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Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy Hardcover – March 17, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Gelb, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, sets out guidelines for stewarding American power through the 21st century in this thoughtful, comprehensive and engaging examination. Drawing on Machiavelli's The Prince, the author addresses current leaders and their real-world choices, aiming his critiques at the soft and hard powerites, America's premature gravediggers, the world-is-flat globalization crowd, and the usually triumphant schemers who make up the typical U.S. foreign policy roundtable. Gelb writes that America remains the world's most powerful single nation, but this does not mean that the U.S. has absolute or even dominant global hegemony. Along with other major nations, it must accept the principle of mutual indispensability, and work toward global objectives with the full cooperation of Russia, China and other emerging powers. Gelb's bulleted rules and clear advice to President Obama distill his moderate strategic thinking on the future of America: a poised, posed, and credible sword, wrapped in diplomacy and economic power. It is a vision of a pragmatic but responsible global U.S. presence that eschews partisan politics and should find favor in the coming political clime. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Les Gelb, one of America's most distinguished practitioner-observers of foreign policy, brilliantly explains how a series of administrations weakened our nation's security, and shows how we can reverse this trend. . . . Power Rules is an indispensable book for the new era. --Richard Holbrooke

This book is a must-read not just for President Obama, but for anyone who wants to understand how the new administration can improve its odds of strategic success. -- Jacob Weisberg

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061714542
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061714542
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #844,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on January 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
No doubt about it, during the Bush administration the nation's stature around the world suffered as it engaged in adventurism in the Middle East, "cowboyism" toward rivals and potential rivals, and generally took the approach that as the last remaining superpower the United States could dictate a Pax Americana to the other nations of the world. Resentment, sleight-of-hand, and sometimes outright opposition resulted too often and the U.S. was incapable of achieving many of its objectives, even if those objectives might have been noble. So what do we do about it?

Leslie Gelb, a longstanding foreign policy theorist and analyst, offers a set of recommendations to the new administration just taking office as this book was published. Certainly neither a dove nor a dreamer, Gelb offers a Realpolitick assessment of the world situation and offers advice for the future. He claims that his efforts here are based on the maxims to "The Prince" offered by Machiavelli in his classic work; what this new "prince" does with them is up to him.

Gelb argues that the wise "prince" will recognize that none of the dominant schools of foreign policy alone have the answers to the problems of the U.S. in the international community. He spends an appropriate amount of energy debunking the foreign policy claims of the neoconservatives, of the über-doves, of the soft power advocates, and of the internationalists. Gelb argues that the U.S. remains THE great power in the world and that it has the responsibility to act the part. Of course, to paraphrase a statement from "Spiderman," with great power comes great responsibility.

Even so, U.S. power is neither absolute nor incontrovertible. Accordingly, the U.S.
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Format: Hardcover
Leslie Gelb's new book "Power Rules" is a modern update to Niccolo Machiavelli's 15th century classic book written to the new ruler of the City-State of Florence, Italy. Only Gelb's book is specifically written for new U.S. President Barack Obama about the present U.S. situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere. Machiavelli once wrote:

"There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first kind is excellent, the second good, and the third kind useless."

Whether *Power Rules* falls into the first or the second of Machiavelli's three types of intelligence is the question to be answered in this book review.

Gelb relates what he understands for himself as a political moderate about U.S. foreign policy based on decades of working for Presidents on both sides of the political spectrum.

Using Gelb's favorite concept about U.S. foreign policy, - *mutual indispensability,* (i.e., "we swim together, or we hang apart") this book is "indispendable" and should get a wide reading across the political spectrum. Gelb disabuses just about every camp of foreign policy -- hard-dumb, soft-smart, and globalist-economic -- of their preconceived notions about foreign affairs. Instead he opts for what he calls a common sense approach. But unlike Machiavelli who wrote that "men never do anything well except through necessity," Gelb's approach is based on non-necessity or non-imperatives (i.e., choice). Contrary to Machiavelli, Gelb says war is rarely necessary, as necessity is prone to being invented. Gelb is thus a postmodernist Machiavellian, however otherwise realistic and commensensical he is.
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Format: Hardcover
Two prominent political figures profoundly influenced U.S. foreign policy since the late 1700s to early 1800s: Alexander Hamilton, George Washington's treasury secretary, and Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the U.S. For two centuries since these two, U.S. foreign policy has shifted back and forth like a pendulum between the Hamiltonian ideology of conservatives/neoconservatives, and the Jeffersonian liberal followers. Mr. Hamilton viewed a strong national economy and military as a necessity to protect U.S. interests, while Mr. Jefferson advocated promoting the American ideals of freedom and democracy abroad (p. 45 of hardcover).

According to Mr. Gelb, the power to lead derives from the power to solve problems, and for 50 years, no U.S. administration has correctly used this indispensible power that is currently on the decline. If this downward trend continues, the U.S. will be nothing more than just another great power; essentially where China is now. Mr. Gelb views this prospect as a travesty for all countries, because in such a scenario the world would be "without a leader to sustain world order and help solve international problems." (p. 278)

Mr. Gelb has an optimistic view of reversing America's diminishing power stemming from the misunderstanding and misuse of U.S. power in foreign affairs, as well as the weakening of domestic fundamentals such as the economy, infrastructure, public schools and political system. The saving grace, according to Mr. Gelb is the rise of moderates to positions of power to counter the destructive influence of "demons" on the far right and left. These moderates, of whom Mr. Gelb is a member of, have failed to strut their stuff for the past 50 years.
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