- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton; 1st Edition edition (September 19, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393052036
- ISBN-13: 978-0393052039
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,280,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy Hardcover – September 19, 2005
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“This is a pathbreaking book for both the informed public and policy makers, for whom it should be required reading and who would do well to follow its recommendations.”
- Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Stephen M. Walt is the academic dean and the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Top customer reviews
On balance I was somewhat disappointed. The book is a tour de force at a very high level, but it is rather simplified, primarily state centric, an executive summary of a great deal of the literature, but missing important slices of the broader literature. Nothing here about the ten threats, twelve policies, or eight challengers.
The author does well at making the point that it is US actions, not US values, that are the catalyst for attacks, and he is quite explicit in discussing how specific terrorists attacks follow consistently from some specific US action in the Middle East. He lists the problems with US Foreign Policy, including double standards, short attention span, historical amnesia, and ambivalence about respect for international law, but there is not as much substance in this book as in, for example, David Boren's edited book on "Preparing American Foreign Policy for the 21st Century"--see my review for an 18 point summary--nor is there the fullest possible discussion of grand strategy. The author breaks new ground in defining strategies of opposition and strategies of accommodation (mostly state-centric) but all things being equal, I think Colin Gray's "Modern Strategy" is better.
The author is at pains to state that pro-Israel organizations, but not most American Jews themselves, egged the Administration on toward the elective invasion and occupation of Iraq. He tries very hard to be politically correct, to the point that the scholarship is weakened--note 97 on page 283, for example, avoids stating the obvious and documenting Greg Palast's "Best Democracy Monday Can Buy" case, i.e. that George Bush stole the Florida election in 2000.
The author touches lightly on the reality that you cannot do public diplomacy using dogma and propaganda--it must be based on substance, and he correctly identifies education as the key--something the Broadcasting Board of Governors not only does not understand, but they are actively keeping their head in the sand while the battle rages over where the Open Source Agency will be (in the spy world or in the diplomatic world).
Just when I thought the author was going to reach a cresendo, after a review of Joe Nye's soft power ideas, stating that no other state is capable of withstanding the full weight of US power, I ended up with a cream pull. No real discussion of how that full weight can be defined and manifested.
See also my reviews of Derek Leebaert's "The Fifty Year Wound," Jonathan Schell's "Unconquerable World," Chalmers Johnson's "Sorrows of Empire," Robert McNamara and James Blight "Wilson's Ghost," Tom Hammes "The Sling and the Stone," and Mark Hertsgaard's "The Eagle's Shadow," among many many other books.
But is it just the "rise in the power of [modern-day] Athens and the fear it causes in the world" that makes America so unloved at the present moment? According to Walt, who is a neo-realist at heart but doesn't shy away from making use of other theoretical models on the way, the answer to the question of "why they hate us" is not so much what America stands for, but what it has done in the past, especially ever since the George W. Bush Administration took office in 2001. But his seminal book is more than just one of the many polemics on the current executive. It is a lucid, and often provocative, account of the current problems U.S. public diplomacy faces in the world. It is a profound analysis of the way states deal with American power, something that "has become an essential element of statecraft for every country in the world." More importantly, Walt gives clear recommendations for policy action as well, something that is so often missing from comparable works.
The author starts by shedding light on how the U.S. got into the position it is recently in. How did the "preponderance of power" (Melvin Leffler) come about? Walt attributes geography, shrewd diplomacy, but also pure luck for the unique situation America is in now. Starting with the end of the Cold War (here an analysis of earlier developments such as the Spanish-American War might have brought further insights) Walt goes through the development in the growth of U.S. influence and primacy. He then sets out to analyze the difference in perception the United States has of itself and that other states have of it. Americans and their political leaders are quite often ignorant of the fact that their country is not well liked in other parts of the world. Worse than that: On a regular basis, they simply do not care about other states' opinions. Walt considers the various strategies that states use if they indeed intend to oppose U.S. primacy. Balancing ("soft balancing" with other states or "internal balancing" on their own), balking (foot-dragging), binding (using norms and institutions), blackmail (threatening to take some undesirable action unless the U.S. offers compensation), and delegitimation (portraying the U.S. as morally bankrupt) are the various means that states put to use, very often in combination with each other and during different time periods. Although theses categories have large explanative value per se, it is however not quite clear whether they really cover the entire spectrum of political action. For example, a state could just refuse to hear what the U.S. has to say, thereby falling under none of the above categories.
But what if a state decides to go along with U.S. primacy? According to Walt, it can then either bandwagon (appease), follow a regional balancing strategy (use the U.S. to balance against neighboring states), bond with (establish close personal ties) or try and penetrate American politics (manipulate the U.S. domestic political system). But here, too, other categories seem to exist. A state can for example go along with U.S. policies while at the same time thinking very little of the nation's administration or even its president. The relationship between former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter serves as a prime example.
It is at this point that Walt gets to the heart of his controversial reasoning. He lays out an argument against political pressure groups and ethnic lobbyist movements - in itself not necessarily a new argument. Yet although he also talks about the Indian and Armenian lobby groups, his main thrust is directed against the various kinds of Israeli groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). He blames them for having an undue influence and for pursuing a national interest that is "national" only in Israeli, not in American terms. Yet his argument about the "power of the weak" rings a bit hollow and is only thinly veiled by devoting very few pages to the Indian and the Armenian case. Although Walt rightly states that a solution to the problems of the Middle East is essential to "win the hearts and minds" of the Muslim world and to achieve one of the main objectives of U.S. foreign policy, he walks on thin ice when he makes sweeping statements about the influence of the Israel lobby in the United States such as "Israel is the `gold standard' by which transnational penetration should be judged." Granted, the road for the solution of the Israel-Palestinian problem did not "lead through Baghdad" - U.S. involvement in Iraq turned into a quagmire situation, as Walt rightly points out. But does it really lead through K Street in Washington, D.C.? This seems hardly likely. Lobbies are influential, especially in the United States, but they surely cannot be the sole explanatory variable for why America has so many problems with public opinion in the world.
Bearing these caveats in mind, Walt is at his best when he comes to the actual policy recommendations in the last part of his book. Most importantly, he states, U.S. foreign policy "must be molded with [other states'] reactions in mind." Although this might sound like a truism to European ears, it is something that has not always been at the center of the U.S. foreign policy decision making process. There is hope, however: Consulting with allies and taking their opinions into consideration seems to have been taken up by the current U.S. administration recently - just look at the State Department's new efforts in "transformational diplomacy", increased student exchange and language learning. Walt also makes the important point that the strategy of "pre-emption" - which really is just another word for "preventive war" when the Bush administration uses it - must be abolished at earliest convenience if the U.S. doesn't want to ruin relations with the rest of the world in the long run. For large parts of the global public (especially the European part of it), this seems to be a matter of highest urgency.
The drawback of Taming American Power is that its analysis is extremely state-centered. It is perfectly alright to view states as the principal actors in international relations, but even the most hard-boiled realists will have to acknowledge that the U.S. will increasingly have to deal with non-state actors such as al-Qaeda in the future. Also, Walt seems to be a bit too sympathetic to John Mearsheimer's theory of "offensive Realism" to make it fit with his call for a "mature U.S. foreign policy" that takes the opinions of others into account when pursuing policy goals. It is because of theses inconsistencies that Walt's analysis can only serve as a starting point. But it is a good starting point and leads into the right direction. Therefore, it can be recommended highly.