In a challenging, provocative book, Andrew Bacevich reconsiders the assumptions and purposes governing the exercise of American global power. Examining the presidencies of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton--as well as George W. Bush's first year in office--he demolishes the view that the United States has failed to devise a replacement for containment as a basis for foreign policy. He finds instead that successive post-Cold War administrations have adhered to a well-defined "strategy of openness." Motivated by the imperative of economic expansionism, that strategy aims to foster an open and integrated international order, thereby perpetuating the undisputed primacy of the world's sole remaining superpower. Moreover, openness is not a new strategy, but has been an abiding preoccupation of policymakers as far back as Woodrow Wilson.
Although based on expectations that eliminating barriers to the movement of trade, capital, and ideas nurtures not only affluence but also democracy, the aggressive pursuit of openness has met considerable resistance. To overcome that resistance, U.S. policymakers have with increasing frequency resorted to force, and military power has emerged as never before as the preferred instrument of American statecraft, resulting in the progressive militarization of U.S. foreign policy.
Neither indictment nor celebration, American Empire sees the drive for openness for what it is--a breathtakingly ambitious project aimed at erecting a global imperium. Large questions remain about that project's feasibility and about the human, financial, and moral costs that it will entail. By penetrating the illusions obscuring the reality of U.S. policy, this book marks an essential first step toward finding the answers.
This small book's analysis of America's foreign policy in the post-Cold War era is unfortunately being eclipsed by current events. Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University, interprets America as the new Rome: committed to maintaining and expanding an empire acquired by design, not accident. He argues persuasively that the foreign policies of Clinton and Bush 41 reflected an essential continuity because all three administrations had essentially the same view of America's vital interests and how best to secure them. They accepted an American mission as the guardian of history, responsible for changing the world by making it more open and more integrated. They accepted an American global leadership, manifested by maintaining preeminence in the world's strategically significant regions. They accepted the necessity of permanent global military supremacy. While Bacevich finds no purpose is served by denying the empire, the important thing is that America behave wisely. Doing so, he argues, demands foresight, consistency and self-awareness. Bacevich derives his view from two long-neglected intellectual figures: Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams. Between them they developed the insight that American well-being depends on the effective functioning of a global economy, and simultaneous global adherence to certain behavior. Harmony of conviction and consistency of purpose has characterized overt American strategy from the days of Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman, and Bacevich asserts that the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations maintained an empire built less on coercion than on persuasion. When something more is necessary, "gunboats and Gurkhas" suffice-e.g., cruise missiles and similar long-range precision weapons systems, used in cooperation with local forces enhanced by American expertise and material. That does not seem to describe the war the U.S. is preparing for now.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Harvard University Press
March 14, 2004
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