At least it does not exist in the way you think it does. Here's what I mean.
The phrase "American interests" is an unexamined consensus --- people think that they (vaguely) know what it means, but could never reach a definite answer. Iraq? Afghanistan? NATO? South China Sea? What does that have to do with your life? If you ask a thousand different Americans, you will get a thousand different answers, many of which contradict each other. Everyone refers to “American interests” repeatedly, assuming that others know what he is talking about, and the audience also assumes that they know what the speaker is talking about. But they don't. None of us know what the others mean when they say "American interests". We only imagine that we know.
But many people will say, “Of course I know what American interests are!” They will run into trouble when they try to write it down, or compare his list to a friend’s list. They will find out that common interests are not very common, and universal values not really universal. The reason that we are so convinced of the “national interests” is that our education and media have done such a good job at brainwashing. (Some brainwashing is necessary, and inevitable.) Your President, your parents, your Professors --- all those people you respect the most --- talk about a “common national interests” all the time, and they get so upset when Obama bowed to the Japanese Emperor.
The ambiguity of “American interests” creates a wonderland for politicians and speculators. Politicians take full advantage of the "American interests" and throw their own agendas into the basket. They repeat the phrase so many time, and with so much dignity and passion in their voices, that it becomes dumb and unpatriotic for you to even question what "American interests" are. They silence you by saying that you are acting against America's national interests, but they never bother to explain to you what kind of interests they are trying to protect. They say that other people are a threat to the American interests because they are not “American” enough --- never mind what it means to behave like an American.
When I look into the "American interests", I only see personal interests of opportunists wearing the coat of patriotism. Politicians want to get elected. The best way to get elected is by creating a fear that only HE can protect you from. The best way to slam the other candidates is to say that your opponent is not acting in the best interests of the country.
The same is true for many scholars. The best way to get research grants or get invited to panels and conferences (free food!) is by creating an enemy that HE knows the most about. For most people, and on most subjects, China becomes the perfect target to demonize. (This is not to say that China is always innocent.)
Politicians and scholars say that China is threatening America's position as a superpower. But for the most Americans, what's so good about being a superpower? It does cater to the vanity, but vanity is not real, and it's bad Karma. It is the politicians who really need the title of superpower because they have such a strong ego that they won't be able to breath without a strong sense of superiority.
By creating an unexamined consensus of "American interests", the politicians inevitably create the "threats" and the "enemies" at the same time. This kind of labeling has a dangerous tendency to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you call an African American an "angry black man", he will certainly get angry because of the false accusation. The same happens when you call another country "a threat" to American interests. When you call that country "a threat" 100 times a day, that country will be very upset and will most likely turn into some sort of threat, which "proves" that you are right. This is what many people in this country are doing.
In order to realize their self interests, the politicians put the well being of other people at risk. In order to get himself elected, he makes you hate the immigrants and Muslims and fear a fifth of the world's population (namely, China). You only vote once in a while, but as a by-product of election campaigns, you live in hatred and fear, day and night.
Similar things are happening in the finance world. In order to achieve an additional several billion dollars of profit, a whole industry went wild and caused a damaged of trillions of dollars and millions of unemployment. The gain of the industry is trivial in comparison to the loss of the society. Is this the equation of human nature? Are we bound to repeat this negative-sum game over and over?
The next time you hear someone talking about "American interests" (or any so-called national interests), think twice. Think about how those “national interests” relate to you. How does it ever become a “national” priority? Are you caught up in a nationalist fervor? Is your hormone level being manipulated by some politicians whose own hormone level is manipulated by greed? Why are other people your source of hatred and fear? What's so good about being "protected" from foreigners? Then, look inside of ourselves: hopefully, we will see where the illusions are coming from. The Emperor is not wearing any clothes.