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Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy Hardcover – March 17, 2009
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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.)
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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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Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is that Gelb has modeled it after that renaissance classic of political philosophy, "The Prince" by Niccolo' Machiavelli. Gelb astutely recognizes that "The Prince" is essentially on how a ruler can acquire, retain, and effectively use power to achieve state (as well as his own)goals. The book provides the best advice that Machiavelli can muster as a gift for newly reinstalled rulers of Florence, the Medici family. It was the only gift Machiavelli could afford and is based on his study of history, his experience as a government official, and his shrewd insights into human behavior. Gelb with a similar background and a love of country equal to Machiavelli's love of Florence has written a 21st Century version of "The Prince" that is indeed a worthy successor to the original classic.
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. must collaborate with other nations for mutual benefit rather than try to dictate to others. He uses the term "mutual indispensability" to describe this approach. He comments that the U.S. will assure its inability to achieve its objectives if it fails to appreciate that statecraft is a combination of military might and diplomatic negotiations, coercion and persuasion. Carrots are powerful tools to persuade others to follow the path the U.S. envisions, but the stick is also a part of the process.
Leslie Gelb offers a sparkling set of case studies of U.S. success and failure in international relations over the last half of the twentieth century and the first years of the twenty-first. His message is clear; threats and military action do not alone solve problems. Neither does moral suasion and diplomatic discussions. A common sense approach, Gelb insists, offers a creative mix to the hard and soft power strategies discussed repeatedly in the foreign policy arena. He urges five components to this analysis:
1. Make America strong by restoring its economic "dynamism."
2. Emphasize "mutual indispensability" as the fundamental principle of U.S. power in the twenty-first century.
3. Clearly delineate the challenges to the U.S.--terrorism, threats to the global economy, nuclear proliferation, the environment, and global pandemics--and lead coalitions of other nations to respond to them.
4. Deal with potential problems before they fester and mature into full-scale crises.
5. Embrace the idea that while power involves the use of force in certain circumstances, U.S. capability to dictate through bald-faced coercion is less compelling than it was even a handful of years ago.
In Gelb's estimation this approach to foreign policy is not inherently partisan. He sees individuals in both the Democratic and the Republican camps who embrace many of these maxims. For example, he invokes both the Democrat Zbigniew Brzezinski and the Republican Brent Scowcraft as representative of those who emphasize a pragmatic, effective, "mutual indispensability" in dealing with the rest of the world.
OK, so tell me something I didn't know. So far this is foreign relations 101 and while it is useful to remind political leaders of this approach, especially in the aftermath of a stunning set of misfortunes in foreign policy during the Bush administration, there is little here that will be truly helpful after the invocation of moderation in dealing with other nations and thinking strategically about U.S. priorities.
While "Power Rules" is a fine reading experience and serves well as a basic primer for the issues of foreign policy for the Obama administration, I expected more insight. While it also contains a good overview of what has worked and not worked in the past, I wanted more of a prescription for the future than I saw here. As it is, it serves as a basic primer, a refresher on foreign policy, but not one that is singularly innovative.
For the general reader, Power Rules succinctly discusses current foreign policy problems and places the policies of GW Bush within the American foreign policy tradition. His recommendations are presented in common sense fashion that provides a context for further analysis by the reader. Power Rules is recommended for those interested in the war on terror, global warming, and how our foreign policy is evolving to meet these challenges.
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