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American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy Paperback – April 14, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0674013759 ISBN-10: 0674013751

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American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy + The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War + The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (American Empire Project)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674013751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674013759
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #992,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


I have long suspected our nation's triumphs and trials owed much to the American genius for solipsism and self-deception. Bacevich has convinced me of it by holding up a mirror to self-styled idealists and realists alike. Read all the books you want about the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world, just be sure American Empire is one of them. (Walter A. McDougall, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, University of Pennsylvania)

This deeply informed, impressive polemical book is precisely what Americans, in and outside of the academy, needed before 9/11 and need now even more. Crisp, lively, biting prose will help them enjoy it. Among its many themes are hubris, hegemony, and the fatuousness of claims by the American military that they can now achieve 'transparency' in war-making. (Michael S. Sherry, Northwestern University)

The United States could not possibly have an empire, Americans think. But we do. And with verve and telling insight Andrew Bacevich shows how it works and what it means. (Ronald Steel, author of Temptations of a Superpower: America's Foreign Policy after the Cold War)

[A] straightforward "critical interpretation of American statecraft in the 1990s"...he is straightforward, too, in establishing where he stands on the political spectrum about US foreign policy...Bacevich insists that there are no differences in the key assumptions governing the foreign policy of the administrations of Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II--and this will certainly be the subject of passionate debate...Bacevich's argument means of engaging prose as well as the compelling and relentless accumulation of detail...Bring[s] badly needed [perspective] to troubled times. (James A. Miller Boston Globe 2003-02-02)

For everyone there's Andrew Bacevich's American Empire, an intelligent, elegantly written, highly convincing polemic that demonstrates how the motor of US foreign policy since independence has been the need to guarantee economic growth. (Dominick Donald The Guardian 2003-01-11)

Andrew Bacevich's remarkably clear, cool-headed, and enlightening book is an expression of the United States' unadmitted imperial primacy. It's as bracing as a plunge into a clear mountain lake after exposure to the soporific internationalist conventional wisdom...Bacevich performs an invaluable service by restoring missing historical context and perspective to today's shallow, hand-wringing discussion of Sept. 11...Bacevich's brave, intelligent book restores our vocabulary to debate anew the United States' purpose in the world. (Richard J. Whalen Across the Board 2003-04-01)

To say that Andrew Bacevich's American Empire is a truly realistic work of realism is therefore to declare it not only a very good book, but also a pretty rare one. The author, a distinguished former soldier, combines a tough-minded approach to the uses of military force with a grasp of American history that is both extremely knowledgeable and exceptionally clear-sighted. This book is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the background to U.S. world hegemony at the start of the 21st century; and it is also a most valuable warning about the dangers into which the pursuit and maintenance of this hegemony may lead America. (Anatol Levin Washington Monthly 2003-01-01)

American Empire is an immensely thoughtful book. Its reflections go beyond the narrow realm of U.S. security policy and demonstrate a deep understanding of American history and culture. (David Hastings Dunn Political Studies Review 2003-09-01)

Customer Reviews

While this theme is ever-present, Mr. Bacevich covers a lot more ground.
N. Tsafos
I found this book to be very thoughtful, and after reading it , I just wonder how many more lies we will be given.
Catherine Shupe
It is a political book advocating an alternative point of view when considering U.S. foreign policy.
Duane Smrha

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

98 of 104 people found the following review helpful By S. J. S. Esq on November 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The author provides a persuasive argument that America is indeed an empire, albeit not of the traditional colonial type. Bacevich demontrates rather convincingly that the U.S., since roughly the Spanish-American War, has pursued a grand strategy of reshaping the world in its image, through free trade, military dominance, and globalization. Particularly remarkable is the extent to which succeeding U.S. administrations have maintained continuity of purpose in achieving these goals. If you think Bill Clinton and GW Bush are radically different in their approaches to U.S. foreign policy, this book will open your eyes. In fact, Bacevich amply demonstrates that even presidents subscribing to the realist school of international relations have been greatly influenced by the idealism espoused by Woodrow Wilson before the First World War. In sum, if you are a student of U.S. foreign policy, political science, modern history, or just a concerned citizen of the "global community," this book can only serve to increase your understanding of how the United States achieved its current status of world dominance and what the implications of that are.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By N. Tsafos on January 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To many cynics, a book like the "American Empire" might seem like an exercise in futility. Who could have trouble believing, after all, that America's primary strategic objective is to create a global marketplace without barriers to the movement of goods, capital, ideas and people? But what starts as an exposition of this argument soon branches into various themes of diverse interest yet equal importance.
Andrew Bacevich, a professor at Boston University, takes on conventional wisdom. For those who are baffled by the complexity of the post Cold War world and are dismayed by America's lack of a coherent strategy, Mr. Bacevich is reassuring: America's objective, now and in the past, has been to promote global openness; "this books finds continuity where others see discontinuity," he writes, parting ways with those who believe that globalization fundamentally reshaped American foreign policy priorities.
While this theme is ever-present, Mr. Bacevich covers a lot more ground. Perhaps his most telling contribution is the resurrection of Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams as trenchant observers of American foreign policy. Both Beard and Williams offer their own hypotheses about why America is driven to this ever increasing need for markets abroad. And, after this voyage into intellectual history comes Mr. Bacevich's own argument about why America is compelled to this strategy of openness.
All three reach the same conclusion: America's imperial quest is meant to overcome problems at home. Although Beard and Williams are polemic in their view that America's foreign adventures prologue the inevitable reckoning with domestic troubles, Mr. Bacevich adopts a more dispassionate view and offers merely a possible explanation: With America's national cohesiveness eroding, Mr.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In American Empire, Andrew Bacevich provides a fine and historically cogent analysis of American foreign policy. Bacevich writes with clarity, skill, and historical understanding as he argues that a new Pax American - an American Empire - is at hand. While the definition of empire and whether United States is in fact an imperial power is debatable, the real value of Bacevich's analysis is its identification of continuity in American foreign policy and grand strategy throughout the Twentieth-Century. American Empire does this by identifying U.S. attempts to promote and preserve "openness" around the world. While this sometimes leads Bacevich to overemphasize continuity (such as ignoring George W. Bush's willingness to ignore and alienate allies not just through policy but through diplomatic tone), it nevertheless reveals a coherent grand strategy organizing U.S. foreign policy. Bacevich is also sometimes too inclined to describe "globalization" as tantamount to "Americanization," but these minor flaws do not mar his overall analysis, which is excellent. Some have argued that this book is anti-American, but any serious reader will find that it is hardly that. It is, however, a subtle yet hard nosed analysis of the underlying assumptions and strategy of American foreign policy.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By bjcefola on April 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
This work started out strong, beginning with an excellent chapter on 20th century American intellectual history covering Beard, Williams, and the myth of the Accidental Empire. Beard and Williams questioned the meaning and motive behind the open door policy, proclaiming it sheep's clothing over an imperialist agenda. Both historians were stigmatized and largely ignored by later historians for their trouble.

Bacevich then connects the open door to the post cold war world, showing how globalization as conceived in American foreign policy was 'new bottles for old wine'.

The majority of the book is an extended review of the Clinton years, looking at how Bosnia, Iraq, and Kosovo reflect continuities with the Open Door.

Some bits I didn't know: The use of private military contractors started back in Bosnia because Americans wouldn't support a boots on the ground strategy and we weren't supposed to take sides.

Also, the weak State Departments under Bush reflect a structural problem. The theater CINC's have much greater budgetary power and discretion of action, to a foreign power their words matter more then any ambassador (or Secretary of State?)

I would avoid the last chapter on George W. Bush, it appears to have been written prior to the invasion of Iraq and is therefore useless as analysis.

I think Bacevich is too quick to look for continuity between administrations and spends too little time on constraints. Reagan, Bush I and Clinton all had adversarial relationships with Congress, and their policies were tailored around what congress would allow. As Bush II demonstrates, removing that constraint allowed wildly discontinuous policies. If it was so easy for Bush to push an overtly imperial agenda why can't the next President push an overtly anti-imperial agenda with equally revolutionary changes?
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