Few issues arouse as much debate as the Iraq War. The decision to invade in 2003 was a milestone for U.S. foreign policy and Middle Eastern politics. Advocates of the war believed that the prior status quo was unsustainable, and that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime was a ruthless anachronism. The fact that Saddam had not abandoned his interest in so-called weapons of mass destruction made his removal all the more necessary. Critics warned, however, that regime change was not in the U.S. national interest, and that by invading the country that U.S. would set in motion events it could not control. Years of grisly civil violence seemed to vindicate their warnings. The critics took their arguments further in the aftermath, casting the war as symptomatic of a deep and enduring interventionist bias in American grand strategy.
The panorama of terrorism comprises not only prominent groups such as al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), but also webs of relationships among these organizations and their lesser-known allies. Around the world, terrorist groups team up for joint attacks, training, and even moral support. Although such cooperation has occurred for decades, it is only in the past several years that a wave of research on the subject of terrorist group alliances has emerged. Tricia Bacon’s scholarship, including this article, is an important part of this body of work.
One of Donald Trump’s superpowers is to dominate all spheres of American life, and the book industry is no exception. The nonfiction market is littered with best-sellers about life in the Age of Trump. The past two years have generated numerous genres of political tomes: the tell-alls by those who have served in his administration, the hosannas to his political greatness, and the journalistic accounts of his norm-defying 2016 campaign and chaotic first two years as president.
Analyses of drones often generate more heat than light, but Aqil Shah’s article is a welcome change. Shah argues U.S. drone strikes do not cause “blowback” in Pakistan or anywhere else, basing his claims primarily upon field interviews conducted in Pakistan. As he summarizes, “I find no evidence of a significant impact of drone strikes on the recruitment of militants either locally or nationally” (49).
Paul MacDonald and Joseph Parent bring to book-length form a very sensible and persuasive argument that they have been making for some time. Great power decline is not necessarily dangerous or even destabilizing. Countries can pursue strategies of retrenchment, either of “self-help” by cutting back spending or rejuvenating their economy, or of external adjustment in paring back commitments or cementing new friendships. Such strategies, MacDonald and Parent argue, need not be destabilizing. The countries experiencing decline can regain strength and confidence.
A decade after the end of the Cold War, the debate about structural realism in general and Theory of International Politics in particular had heated up. Twenty years earlier, Kenneth Waltz had developed an explanation of international affairs based on three components: (1) the international system’s ordering principle (e.g., anarchy vs. hierarchy); (2) the differentiation of units and their functions; and (3) the number of dominant units. The demise of the Soviet Union potentially reflected a significant change in the third component of Waltz’s theory: some observers claimed that a unipolar moment had emerged, while others pointed to the rise of multipolarity, changes in the number of dominant units that could be expected to produce observable differences in international behavior and outcomes. Democratic peace theorists, globalization boosters, and prophets of the Information Revolution also pointed to potential changes in the system’s ordering principle (component one). Waltz suggested that a unipolar moment would be fleeting (and that the world remained more bipolar than many believed), and that a democratic peace and associated transformational ideologies would not change the system’s ordering principle, leaving critics to revisit the “static” nature of Waltz’s theory and thinking.
The presidency of Donald Trump is the strangest act in American history; unprecedented in form, in style an endless sequence of improvisations and malapropisms. But in substance there is continuity, probably much more than is customarily recognized. It is hard to recognize the continuity, amid the daily meltdowns (and biennial shutdowns), but it exists. In large measure Trump has been a Republican president, carrying out a Republican agenda. His attack on the regulatory agencies follows a Republican script. His call for a prodigious boost to military spending, combined with sharp cuts in taxes, has been the Republican program since the time of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. His climate skepticism corresponds with that of Republican leaders in Congress. On trade and immigration, Trump has departed most radically from Bush Republicanism, but even in that regard Trump’s policies harken back to older traditions in the Grand Old Party. He is different in character and temperament from every Republican predecessor as president, yet has attached himself to much of the traditional Republican program.
Some policy-relevant books grow less relevant as time passes from the moment they are published, much like the value of a new car once the owner drives it off the lot. Seva Gunitsky’s Great Powers and Domestic Reforms in the Twentieth Century, published in 2017 by Princeton University Press, is a book that has grown significantly more relevant and important since it was written, making the author prescient, lucky, or both. In 2016, for example, few public commentators predicted that the U.S.’s status as a leader of the liberal international order would decline with such rapidity. Similarly, U.S. support for democracy in other countries was not a top foreign policy priority (also true for most of U.S. history), but nor was it being consistently undermined by the U.S. president and his administration, as it is at present.
Brink Lindsey, Will Wilkinson, Steven Teles, and Samuel Hammond of the Niskanen Center in Washington, D.C., have written an important, nicely crafted, and provocative policy paper, representing the views of a new American political “Center,” which they have summarized for a broader audience and which has received significant praise and commentary. In short, from a libertarian-oriented perspective, the paper offers a public-spirited, moderate, and appealing alternative to the partisan extremes that have been offered and debated by small government/pro-market oriented conservatives, on the right, versus supporters of big, welfare-state oriented government on the left. This alternative is presented as new centrist ideas that have the potential to move toward solving problems and mitigating the ideological conflict over pressing economic and social welfare issues, as well as related issues, on which President Donald Trump and his administration have caused unprecedented turmoil. That the report takes on the political right as well as the left suggests that it may well be on to something that the authors hope can restore lost trust in government and its leaders, who have been consumed by partisan polarization, wave elections, nationalized politics, and political incivility, with no way out in sight.
Where does wisdom begin? The question lingers in the background of new books by John Lewis Gaddis and Perry Anderson, two men who have spent their lives writing and thinking about power in different ways. Gaddis came onto the scene in the 1960s, disrupting the field of U.S. foreign relations by marrying diplomatic history with strategic studies. His post-revisionist synthesis, articulated in the 1980s, provoked a flurry of criticism but uprooted the consensus that economics determined U.S. foreign policy. The best way to comprehend power, he argued, was to see the world through the eyes of powerful people. Anderson also entered academe in the 1960s, challenging the British Left with insights from European theorists like Antonio Gramsci, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and Louis Althusser. Like Gaddis, he earned opprobrium, tangling with historian A.J.P. Taylor, among others, and successfully changed the way his colleagues understood the relationship between class, culture, and the state. The study of power, Anderson asserted, had to be entangled with the study of empire. Although Gaddis and Anderson have worked in separate intellectual milieus for most of their careers, in recent years Gaddis has ventured into the history of knowledge, and Anderson has turned to U.S. policymaking. Their latest books, On Grand Strategy and The H-Word, converge on the same argument: To understand a thing, you have name it correctly. Wisdom begins with a name.