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Magisterial account of the ideas and the figures who have forged the American Empire. Since the birth of the nation, impulses of empire have been close to the heart of the United States. How these urges interact with the way the country understands itself, and the nature of the divergent interests at work in the unfolding of American foreign policy, is a subject much debate Magisterial account of the ideas and the figures who have forged the American Empire. Since the birth of the nation, impulses of empire have been close to the heart of the United States. How these urges interact with the way the country understands itself, and the nature of the divergent interests at work in the unfolding of American foreign policy, is a subject much debated and still obscure. In a fresh look at the topic, Anderson charts the intertwined historical development of America’s imperial reach and its role as the general guarantor of capital. The internal tensions that have arisen are traced from the closing stages of the Second World War through the Cold War to the War on Terror. Despite the defeat and elimination of the USSR, the planetary structures for warfare and surveillance have not been retracted but extended. Anderson ends with a survey of the repertoire of US grand strategy, as its leading thinkers—Brzezinski, Mead, Kagan, Fukuyama, Mandelbaum, Ikenberry, Art and others—grapple with the tasks and predicaments of the American imperium today. From the Hardcover edition.


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Magisterial account of the ideas and the figures who have forged the American Empire. Since the birth of the nation, impulses of empire have been close to the heart of the United States. How these urges interact with the way the country understands itself, and the nature of the divergent interests at work in the unfolding of American foreign policy, is a subject much debate Magisterial account of the ideas and the figures who have forged the American Empire. Since the birth of the nation, impulses of empire have been close to the heart of the United States. How these urges interact with the way the country understands itself, and the nature of the divergent interests at work in the unfolding of American foreign policy, is a subject much debated and still obscure. In a fresh look at the topic, Anderson charts the intertwined historical development of America’s imperial reach and its role as the general guarantor of capital. The internal tensions that have arisen are traced from the closing stages of the Second World War through the Cold War to the War on Terror. Despite the defeat and elimination of the USSR, the planetary structures for warfare and surveillance have not been retracted but extended. Anderson ends with a survey of the repertoire of US grand strategy, as its leading thinkers—Brzezinski, Mead, Kagan, Fukuyama, Mandelbaum, Ikenberry, Art and others—grapple with the tasks and predicaments of the American imperium today. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    An old friend of mine who is a life-long Marxist and an academic recently reconnected, and when he read that I have been mulling over the way the United States has been conducting its foreign policy, he suggested I read this book. British historian and political essayist Perry Anderson is a Professor of History and Sociology at the University of California in Los Angeles and a former editor of the New Left Review. Anderson bounds through American foreign policy in the twentieth century, masterful An old friend of mine who is a life-long Marxist and an academic recently reconnected, and when he read that I have been mulling over the way the United States has been conducting its foreign policy, he suggested I read this book. British historian and political essayist Perry Anderson is a Professor of History and Sociology at the University of California in Los Angeles and a former editor of the New Left Review. Anderson bounds through American foreign policy in the twentieth century, masterfully sketching the outlines of “Washington’s drive for global hegemony.” Anderson is persuasive, especially since many of us now are not intimately familiar with the periods he discusses and he can leave out messy and contradictory words, actions, policies, and intentions of the actors and their administrations. Anderson looks at the results of policies rather than stated intent (not a bad thing in itself) and reviews recent literature published by former foreign policy administrators (Kissinger, Brzezinski, Kagan), and academics (Mead, Layton). Anderson quotes Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson (1949-53) as saying (not for public consumption): “…Congress is too damn representative. It’s just as stupid as the people are; just as uneducated, just as dumb, just as selfish.” This point has been made an infinite number of times by those frustrated with the process of democracy, and, I might add, is heard often these days among observers of the American election for president. I sympathize with Acheson, frankly, but neither he nor I would choose a different system, or a different country. It is enlightening for any student of a particular discipline to encounter someone with quite different ideas, especially if one is dissatisfied with current thinking on a topic. What really astonished me was that I had never heard of several of the folks he mentions as “those to honour”: Christopher Layne, David Calleo, Gabriel Kolko. He also mentions Chalmers Johnson, Andrew Bacevich, and Noam Chomsky in his select group to honor, of whom I have heard. I dislike Bacevich for the very reason I tend to dismiss Anderson himself. Both Bacevich and Anderson are academics, and academics tend to talk among themselves and pat themselves on the back for their wise pronouncements or otherwise shrilly denounce colleagues for holding different opinions. But they pontificate to themselves. Their arguments bear almost no relation to actual diplomacy, or the day to day scrum of running a country. Unless their ideas are brought into the White House with an administration, there is no chance these folks are going to be listened to because their bombast and hurled insults make their comments hard to hear. Anderson makes the point that “the literature of grand strategy forms a domain of its own, distinct from diplomatic history or political science…individuals moving seamlessly back and forth between university chairs or think tanks and government offices.” Thus the administration also talks to itself. It does seem to be so, and no matter that I personally revile Anderson’s and Bacevich’s style of heated rhetoric and detestable arrogance which makes it difficult for me to read their ideas, they are talking about something in which I am deeply interested, and which has ramifications for the way I vote for America's leaders. Anderson, who sneers at the “thinkers” of his title, discusses Obama’s role as “executioner-in-chief,” and quotes Ben Rhodes, formerly speechwriter, now National Security Advisor: “What we’re trying to do is to get America another fifty years as leader.” This is also Hillary Clinton’s stated goal. This idea is exactly what I am wondering about. Is American primacy and leadership in the world in the American populace’s best interests, or in the world’s best interests? The answer is not as obvious as it might seem. It may appear to be so, but I can’t help thinking that despite our enormous wealth and resources, we cannot have all the answers for the rest of the world. We don’t even have the answers for our own country. Surely “primacy” is not the point. Or is it? What does that even mean? Does it mean we get to extract resources to support our own wellbeing? Does it mean we must bolster or support the rest of the world? What are our obligations as leader? Despite my difficulty reading this discussion which mentioned so many works I have not read, and so many people of whom I have not heard, I did order Christopher Layne’s The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present to see if I can understand slightly more.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    Late in 2014, Perry Anderson gave a remarkable talk. It ended up describing exactly what has happened in this year’s ridiculous U.S. presidential election. He did it by not addressing American concerns at all. Instead his focus was on populist movements globally, as they appeared in Europe, covering the full spectrum from the extreme left to the extreme right. It was addressed mainly to democrats, socialists and (American) liberals, which included talk about what should and shouldn’t be done in Late in 2014, Perry Anderson gave a remarkable talk. It ended up describing exactly what has happened in this year’s ridiculous U.S. presidential election. He did it by not addressing American concerns at all. Instead his focus was on populist movements globally, as they appeared in Europe, covering the full spectrum from the extreme left to the extreme right. It was addressed mainly to democrats, socialists and (American) liberals, which included talk about what should and shouldn’t be done in response to nationalist threats epitomized by the likes of Marine Le Pen in France. Then came Trump. Who knows what violence our charming ignoramus will leave in his wake, whether he gets elected or not. But Anderson warned us to not automatically treat movements like these as fascist ones – they are not that (though I wonder what he’d say now, given the kind of campaign that’s been waged). There is much common ground to anti-establishment movements left and right that the cult of personality only clouds. On the brighter end of the spectrum, one can see the beautiful young people who have given their full support to Sanders as the continuation of a more liberal, cosmopolitan realignment that Obama helped bring forth. In it, the young, globally aware Western citizen aims for solidarity with the Middle Eastern young (for instance) who had sought a better life for themselves through the Arab Spring (that kind of generational solidarity makes me wish I was twenty years younger). Superficially that movement looked anti-authoritarian while the Western ones have looked anti-capital even though we’ve lost the language for that (or anti-neoliberal, to use that increasingly vague term to me). At bottom there is an attempt to create a new, more egalitarian politics that is 21st century in its poetry, not hobbled by the modes of protest that are rooted in the 19th century when people had no idea what was happening in other countries; what other cultures were like. We have the means to know each other better now, and there’s no excuse not to. Anderson is outstanding on all this. He doesn’t treat neoliberalism and American imperialism as cause & effect. Many on the left, here and abroad, wouldn’t dare call American global rule “Pax Americana”. Anderson wouldn’t call it a “peace” either. But he does help paint a picture of why it is that America, more than any other country, is in the lead channeling/promoting the needs of global capital. The thinkers he highlights made anew the balance of power after the European catastrophe (1914-1945). Their designs on us all are still largely in place. I don’t think this should be feared unless we can fully grasp what capitalism is doing to/for us, and not in retrograde forms of analysis (for one, Marx, apparently, wasn’t automatically anti-capital like many of us have been led to believe, enough for us to adopt the philosophy that capitalism in and of itself is an evil). I found this book able to clarify for me much that is too often obscured by ideology, or a publishing angle. All I can say is thank goodness for the great intellectuals like Anderson. ____________________ 2014 lecture (“Keys to a present in crisis. Anti-systemic movements”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYfvA... On the role of youth in political movements, the beauty of generational solidarity, and the perils of intellectual fashion (“What does not change is the will to change”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjjP8... On belonging to a collective larger than oneself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oOlm...

  3. 4 out of 5

    David M

    This may seem frivolous given the intellectual gravity of the book, but I simply must call attention to the oddness of Perry Anderson's style: "The legitimations [sic] of US expansionism had always formed a mobile complex of ideologemes [sic], their order and emphasis shifting kaleidoscopally [sic] according to the historical conjuncture" - pp 38 Yes, English is his native language. It's almost like he achieves a kind of Marxist populism by taking intellectual condescension to the utmost limit and This may seem frivolous given the intellectual gravity of the book, but I simply must call attention to the oddness of Perry Anderson's style: "The legitimations [sic] of US expansionism had always formed a mobile complex of ideologemes [sic], their order and emphasis shifting kaleidoscopally [sic] according to the historical conjuncture" - pp 38 Yes, English is his native language. It's almost like he achieves a kind of Marxist populism by taking intellectual condescension to the utmost limit and coming out the other side. His attitude toward establishment intellectuals is not one of righteous indignation, but rather that of Henry James correcting the grammar of a vulgar thespian. Otherwise, this is sobering stuff. I used to spend a lot of time reading about the history of the Cold War as well as critiques of US foreign policy - books by Chalmers Johnson, Andrew Bacevich, and of course Noam Chomsky. This interest of mine was sparked by outrage and confusion over Bush II and the war in Iraq. For a while in my late teens and early twenties I was an earnest anti-war activist. Since then my activism has lapsed considerably. So for me this book was a welcome refresher. Perry Anderson may be the best living essayist and political commentator writing in English. While he's on the far left of the spectrum, much of his analysis will be unpalatable to liberals. For instance, he's actually harsher on Obama than Bush II. His reasons for this are perfectly logical. He will have nothing to do with the sentimental twaddle that passes for political discourse in this country. He's not going to get involved in some pointless debate about the character or biography of one Barrack Obama. Anderson's approach is entirely empirical, as he highlights the actual expansion of US imperialism and the lawless security state under the Obama regime. If anything, I would have liked the book to be longer. Published in 2015, it's still not recent enough to include a discussion of our current freakshow election cycle. I'd very much like to hear Anderson's cool-and-lucid take on Trumpism. Would he consider it hyperbole to say the Republican party is simply imploding, or find the epithet 'fascist' warranted in this case? Where many on the left would like to see this domestic insanity as a symptom of the decay of the neoliberal world order, Anderson is famously skeptical of all such claims. He's called neoliberalism the most successful ideology in the history of the world; at this point to speak of its decline is still premature. * Fellow Americans, please take the time to check footnotes. In order to function smoothly the American empire counts on us not bothering to do this. For all the fuss about whistle-blowers, often the most damning information isn't even classified. It's right there in the public domain. 'Between the onset of the global Cold War in 1948 and its conclusion in 1990, the US government secured the overthrow of at least twenty-four governments in Latin America, four by direct use of US military forces , three by means of CIA-managed revolts or assassinations, and seventeen by encouraging local military and political forces to intervene without direct US participation, usually through military coup d'etat ... The human cost of this effort was immense. Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse of 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and execution of nonviolent political dissenters vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individuals Latin American countries. The hot Cold War in Central American produced an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. Between 1975 and 1991, the death toll alone stood at nearly 300,000 in a population of less than 30 million.' -from the Cambridge History of the Cold War, vol. 3, pp. 220-1, cited in a footnote on page 103 of Anderson's book Let that sink in a moment. Throughout the Cold War, torture and violent political repression, sometimes bordering on genocide, was overwhelmingly a Free World phenomenon (and this passage only concerns Latin America; equally horrific examples can be found in other parts of the world; how many Americans know about what happened in Indonesia in 1965-66, or the extent of CIA involvement?)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    After reading this book, I now know a lot more about both American Foreign Policy, and its Thinkers. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to read about American Foreign Policy and/or its Thinkers. If you're not interested in American Foreign Policy and its Thinkers, this book probably is not for you.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    The first half comprises a brief synopsis of "really existing" American strategy viewed from a Marxist lens. While people well-versed in world politics may find the first 3 chapters excruciatingly boring, the second half of the first half is a more interesting read. In it, Anderson succinctly points up what has always been fascinating to me. While domestic opinion (and that of our European allies) condenses around a belief that there are vast differences from administration to administration in t The first half comprises a brief synopsis of "really existing" American strategy viewed from a Marxist lens. While people well-versed in world politics may find the first 3 chapters excruciatingly boring, the second half of the first half is a more interesting read. In it, Anderson succinctly points up what has always been fascinating to me. While domestic opinion (and that of our European allies) condenses around a belief that there are vast differences from administration to administration in terms of our conduct abroad, a reasonable, dispassioned look at the things our goverment has signed off on can leave the observer with one real takeaway: Bush the younger and Obama never constituted two dramatically different alternatives - they are merely two links in a largely unbroken chain that goes back decades. The dialectical analysis of the underlying unity joining the perceived difference of Republican/Democrat policy (largely a difference of rhetorical art as opposed to strategy) is the benefit of the Marxist slant. In fact, picking apart the bizarre ideology fusing IR policy discourse is the strange route by which I myself became a Marxist. So it was a happy occasion to see this idea taken up again in an elite field largely ignored by the American electorate and, hence, dangerous (we do so like to cede authority to frighteningly eager "experts"). The elite aspect of this distinct body of literature is the subject of the second half of the book and provides original insight in its amusing analysis of the mode of production of this hermetic world. The writing that has flowered among elite academics chasing political fortunes tethered to the revolving doors between think tanks, government offices, and universities has been attractive to American presidents hampered by domestic deadlock. The world of international relations has provided a realm for adventure and the securing of political legacy in a time when domestic reform seems more and more remote (probably the reason I originally wanted to study it). This part of the book does a serviceable tour of the influential thinkers in this realm and, further, highlights their idiosyncracies against the broader context of this body of thought. Beware though: Anderson lives up to his reputation as a cloistered academic - archaic or pointlessly difficult words abound (unhelpful as this keeps strategy a focus of elite rather than popular debate). But his refreshing pessimism is a tonic for those choking on the anodyne formulas of our cheerleaders for globalization and social-networks-as-salvation. Finishing this book during this election cycle of hyperventilation left me surer than ever that the best hope for the future would be to support the guy who is not making foreign policy, interventionism, regime change, and death the hallmark of their candidacy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ramón

    One has to thank Anderson for his concise analytical summary of American Foreign policy since independency –i.e. Washington's oscillations from 'isolationism' to 'interventionism'. The first half of this book is devoted to this discussion, his main argument being that since World War Two, 'regenerative intervention' became the consensus, thus producing the empire we can still witness today. For those like me whose focus on American foreign policy is merely tangential, this book is both a useful One has to thank Anderson for his concise analytical summary of American Foreign policy since independency –i.e. Washington's oscillations from 'isolationism' to 'interventionism'. The first half of this book is devoted to this discussion, his main argument being that since World War Two, 'regenerative intervention' became the consensus, thus producing the empire we can still witness today. For those like me whose focus on American foreign policy is merely tangential, this book is both a useful comprehensive introduction and an analytical chronology for further reference. The second half of the book deals with the current debates of the main strategists of American foreign policies about what the role of the US should be in our epoch –the epoch after the downfall of the Soviet Union and the rise of the US as sole superpower. This book also includes an Annex and a Post Scriptum that were not included in the original publication –New Left Review no. 83. The Annex is a critique of Fukuyama's thought in the aftermath of the war in Iraq by the second Bush, originally written by Anderson in 2006, while the Post Scriptum ads a brief update to the whole argument of the book, written right before the publication of the book. Do not hesitate to read it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Murray

    American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers is a, typically for Anderson, well written summary of various theoretical positions on American foreign policy. In particular, addressing American’s future as a hegemon. This is a good introduction to the field, and perhaps more significantly, its thinkers, but is sadly missing the insightful perspective of Anderson’s own thoughts on the greater subject.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Qaisar Rashid

    Multilateralism and selective engagement are the two main foreign policy strategies employed currently by the US. This is the central idea of Perry Anderson’s book. Anderson is a Western Marxist thinker, Professor of History and Sociology at University of California, Los Angeles, and an editor of the New Left Review. In his book, he has reviewed more than 51 books and more than a dozen articles (published in journals). Anderson is of the view that either of the two forms of nationalism sway the Multilateralism and selective engagement are the two main foreign policy strategies employed currently by the US. This is the central idea of Perry Anderson’s book. Anderson is a Western Marxist thinker, Professor of History and Sociology at University of California, Los Angeles, and an editor of the New Left Review. In his book, he has reviewed more than 51 books and more than a dozen articles (published in journals). Anderson is of the view that either of the two forms of nationalism sway the US: isolationist nationalism and interventionist nationalism. “Traditionally, the strongholds of isolationist nationalism lay in the small-business and farmer population of the Mid-West; the bastions of a more interventionist nationalism – in local parlance, ‘internationalism’ – in the banking and corporate elites of the East Coast” (p. 23). Interestingly, the 2016 electoral success of the incumbent US President Donald Trump was attributed to isolationist nationalism, though Trump belonged in the corporate elite of the East Coast. Anderson opines that generally the US views its imperial project (reifying Pax-Americana) through the lenses of Wilsonianism. The term Wilsonianism is derived from the ideological perspective of the 28th US President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), a member of the Democratic party, and his famous Fourteen Points (in 1918) which led to ending the First World War through the Paris (Versailles) Peace Conference in 1919 and the formation of the League of Nations in 1920. The Wilsonian camp is still active and its prominent thinkers are Michael Mandelbaum and John Ikenberry. For instance, “For Mandelbaum, the story of the twentieth century was ‘a Whig history with a vengeance’: the triumph of the Wilsonian triad of peace, democracy and free markets. These were the ideas that finished off the Soviet Union, bringing the Cold War to a victorious end as its rulers succumbed to their attractive force” (p. 174). However, the full Wilsonian triad has yet to accomplish universally to “incorporate Russia and China fully into the liberal world order, as the earlier illiberal powers of Germany and Japan were made over from challengers into pillars of the system, after the war” (p. 175). Regarding the preferred approach of the US towards Russia, Anderson says that Mandelbaum thought it unwise on the part of the US under the Bill Clinton regime to expand NATO to the east “as a foolish provocation of Russia, jeopardizing its integration into a consensual ecumene after the Cold War [in 1991]” (p. 176), and “a much more lasting and graver blunder: not attempting, if failing, to solve a real problem, but creating a problem where none had otherwise existed” (p. 178), such as “the crisis in Ukraine” (p. 259). Anderson gives two reasons to validate his opinion. First, “[George] Bush Sr [Senior] offered a verbal promise [to Michael Gorbachev] that NATO would not be extended to the borders of Russia” (p. 111). Second, “The expansion of NATO to the East [1999 onward] represented an assertion of American hegemony over Europe, at a time when the end of the Soviet Union risked tempting traditional US partners in the region to act more independently than in the past. To make the continental point clear, NATO was extended to Eastern Europe before the EU got there” (p. 119). Later on, NATO acquired two main roles: first, to act as a UNSC’s subcontractor in imposing peace, as “humanitarian intervention,” on former Yugoslavia (p. 120); and second, to act as an instrument for “preventive intervention – optimally multilateral” such as in Libya (p. 188). Regarding the preferred approach of the US towards China, Anderson says that, during the Clinton era, “The Washington Consensus – imperatives shared by the IMF, the World Bank and the US Treasury – laid down the appropriate rules for the Third World. But it was the Mexican and Asian financial crises, each a direct result of the new regime of footloose global finance, that gave the Clinton administration the real opportunity to drive American norms of market-friendly conduct” (p. 117). Nevertheless, Clinton earned a credit, the “creation of the WTO” [from the GATT], but this step of his helped China improve economically after 2001 (p. 205). “Proud of his role under [US President Jimmy] Carter in negotiating diplomatic relations with Beijing as a counterweight to Moscow, [Zbigniew] Brzezinski – like [Henry] Kissinger, for the same reasons – has consistently warned against any policies that could be construed as building a coalition against China, which was inevitably going to become the dominant global – power. The best course would clearly be to co-opt a democratizing and free-marketing China into a larger Asian regional framework of cooperation” (p. 203). Anderson thinks that the dream of the Pax Americana has gone sour: “Seventy years after Roosevelt’s planners conceived the outline of a Pax Americana… duality defined the structure of US strategy: the universal and the particular were always intertwined. The original vision postulated a liberal-capitalist order of free trade stretching around the world, in which the United States would automatically – by virtue of its economic power and example – hold first place. The outbreak of the Cold War deflected this scheme…In the Cold War, triumph was in the end complete. But the empire created to win it did not dissolve back into the liberal ecumene out of whose ideological vision it had emerged” (p. 151). However, Anderson give a hope later on: “The Pax Americana would persist, for it was wrong to think that all empires must inevitably decline or disappear. Rather, as the example of China showed, they may wax and wane over millennia” (p. 172). Anderson thinks that, in the meantime when the US was busy in the Cold War, the liberal-capitalist order escaped the design of its architect. “The restoration of Germany and Japan had not proved of unambiguous benefit to the United States after all, the system of Bretton Woods capsizing under the pressure of their competition: power that had once exceeded interest, permitting its conversion into hegemony, had begun to inflict costs on it. Out of that setback emerged a more radical free-market model at home, which when the Cold War was won could be exported without inhibition as the norm of a neoliberal order. But against the gains to the US of globalized regulation came further, more radical losses, as its trade deficit and the borrowing needed to cover it steadily mounted” (p. 152). As this was not enough, “With the emergence of China – capitalist in its fashion, certainly, but far from liberal, indeed still ruled by a Communist party – as an economic power not only of superior dynamism but of soon comparable magnitude, on whose financial reserves its own public credit had come to depend, the logic of long-term American grand strategy threatened to turn against itself” (p. 152-153). Consequently, “A liberal international order [the original version of which was put on hold in 1943] with the United States at its head risks becoming something else, less congenial to the Land of the Free. A reconciliation, never perfect, of the universal with the particular was a constitutive condition of American hegemony. Today, they are drifting apart” (p. 153). Anderson points out a major problem in the US foreign policy: “American policy towards the world … had always been primarily defensive. Its leitmotif was containment, traceable across successive declensions from the time of [US President Harry] Truman to that of Kissinger, in an arc of impressive restraint and clairvoyance” (p. 45). On the ideological front, compared to the Nazism of Germany, the containment employed in the case of Bolshevik Russia to stem the tide of Soviet aggression was “far from defensive. Nominally, it was a counsel of firmness and tactical patience to wear the enemy down, by ‘the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points’, as its originator puts it” (p. 32). Unfortunately, the containment machinery is still in place but the would-be quarry is absent. Currently, China is more economic than ideological. Anderson thinks that America’s conduct of world affairs sprouts from the complementary diversity of its inspirations, a homeostatic stability and wisdom: “Continental European traditions of geopolitical realism, [Walter Russell] Mead argued, had always been alien to the United States. Morality and economics, not geopolitics, were the essential guidelines of the nation’s role in the world. These did not preclude the use of force for right ends – in twentieth-century warfare, America had been more disproportionately destructive of its enemies than Nazi Germany. But the policies determining these ends were the product of a unique democratic synthesis: Hamiltonian pursuit of commercial advantage for American enterprise abroad [i.e. business]; Wilsonian duty to extend the values of liberty across the world [i.e. values of liberty]; Jeffersonian concern to preserve the virtues of the republic from foreign temptations [i.e. defending American virtues]; and Jacksonian valour in any challenge to the honour or security of the country [i.e. preemptive action]. If the first two were elite creeds, and the third an inclination among intellectuals, the fourth was the folk ethos of the majority of the American people” (p. 159-160). Anderson thinks that there is a stiff competition between two legacies in the domain of US foreign policy. “In Kissinger’s version [Kissinger was a protagonist of a European-style Realpolitik], the two legacies that matter are lines that descend respectively from Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson: the first, a realist resolve to maintain a balance of power in the world; the second, an idealist commitment to put an end to arbitrary powers everywhere” (p. 161-162). To elaborate this point further, it can be observed that the US foreign policy oscillates between two opposing strains of international politics: “the economic and political realism of the tradition represented by the first Roosevelt, and the preceptorial and religious moralism consecrated by Wilson” (p. 173). Consequently, Francis Fukuyama and Walter Russell Mead advocated for a new policy called Liberal Realism to confluence realism (embodying in Realpolitik) and Wilsonian idealism. Interestingly, within the domain of realism, the US foreign policy swings between two strategists of realism: “Where Kissinger fancied himself as the heir to balance-of-power statesmen of the Old World, Brzezinski comes from the later, and quite distinct, line of geopolitics” (p. 197). In this regard, what Anderson has overlooked is that the primary focus of Wilsonianism was Europe (Central and Western), especially mutual disputes between European countries. This is how, the scope of Wilsonianism was limited. However, there is found a US obsession to look at the world necessarily from the Wilsonian glasses despite the fact that the continent of Europe was not a microcosm of the world. Secondly, after Wilson, the US is not finding any other leader who could introduce a new ideology meeting the needs of this age. Thirdly, some parts of the world are coming to terms with Wilsonian ideals more slowly than expected, much to the chagrin of US foreign policy thinkers and makers. In the context of the triumph of the Wilsonian triad of peace, democracy and free markets, Anderson laments a point: “American contributions to the maintenance of peace and the spread of free markets were generally acknowledged. But the importance of the United States in the diffusion of democracy was scarcely less” (p. 175). Here, Anderson overlooks the fact that the word democracy carries its own appeal but some societies of the world are slow to respond to it and may be of the belief that pluralism embedded in democracy may hurt economic evenness. They still love to delink democracy from peace and free markets. Anderson reveals that the latest attempt of the US to expand democracy under Clinton and Georg W Bush were through humanitarian intervention and preventive wars such as in (former) Yugoslavia and Iraq. “In substance the foreign policy of the two [Clinton and Bush] had been much the same. Humanitarian intervention and preventive war were twins, not opposites” (p. 178). However, Anderson thinks that “The discourses of foreign policy since the time of Clinton return to a common set of themes confronting the nation: the disorders of the homeland, the menace of terrorism, the rise of powers in the East” (p. 228). Anderson thinks that the absence of the USSR as a counterbalancing force has offered sufficient latitude to other factors to challenge the US. “For with the extinction of the USSR, the US had become a unipolar power, tempted to act not by common rules it observed, but simply by relationships it established, leaving its traditional allies with less motive to defer to it just as new transnational fevers and forces – conspicuously terrorism – required a new set of responses” (p. 181). Anderson thinks that there is a problem with American foreign policy [in the arena of Weltpolitik proper], as power has overridden partnership and the agreement of the masses on the kind of foreign policy has faded: “During the Cold War, it had been the great tradition of American statecraft, combining a heavy investment in military force with a strong commitment to international institutions – power and partnership held in a balance that commanded a bipartisan consensus” (p. 183). This was how liberal internationalism served the US during the Cold War, but the same is vanishing owing to power overriding everything else including Wilsonianism. Nevertheless, Anderson thinks that “Liberal internationalism is the obligatory idiom of American imperial power. Realism, in risking a closer correspondence to its practice, remains facultative and subordinate. The first can declare itself as such, and regularly archive virtually pure expression. The second must pay tribute to the first, and offer an articulation of the two” (p. 195). Anderson thinks that a solution to this problem lies in returning to multilateralism. “Multilateralism is the magic word for Wilsonians, but after their fashion harder cases pay their respects to the same requirement – [Robert] Kagan calls for greater tact in handling Europeans, [Walter Russell] Mead for a ‘diplomacy of civilizations’ in dealing with Islam, [Robert] Art wants American hegemony to ‘look more benign’, [Francis] Fukuyama urges ‘at least a rhetorical concern for the poor and the excluded’.” (p. 230-231). Moreover, “The US should eschew military attempts at nation-building, and seek international cooperation for its endeavours wherever possible” (p. 178). Regarding multilateralism, one school of thought says that “In Washington multilateralism had always been instrumental, practised in the interests of the US, rather than an ideal in itself. There was less need for that now, and if it had to act alone, no reason for American to be shackled by European inhibitions” (p. 192). However, the second school of thought says that “[A]n essentially multilateralist Europe and a somewhat unilateralist America make for a perfect marriage of convenience. Acting separately, America can be preponderant but not omnipotent; Europe can be rich but impotent. Acting together, American and Europe are in effect globally omnipotent” (p. 202). Anderson also thinks that “the US would be prudent to meet the challenge of a more plural world in advance, lending it form with the creation of a ‘global directorate,’ comprising Russia, China, and Japan as well, and perhaps states from other parts of the earth too. That would involve ‘a conscious effort to insulate foreign policy and its domestic roots from partisan politics,’ where regional cultures and interests were unfortunately diverging. A ‘self-conscious political ceasefire’ was required if liberal internationalism was to be revived” (p. 184). Moreover, “Partnership needs to be brought back into balance with power… Refurbishing partnership does not, however, entail relinquishing power” (p. 187). Instead, it will offer the US a lead role to play globally. Anderson also projects a solution given by Art who, away from the Wilsonian school, proposes “selective engagement [a Realpolitik plus strategy encompassing both realism and liberalism], a strategy that gives priority to America’s vital interests [i.e. in order of importance: security of homeland against weapons of mass destruction, prevention of great power conflicts in Eurasia, a steady flow of oil from Arabia], but ‘holds out hope that the desirable interests [i.e. in order of importance: preservation of an open international economic order, fostering of democracy and defence of human rights, protection of the global environment] can be partially realized’, striking a balance between trying to use force to do too much and to do too little” (p. 212). Anderson says that, in the concept of selective engagement, Art advocates realism cum liberalism as “[T]he first aims to ‘keep the United States secure and prosperous’; the second to ‘nudge the world towards the values the nation holds dear – democracy, free markets, human rights and international openness.’ The distinction between them corresponds to the hierarchy of America’s interests: realism secures what is vital, liberalism pursues what is only desirable” (p. 215). On the ground, the blend of multilateralism with selective engagement is quite palpable.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Francis

    I find myself yelling at the U.S. government a lot lately, despite being confined to the prison island of Australia. Our government is by no means beyond reproach, but the continued misery that the American empire inflicts upon the rest of the world makes our political squabbles seem trifling by comparison. When thousands routinely die because of reckless interventionism, the endless infighting of national parliament just doesn't demand the same attention. And so, out of interest, I decided to re I find myself yelling at the U.S. government a lot lately, despite being confined to the prison island of Australia. Our government is by no means beyond reproach, but the continued misery that the American empire inflicts upon the rest of the world makes our political squabbles seem trifling by comparison. When thousands routinely die because of reckless interventionism, the endless infighting of national parliament just doesn't demand the same attention. And so, out of interest, I decided to read this book on American foreign policy—and I'm very glad that I did. Perry Anderson builds a compelling case for an empire that is not so much arbitrary and sadistic as it is extremely ruthless in its pursuit of global dominance. Far from the scathing polemic that I expected, Anderson takes care to outline the rational motives that lie behind America's foreign policy and the thinkers who've helped codify it. The first half of the book charts the long trajectory of American grand strategy, from its inception as a nation imbued with divine favour that supposedly serves as a unique beacon of liberty in the world to the Obama administration's continued exercise of governmental violence and disregard for international law—which, among other misdeeds, launched a missile attack on Libya without congressional authorisation and projected the Struxnet Virus against Iran's infrastructure. It's a winding history that spans more than a century, but despite the various changes in the global political landscape, America's central animus remains the same. Manifest Destiny, whereby conquest is cloaked as magnanimity, never seems to fall out of fashion with the nation's ruling class. Of course, by FDR's presidency this idea would morph into a compulsion to spread a specific type of capitalism beneficial to America's elites around the globe. The USA eagerly aided murderous dictators so long as they supported their preferred economic doctrine, and Anderson does not gloss over this fact. In the face of such complicity, it becomes increasingly hard to conclude that the spread of democracy was ever a priority in America's foreign policy. Supremacy in economic power and military force has always taken first place. But through what expression is this need for dominance filtered? For that, Anderson turns his sights on bureaucrat-cum-intellectuals whose voices ring the loudest. I would not say that he is unfair in his presentation of these figures, but his terse assessment of their ideas definitely reveals them as a rather dismal lot. They seem to lack any capacity for self-reflection, unable as they are to grapple with the root causes of economic stagnation and flaunting heedless ignorance when it comes to America's role in feeding global instability. In comparison, their own schemes in the domain of grand strategy are embarrassingly fantastical. As such, it's hardly surprising that American politicians and their sycophants come off as so oblivious and destructive. Yet however devastating Anderson makes his critique, he never portrays global politics as a Manichean game. He ponders what America's withdrawal might mean for the world and whether such a withdrawal would result in an outbreak of war and slaughter from the more pugnacious nations it keeps constrained. He may not flatter the thinkers of American foreign policy but he is mindful not to distort their ideas; in fact, he often takes pains to present the simple logic behind these ideas in a way that can make them seem positively reasonable—at least until he probes their flaws. These considerations of necessary evil are disquieting, raising questions to be answered by another book at another time. Maybe I'll find such a book when I visit America again. As despicable as I find the country's political establishment, many of its people are warm-hearted and friendly; and it is my hope that such people who care about global justice—American and non-American alike—will one day band together to help build a better, kinder world.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    This is a book of two big essays, and it's worth splitting the review in two. In the first 150 or so pages, Anderson provides a run through American 20th century history, arguing that the US is an imperialist empire that remains torn over the contradiction of a pursuit of universal capitalism by a particular self-interested nation-state. While I generally disagree with Anderson's argument, I found myself much more fundamentally disagreeing with his vision of politics. He presents a world stripped This is a book of two big essays, and it's worth splitting the review in two. In the first 150 or so pages, Anderson provides a run through American 20th century history, arguing that the US is an imperialist empire that remains torn over the contradiction of a pursuit of universal capitalism by a particular self-interested nation-state. While I generally disagree with Anderson's argument, I found myself much more fundamentally disagreeing with his vision of politics. He presents a world stripped of all ideas and confusion. Material resources control power, meaning the US always knows what to do and does it, while US adversaries are always responding to the US. All agency is effectively stripped from this vision, and much of the colour as well. Though the footnotes are many and detailed, there's no real attempt at justifying this argument. Even stranger is the effort to claim that such a view is rarely heard or unknown. This is the great conceit of the 'Critical' left. They think of themselves as unheard, when really they tend to just be unpersuasive. Not that we should pretend the US is without fault, but the story they tell of sin after sin, all for some shadowy backer's benefit is hardly more justified than the nationalist's mythos they helpfully skewer. The second essay is however of genuine value. In it, Anderson descends from the 30'000 feet view of history and analyses a half-dozen specific American writers on foreign policy. The need to grapple with detail is a blessing. While still just as critical of the empire-boosters as in the first essay, the picture presented this time is much more engaging and the insights often sharp and sometimes persuasive. Anderson does a good job exploring the fault lines of some of the big thinkers (Mead, Kagan, Fukuyama) and their intellectual evolutions. He has read widely and thought deeply. He's even somewhat sympathetic, something which in the first essay he alost never was, either to the US or to those who were the victims of non-US states. Overall, I doubt I'll chase up any more works by Anderson. I think there is value in regularly reading work you disagree with (which i didn't know I would going into this). But while the second essay has some value, overall this is a fairly-standard critique of the US as an imperialist power and its foreign policy elite as servers of power. You've heard Chomsky and Chalmers and a thousand more say it. While I can understand why they make the arguments they do, and even empathise with elements of it, there will always be a barrier for me in engaging much of this strand of literature. One based not upon their specific claims, but the underlying vision of politics they present - one which removes most of the role of ideas, uncertainty and chance. I just can't square that neat picture up with the messy reality I see and read about. And as such, books like this just don't feel anywhere near as smart or insightful as they may seem to others.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bernardo

    In this book published in 2015, ucla historian Perry Anderson offers an insightful overview of US foreign policy from the beginnings of the republic to today. As Jeet Heer wrote: "He's one of the world's great historians, unrivalled in his ability to master and synthesise vast historical literatures (often drawing on many languages)."

  12. 5 out of 5

    WM Hall

    3.5/5

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amir Rizwan

  14. 5 out of 5

    Giorgia Baseggio

  15. 5 out of 5

    Darius Barik

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ian Wallace

  17. 5 out of 5

    David Martino

  18. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Benjamin

  19. 4 out of 5

    Saifuddin Al Jabbar

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

  21. 4 out of 5

    Blake Stewart

  22. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  23. 5 out of 5

    Conrad Barwa

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  25. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

  26. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Giles

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stefan Fergus

  28. 4 out of 5

    William Hunter

  29. 4 out of 5

    John Hodgson

  30. 4 out of 5

    Manuel

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