13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2004
Walter Russell Mead is the Henry A Kissinger Senior Fellow on US Foreign Policy at the Council of Foreign Relations and the intellectual power that he brings to bear on the issues of foreign policy are as impressive as his job title. He marshals the disciplines of politics, economics, sociology, history and religion to produce a provocative and compelling analysis of America and its role in the world.
This important book describes what Mead calls the "American Project...to protect our own domestic security while building a peaceful world order of peaceful states linked by common values and sharing a common prosperity." This project is rooted in American history and tradition. (This work should be read in tandem with Surprise, Security, and the American Experience by John Lewis Gaddis.)
Mead identifies four schools of thought that animate our way of thinking about foreign policy. 1)Wilsonians are idealistic internationalists who believe the spread of democracy abroad will give us security at home - many of the neoconservatives are of this persuasion. Present-day Wilsonians are notable for their lack of confidence in international institutions. 2)Jeffersonians adhere to isolationism, even less of an option today than it was in the 19th century. 3)Hamiltonians are the business class that promote enterprise at home and abroad; they believe that globalization contributes to peace and security. 4)Jacksonians are described as "populist nationalists." They have the individualist's suspicion of government. And, oh yeah, they like to fight. In foreign policy that translates into overwhelming force and total victory.
The Bush administration's war on terror has been, according to Mead, a combination of Revival Wilsonianism and Jacksonianism. The internal conflict between these two approaches are never more obvious than in the present occupation of Iraq. While the Wilsonians are delicately trying to plant the seeds of democracy, the Jacksonians want victory over the evildoers regardless of the consequences.
Another trend that Mead describes is the shift from managed capitalism ("Fordism") which is a cooperative arrangement among the managers of state, business, and labor to a global capitalism ("millenial capitalism") which is less regulated and less equitable in its distribution of winners and losers. The Hamiltonians are promoters of millenial capitalism. It is a worldwide phenomenon that the state elites dislike because it diminishes their control over the economy. One more reason they hate us. The poor also liked the old system because it brought government subsidies. Alas, they too hate us.
Mead's prescription for helping the poor is of course in tune with millenial capitalism. The money for old style foreign aid is no longer there since Western governments are all running huge deficits already. He advocates private banks lending money in the form of microloans. This has been done succussfully in Bangladesh and elsewhere. (Read Banker to the Poor:Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus.) Outreach to the poor is not only a good in and of itself but it also provides fewer soldiers for international terrorism.
The Revival Wilsonianism of the Bush administration also has a religious element. Mead believes that the religious aspect of the foreign policy agenda should be embraced by us and the rest of the world as a basis for action since international institutions are not providing us with the proper values necessary to guarantee our security. This is where I part company with Mead. Even though international institutions have failed on many occassions, I still have more confidence in the United Nations than evangelicals in charge of foreign policy. We must guard against becoming like the enemy; trying to fight Islamic fanaticism or fascism with evangelical Christianity is not the proper course. The proper solution would be reforming existing international institutions to reflect new realities. Long live the separation of church and international governance.
This book is very good at identifying the domestic sources of our search for solutions to our international problems. The goal of this book was to offer important discussion on securing America domestically within a network of states that share our values and it achieves that goal reasonably well.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2004
This book, along with John Lewis Gaddis' SURPRISE, SECURITY AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, will tell you what's going on in U.S. foreign policy and why.
POWER, TERROR, PEACE, AND WAR is a page-turner. I read it in two days, and am now wishing for more.
Probably the most important aspect of the book is that it explains what America is trying to build in the world, not just what America is trying to destroy. It also explains why the world is not convinced that the American project is either sound or good.
POWER, TERROR, PEACE, AND WAR contains the most balanced assessment of the Bush White House I have seen. I would not call this book an argument for American unilateralism, although it does explain why the Bush administration has acted as unilaterally as it has. And I cannot predict, after reading this book, which candidate Walter Russell Mead will vote for in 2004.
The final chapter is a tour de force, offering novel solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to U.N. reform, to Mexican immigration and to the retirement of the Baby Boomers (hint: the last two issues are linked). Amazing.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
This is largely a justification of American foreign policy. Mead's position is that Bush made mostly the right choices even if some of the planning and execution were not the best. Along the way I think Mead does a good job of explaining why the current administration believes that preemptive wars and unilateralism are sometimes necessary. He uses a plethora of coinages, American Revivalists, Arabian Fascism, millennial capitalism, harmonic convergence, Wilsonian Revivalism, Fordism, etc., in an attempt to provide a historical context. To be honest I got a little lost among these labels and had to frequently turn to the index to look up their first use so as to keep them straight in my head.
Mead's approach is bipartisan and he strives to make it non-religious as well, although ending the book with a quote from Christ is perhaps not the best way to achieve that, nor is some seeming naivete about the double meaning of the word "revival." Indeed one gets the sense that Mead is not only cozying up to neoconservatives but to Christian fundamentalists as well. Nonetheless he also quotes the Prophet; and the label he pins on Middle Eastern terrorists, "Arabian Fascists," attempts to secularize the conflict. Of course he can use all the labels he wants (some of which are clearly euphemistic while others are attempts at political correctness and bipartisanship); regardless the conflict between the West and the terrorists in the Middle East will continue to be played out in quasi-religious terms.
In addition to labels, Mead also uses special terms to define American power. There is "sharp," "soft," "sticky," and "sweet" power. Sharp power is military force and it is, to use Mead's words, "a very practical and unsentimental thing." (p. 26) Soft power is "cultural power, the power of example." Sticky power is economic power and it is sticky because it enmeshes others into economic dependence on business with the US. Sweet power is pretty much the same thing as soft power, "the power of attraction to American ideals, culture and power." (p. 36) In some places in the world, I would guess, sweet power would more properly be called "saccharine power."
Clearly this is American foreign policy seen from and justified from an American point of view. Thus Mead writes, "We do not want to...[impose] our will at gunpoint, but we also do not want to live in a world in which the United States cannot act without permission from a majority of other countries." (p. 63) This seems reasonable, and at any rate is realistic, but there is a fine line between realpolitik and the sort of absolutist belief in our righteousness that leads to the use of force to impose our will. Indeed Mead writes "that, for neoconservatives and Revival Wilsonians generally, American power is itself the summum bonum of world politics." He adds, "The End is so noble...that realist means are fully justified." (p. 90) The danger here is that along the way we may become that which we are fighting against.
Sometimes Mead's tone gets away from him and we are treated to indecorous outbursts. For example, while justifying the invasion of Iraq as a part of the greater war on terror, Mead writes, "This was a war, and the enemy had to learn who was the strongest and, if it came to that, the most ruthless." (p. 117) I dearly would hope that we can conduct the "war" against terrorists without becoming more ruthless than the terrorists.
At other times he is a bit snide, as when he remarks that "stroking Europe only seemed to increase Europe's already inflated sense of its importance in the world of American foreign policy." (p. 132) This is the mentality of the old politics among nations based on power. However I don't think this is the way we can best achieve American values and goals in the world. As Mead himself admits later on, less than five percent of the world's population, regardless of its power, cannot hope to control the other 95%. (p. 212)
Often Mead uses fuzzy phrases to make what are largely rhetorical points. In this way he reveals the politician in his soul rather than the professional journalist that he is. For example he writes, "The United States is not going to slow down its capitalist development to avoid offending the sensitivities of foreign countries..." (p. 159) But what does "capitalist development" mean? Is that the development of the Brazilian jungle or the Iraqi oil pipelines or is that about some infrastructure at home?
One can discern Mead's bottom line position from this statement on page 160: "A perfectly justifiable military action against the rogue regime in Iraq was effectively and widely portrayed as an assault by the United States against the foundations of international order." And one can see that he has a desire to broaden the war on terror when he avers that "Countries that allow their territory to host terror camps...and who...allow their financial systems to be used...[by] terrorist groups, are committing acts of war against civilization." (p. 174) I tend to agree with this sentiment, but does that mean we should consider invading Saudi Arabia?
Where I find myself in substantial agreement with Mead is that the structure of the United Nations must be amended in such a way as to reflect the actual distribution of power in the world. As Mead notes it is not right that (for example) France should have veto power over the rest of the world, or that a country with a million people should have the same voting power as a country with a billion people. Indeed, I believe that restructuring the UN and other international organizations such as the WTO should be a major goal of US foreign policy.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2004
Don't judge a book by its size: the scope of this small book is immense and its proposals, put forward in a balanced, bi-partisan spirit, deserve serious consideration. My two complaints are: (1) As in many books in international affairs, the recommendations -- some of his best material -- are held to the very end of the show. By then, I'm afraid some of the audience may have left for home, missing a set of very interesting observations. (2) He takes President Bush to task for failing to prepare the American people for the level of effort required to stabilize Iraq. He is not alone in that criticism. But I think there were significant limits to what the Administration could have done in that area. American expectations were anchored in Desert Storm and, no matter the argument, those expectations were not to be easily budged.
Now, back to the Mead's Metternich line -- what's not wrong, is the American project. That project consists of the efforts of the U.S. to bolster its own security while building a peaceful world order of democratic states linked by their adherence to the global market (and capitalism generally). Working from the premise that the project is sound, Mr. Mead wrote this book for the purpose of improving our ability to realize the objectives of the project. In doing so, he covers a considerable amount of history, for he is keen to show how, despite our underlying success over the past century and the last decade in particular, forces below the surface and barely discernible developed like a "gathering storm" in opposition. The decline of the Fordist state, with its emphasis on productivity, but its allowance for a scope of state action, created hostility to the project among poliltical elites. And, not surprisingly, at century's end, a broad mistrust developed over the rising wealth and power inherent in pax Americana. According Mead, to secure the American project in the 21st century, American must take a greater interest in building a stronger institutional base for global governance. Here, I think, the challenge is immense. Domestically, probably only Republicans can lead that charge; internationally, I fear that only Democrats will be sufficiently trusted, at least while the Bush Administration reigns. I think Mead is right about the need to bolster global governance, including regional institutions; so I hope I'm wrong about the obstacles posed. His final pages, about how it is critical to unleash the forces of global market mechanisms to the relief of intense poverty are absolutely spot on. Perhaps Mead's next project might explore that important objective at greater depth.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2004
"Power, Terror, Peace, and War- America's Grand Strategy In a World at Risk", by Walter Russell Mead is a masterful analysis of the current state of America's foreign policy and its derivation from the political and philosophical attitudes that have emerged in the U.S. since WWII and more importantly the most recent changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the attacks of 9/11.
Mead maintains that the foreign policy of the American government is a sub-set of the foreign policy of the American people, reinforcing the idea that legitimate power and policy in a liberal democracy must be `bottom up' or consensus driven. Mead indicates, like Huntington, that the American "Grand Strategy" has always had a messianic component based on what Robert Cooper in "The Breaking Of Nations" would call national identity, rather than interest driven and that it has been distilled from the past competition of contradictory agendas resulting in an ideology with global intent. Historically our global aspirations were greatly aided by the maintenance of world order by Great Britain at no cost to us. Great Britain was our main trading partner as well as our biggest rival for foreign markets (see Niall Ferguson "Colossus"). These global aspirations have resulted, through the application of varying degrees of `hard, soft, sweet, and sticky power ( Nye)' , in our current position in the world order considered hegemonic by some (Gramsci). Since WWII we have replaced Great Britain as the provider of world order and with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, we have acquired the intent to be so powerful that potential rivals will be dissuaded not only from challenging us militarily, but from even attempting competition in that realm (see James Mann "The Rise Of The Vulcans). This is in accord with the view that the Westphalian concept of balance-of-power is no longer useful in the modern or even post-modern age and that a benevolent hegemon as a guarantor of stability is superior to collections of allies or alliances that may or may not survive real world challenges. Mead devotes a large portion of this book to the breakdown of the 'Fordist' system, which he typifies as the combination of mass production and mass consumption and its replacement with Millennium Capitalism. Under the Fordist system large companies, labor unions, regulated utilities and governments all work together in an essentially managerial society to create improved standards of living leading to the rational utopia of the European Enlightenment. The result is the much-heralded Hegelian "end of history". The end of the Cold War should have only accelerated this trend of ever deepening harmonies. Instead we got 9/11 and an America that (according to Cooper) has rediscovered the Nietschean "will to power". We have realized also that Capitalism is a revolutionary economic system and that we are bound up in promoting a socio-economic process that might have short-term negative consequences for world stability. Many societies entrenched in this `Fordist' doctrine have little incentive to change and will therefore act to oppose our efforts. Mead describes this new incarnation of Capitalism that has replaced the regulation and state ownership of Fordism as "Millennium Capitalism". Governments and established classes are generally opposed to MC because it transfers power to corporations and investors and away from the "rent gatherers" (retirees, subsidy receivers, political elites) of the Fordist organizations. Subsidies and state interference create corruption and elevate costs that lead to irrational resource allocation. Since in efficient markets, capital will seek the best return, Fordism is no longer the most efficient method to organize capitalist production. Millennium Capitalism is. In it, the role of regulation is to protect the efficiency of markets and to allow wider access to the benefits of free markets. It is closely related to globalism, but not identical. Deregulation including utility deregulation and the substitution of personal retirement accounts for Social Security as well as limits on the power of unions are all elements in MC.
Under the influence of Millennium Capitalism, our foreign policy has been changed to be unashamedly unilateral. The social attitudes MC fosters are those of traditional Anglo-American individualism that Fordism tended to marginalize and suppress. Huntington, in "Who Are We?" refers to these basic values as English Dissenter-Protestant. Mead has classified the new political/economic proponents of MC as American Revivalists. Their views exhibit a return to our core values and away from the currently popular European post-modernism. Mead classifies the sub-groups in American Revivalism as " Neo- Hamiltonians, Wilsonians, Jeffersonians, and Jacksonians. The Neo- Hamiltonians are economic nationalists. They represent the advanced thinking of the business elite, but disagree with their 19th century namesakes over protectionism. They believe that the Anglo-American political economy is dominant. The Neo-Wilsonians believe that Neo-Conservative idealism is linked to security. They disdain the old Wilsonian reliance on international institutions because they are corrupt and unreliable. The American Protestant tradition was built on a rejection of universalist institutions. The revivalist Wilsonians think we must act ourselves and seek to implement an active interventionist foreign policy. The Neo-Jacksonians are populist-nationalists. They are, in part, a product of societal isolation. They prefer individual to collective action to solve social/economic ills. They would rather educate oneself and join management, than get together in a union. They tend to dislike lawyers, professors, and the entrenched middlemen of the Fordist managerial class. Their antagonists are the liberal internationalists, intellectuals, and the sophisticated and mature `ornaments of American petit-bourgeois society that see these Jacksonian tendencies as regrettable remnants of a barbarous past'. These are the same elites whose views are considered: out-of-touch by Huntington in "Who Are We?" Europeans were shocked to find how little the new U.S. government cares about those who don't vote in U.S. elections and how international organizations are important only to the degree that they advance our national and foreign interests. Mead agrees with the Bush Administration in the treatment of terrorism as acts of war rather than of criminality. He says (like Cooper) that the world must accept that force remains an important part of international relations and that America will continue to respond to future terrorist provocations with massive and overwhelming force. Mead calls the Franco-Russian alliance the "Party of Hell". He considers their cynical efforts to hobble the U.S .in the U.N. Security Council and through other international organizations as futile exercises in Realpolitik. These are driven, in part, by resentment over their declining world stature based on demographics and bad economic decisions of the past. He also thinks that Germany and Canada, his "Party of Heaven", are well meaning in their "green" thinking, but are cynically manipulated by the French and Russians to serve their own agendas. Europe would not be taken seriously, according to Mead, if it weren't for the alternative of American force. The European nations can let the U.S. do the work, while they publicly ally themselves with American opponents. The French feel they have less to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran than from an unfriendly one. If Iran refuses to sell oil to friends of Israel, France will cease to be a friend of Israel. In Mead's view, the strategic direction of the Bush administration is correct. Europe should no longer be the focus of American policy. Kurdistan has become more important than Kosovo and Mesopotamia means more to us than Macedonia. The Franco-German alliance will have trouble identifying common foreign interests other than anti-Americanism (see also Jean Francois Revel "Anti-Americanism). As the era of Fordist policies and the deconstruction of `The New Deal" continue, U.S. policy should be to insure the independence of the individual states within the E.U. and as a spoiler of Franco-Russo-German plans. He approves of the administration's policies of engagement with India and Pakistan as well of China, Japan, and the Koreas both for nuclear proliferation as well as the continuing Taiwan independence issues. He is less approving about the lack of sensitivity that was used to communicate our new views to the world, but says the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty were all European fictions. No American president or Congress (the Senate vote on Kyoto was 95-0) can allow France or the E.U. to have a veto on American foreign policy. Equally caught in the new American will-to-power are those dysfunctional international organizations like the U.N., where Liechtenstein and India have equal votes and the WTO where any member can veto any agreement. Mead calls for an historical perspective for the apparent lack of progress in the current war against Islamic fascism. He recalls that in the summer of 1864 Lincoln was criticized for having no strategy for winning the war and was fighting an uphill battle for the presidency. Roosevelt and Churchill similarly did poorly in the early days of WWII. He cites the similarities in George Kennan's idea that Soviet power and communism depended on expansion to survive and that by denying them that expansion they would founder. A similar strategy of `forward containment ` is necessary against governments founded on the principles of Islamic Fascism ( see Paul Berman "Terror and Liberalism" and Lee Harris "Civilization and Its Enemies"). These states believe in subordinating the rights and consciences of individuals and eliminating the independence of civil society through totalitarian policies in the pursuit of the exaggerated glories of a romanticized past. In the final chapter and the weakest part of the book; Mead proposes solutions to the world problems he has discussed: He admits that there are legitimate reasons that pious Moslems might oppose U.S. Middle East policies and we should make common cause with them against the fascists. Education, especially of women, private outreach, and the study of the fascist's doctrine would help, but not for the fatuous purpose of celebrating the diversity of those who want us dead, but for the purpose of defeating them. He blames European imperialism and anti-Semitism as the root causes of the Middle East's problems and suggests mutual compensation for the victims. He blames Latin American and Asian anti-Americanism on the mismanagement of the 1997 Asian financial crisis and those in Argentina and Brazil by George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton along with the unexpected failure of NAFTA to raise income levels. He says that nostalgic Fordists can't bring back the welfare state and suggests reforms including micro-loans and improved titles and mortgages for the Third World (see Hernando DeSoto) He also suggests inconsistently, that the U.N. Security Council could be improved by the addition of several more voting members including India, Mexico, South Africa, and Nigeria and that U.S. seniors healthcare needs could be helped by encouraging their emigration to Mexico.
This book is thorough, engaging, worthwhile, and occasionally brilliant. That his solutions to the intractable problems of the world aren't better is unimportant.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2004
Walter Russell Mead's greatest talent may be his ability to distill remarkably complex issues into useful and easily remembered paradigms. Moreover, his paradigms invariably improve on or expand popular ways of things about complex issues. So, for example, in "Special Providence," Mead broke down the standard binary concepts for foreign policy schools such as "hawk vs dove," and "realist vs idealist," and replaced them with four traditions named after presidents (Jacksonian, Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, and Jeffersonian). This paradigm is a more useful prism to think about how Americans conceive foreign policy.
In "Power, Terror, Peace, and War" Mead again suceeds in retooling popular abstractions for a better understanding of US foreign policy. The book devotes itself to explaining the transition of American foreign policy grand strategy, from Cold War era policies to the present.
Mead begins this effort by finessing Joseph Nye's popular concept of "hard" vs "soft" power, further dissecting them into "sharp" (military),"sticky"(economic), "sweet"(values, culture, ideas), and hegemonic (the collective geopolitical effect the three have in creating a global order). These concepts are explored in lively, insightful prose, and the reader will easily carry the concepts with them long after reading the book.
Next, Mead engages in an engrossing discussion of the economic/political transition of America from a more standardized, centrally regulated "Fordist" system, to the highly decentralized, mobile and fluid system of "millenial" capitalism. The opportunites and resistance that the shift offers the world is explored, but Mead sees the revolutionary impact America has stirred as unavoidable for the rest of the planet. Understanding this tranistion, argues Mead, offers a valuable prism through which to interpret the highly charged and often contradictory attitudes many foreign societies harbor to the US.
The main body of the book, in fact, is devoted to explaining how the breakdown of "Fordism" and the revolutionary effect of "millenial" capitalism at once both strengthens and weakens America's position in the world, as well as destabilizing political/economic orders in foreign nations while also offering potential gains for the world. Here, Mead is generally optimistic, but says the waters will prove challenging to navigate.
The closing chapters assess the Bush administration's response to the challenges laid out in previous chapters, along with a discussion of the unique challenge posed by al Qaeda. Due to the highly charged politics today, it is within these chapters that many will either applaud or decry Mead's argument. His take? He believes that strategically, Bush has made the right decisions, but often botched the public diplomacy. What will further ruffle feathers, however, is Mead's easy acceptance of both the "Jacksonian" zeal and rise of evangelical populism as defacto forces that are ascendant, inevitable, and even healthy for our republic, a cocktail of politics Mead describes as "American Revivalism." Liberals, secular warriors, and those who believe in global governance will have great difficulty with these chapters.
Mead's book closes with a call for reinvoking the containment policy as both a paradigmaic and public diplomacy tool to define a new counter terrorism policy.
Overall, "Power, Terror, Peace, and War" lives up to Mead's standard for improving a reader's ability to think and talk about US foreign policy. Personally, in my informal conversations about US FP, I cite Mead more often than any other author, and this is testament to the utility of his concepts. This book is not, however, a proscription or road map on specific policies - leave that for Kissinger or the "Brez." I rate the book at 4 stars because it didn't quite match the level of insight of Special Providence, and also because the book was a bit shy on citations. IMHO, in discussions as broad as US grand strategy, it is almost a requirement to streamline prose by frequent reliance on citations, where readers may pursue to verify or dissect an aspect of argument. Mead is a bit a thin here, opening him up to the caricature of "polemic." Despite these quibbles, however, I rank this as one of the more important books on US FP, up there with Kagan and Brez.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2004
Mead's account of American grand strategy is clear, insightful and readable. Power, Terror, Peace, and War comes in the wake of a flood of books that have attempted to distill and explain the Bush administration and its policies. The problem with most of these books is that they fall too far to the left or too far to the right. Mead's analysis cuts through much of the partisan debates about our national interest and gives a sharp look at some of the problems we face as a nation. In my view, Power, Terror, Peace, and War, is a concise and thoughtful assessment of America's role in the world that really hits the mark.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Mead was recently elevated to a position with the Council On Foreign Relations, the venerable think-tank which once upon a time represented a more-or-less united U.S. establishment. That went on the rocks over the Vietnam War, and so the CFR now represents the moderate center against the right-wing, represented by the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation and others. The Clinton Administration was staffed from top to bottom with CFR-affiliated personnel, and the State Department continues to be CFR-friendly even under the Bush Administration.
So much for background. Not to mince words, Mead strikes out in this attempt to elucidate an "American grand strategy" for the post-9/11 world. He basically supports the Cheney/Rumsfeld strategy, and if he had just said so, he could have saved us the 200 pages. His only disagreement is in the implementation. Let's go ahead and use our military might to launch preventive war, Mead says in so many words, but we've got to make sure our diplomats can cajole and armtwist successfully to get our "allies" to go along with us. This does seem to be basically what the New York Times position amounts to -- certainly it's Thomas Friedman's position -- and it seems to be Kerry's position as well. I believe it is imperative that we get rid of the Republican right-wing in November, but this book is discouraging, because it is a reminder that U.S. foreign policy is not likely to change much under the Democrats.
The single most half-baked idea in the book is Mead's notion that the U.S.S.R. should now be replaced by the new threat of "Arabian fascism" in U.S. strategy -- he characterizes both the Saddam Hussein regime and Al-Qaeda as two types of "Arabian fascism." This is a truly ignorant assessment, comparable to treating the Soviet Union and China as allies after they had become bitter enemies, fighting a border war and a proxy war in Southeast Asia. Islamic radicals are organizing against every corrupt dictatorial regime in the Middle East, Central and Southwest Asia, including all of those considered great allies of the U.S., like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Al-Qaeda could only operate in Iraq for the first time in the chaos that followed Saddam's overthrow by the U.S. (See Jeffrey Record's DARK VICTORY for a strategic assessment that concludes that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has made the U.S. less, not more, secure.)
The problem with Machiavellian books like this is that they can't, or don't, come out with the truth. The truth is that the core strategic issue for the U.S. Empire is control of the world's oil, concentrated in the Arab Middle East, and in Central Asia. The U.S. military is the Oil Police. But writing a book that said that wouldn't get you a job in the Kerry Administration.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2004
I found this an easy and interesting read. Mead's basic premise seems to be that the future of American foreign policy is less a question of who will be elected in November, and more a result of the impact of the transformative effect of the development of modern (millennial) capitalism. Important to me was the sense that foreign policy has become decentralized not only in the United States but in the world in general. No longer can the US, or any nation's government "go it alone" in setting its foreign policy - rather the interaction of political parties, corporations, special interest groups, etc. coupled with the every increasing unfettered access to ideas and coordination mechanisms (read "the internet, web logs, etc.) has "democratized" the foreign policy process in the sense that setting of foreign policy is no longer the sole domain of central governments.
Mead also creates some interesting labels for various political attitudes - Fordian, Jacksonian, Wilsonian. As noted above, he also has created labels for various forms of "power" or persuasion. They may not be perfect, but they do help the reader build a framework for thought.
Central to the theme of the book appears to be the notion that "millennial capitalism" is inexorable. My experience in the business world suggests that, unless we do fall back into despotism and dictatorship the driving forces of "millennial capitalism" are a genie out of the bottle. This suggests that those who would take issue with the general thrust of Mead's writing need to get beyond reactionary politics (its all about the oil!) and address the larger question - the negative impact on embedded special interests that benefit from the current economic order by the continued transformation of global enterprise. Downsizing, outsourcing, short product cycles, international management of global corporations (it is no longer a given that senior management of large domestic corporations are all American,) the internet, are creating new winners and losers in the world. The losers want to fight back. Others see in the dislocations the opportuity to rise to power. Thus, Mead suggests, the "grand strategy" has to contain both threats. To disagree, I suggest that one has to prove that "millennial capitalism" is not inexorable by proposing a viable alternative or convince me that those who are going to lose their positions of power, prestige, and privledge are will to go quietly into the night.
on June 14, 2009
I'm using this in a seminar I'm teaching right now on American National Security Policy -- and there's nothing quite like a controversial book to get the discussion rolling. He makes a very convincing argument for "the American project" which is broadly defined as implementing sweeping changes throughout the world in terms of both economics, politics and culture (and he alludes to religion as well). However, he makes very clear throughout that "the American project" is not simply the BUsh doctrine (or the Reagan Doctrine, for that matter). Rather, it is a program of sweeping changes in terms of how individuals in a society relate to their leaders -- which can neither be foisted upon other nation's forcefully nor implemented before others are ready to follow. Thus, he's not talking about empire -- unless you count the very broad sense which would include "cultural imperialism" as well. I like having students (in this case grad students) read this book because it forces them to define for themselves:
1. What they understand grand strategy to be, and whether or not they feel that America has one
2. How grand strategy does and does not relate to empire building
3. Whether or not America is an empire
4. whether or not you think history has a trajectory and how America's part in that history can be understood both historically, in the present and in the future.
5. Where you fall on the agent-structure problem (Does America act? Does it react? IS this even a valid quesiton to be asking?)
I was surprised to see how recent the book was, because it doesn't read like something that was recently dashed off in response to events. Rather, it sounds like something that has been brewing in his mind for years. Hopefully, it is just the beginning of Mead's thoughts on the subject, and his current thoughts will engender a lively debate in the field.