USS_Theodore_Roosevelt_-_BigStick

“The Big Stick”

The debate about American foreign policy has always divided along two dimensions. How close in or far out should America protect its security? And for what moral or political purpose does America exist and participate in world affairs?

‘Nationalists’ adopt the close-in approach to American security, generally confined to America’s borders and the western hemisphere.[1] They dominated American foreign policy in the 1920s and 1930s. ‘Realists’ venture further out to anticipate and counter threats in distant regions–Europe, Asia and the Middle East–before they reach America’s shores.[2] They formulated the containment doctrine during the Cold War, permanently stationing for the first time American forces in Europe and Asia. Both nationalists and realists focus on security, not the spread of human rights and democratic regimes. They accept the world as it is, not as they might wish it to be.

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The Donald Trump administration seems to value change for its own sake. The new President appears intent on rethinking all foreign-policy rules and norms, from diplomatic protocols to staffing to relationships with traditional allies. The next four-to-eight years may prove to be a watershed for U.S. grand strategy, a challenge to fundamental assumptions that forces security experts to re-examine their most deeply held beliefs. Or, perhaps little will change. At the very least, the Trump administration will test the notion that U.S. foreign affairs are marked far more by consistency than by change.

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The Long Game coverIt is hard to think of anyone better qualified to write an early history of Barack Obama’s foreign policy than Derek Chollet. For over six years, Chollet served the Obama administration with distinction, in senior positions at the State Department, White House, and Defense Department. He is also an accomplished author who has written numerous well-regarded books on the history of American foreign policy.[1] Chollet’s most recent book is The Long Game: How Barack Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World. It is a lively and insightful insider’s account that, in the time since its publication in 2016, has proven as controversial and thought-provoking as Obama’s statecraft itself.

 

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Sharing Knowledge, Shaping Europe coverAny new book by John Krige is always likely to offer original insights to our understanding of the interconnections between the history of science and international politics, and Sharing Knowledge, Shaping Europe is no exception. As all the three contributors to this H-Diplo Roundtable make abundantly clear, it is a significant contribution to the scholarly literature on the Cold War, on U.S. foreign policy, on European integration, and on nuclear non-proliferation. In this brief introduction, I shall first group together the many positive things the three reviewers say about the book and then I shall give a brief separate overview of some of their critical observations.

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Occasionally, the long timelines of academia have an upside. Matthew Baum and Philip Potter’s War and Democratic Constraint was published in 2015, and these reviews were set in motion prior to Election Day. But President Donald Trump’s surprise victory has, among other things, refocused attention on the nature—and fragility—of democratic institutions. Although Baum and Potter’s book had both scholarly and policy relevance before 8 November 2016, it has taken on new significance and urgency in the election’s aftermath.

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Foreign Affairs recently featured a forum on “Obama’s World: Judging His Foreign Policy Record.” Gideon Rose, editor of the journal, started the discussion with an overall positive assessment of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy through August 1, 2015 and the agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.[1] The Islamic State (ISSIL) seized Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, in June 2014 and emerged as a serious threat in the Syrian civil war as well as in Iraq.   As the title of the article, “What Obama Gets Right: Keep Calm and Carry the Liberal Order On,” indicates, Rose favorably emphasizes Obama’s “grasp of the big picture,” his perspective as an “ideological liberal with a conservative temperament,” and his determination to reverse the mistakes of the George W. Bush administration. The Bush Whitehouse, Rose suggests, made many mistakes in the first term, following policies that were “deeply flawed in both conception and execution” (2, 6). Rose concludes that Obama was “better at strategy than implementation” in his focus on preserving the core of the liberal world order by “downsizing the U.S. global role” and reducing the commitment of U.S. resources, particularly U.S. ground military forces, to peripheral areas (10, 7).

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Pathologies of Power coverWhy did the United States, despite vigorous public debates over the wisdom of invading Iraq, pursue an ultimately disastrous war with Iraq in 2003? After all, as John Stuart Mill and others have suggested, such debates in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ should surely have led to a solid consensus against such a course. Explaining why American foreign policymakers repeatedly commit such mistakes is the broad task that Christopher Fettweis sets for himself in his new book. In his view, the primary source of blunders in American foreign policy is the nation’s deep and collective attachment to a series of pathological beliefs that he groups into the categories of fear, honor, glory, and hubris. These four pathologies do not lead to random errors in foreign policy making, but instead “almost always lend support to the most hawkish, belligerent position in any foreign policy debate. Fear, honor, glory, and hubris rarely convince leaders to cooperate with rivals or foes; these categories of belief expand the set of casus belli far more widely than any rational calculation would support” (14).

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I was surprised to be asked to write a review article of “Still notable: Reassessing theoretical ‘exceptions’ in Canadian foreign policy literature” by David R. Black and Heather A. Smith. This article that introduces the 2014 annual John W. Holmes issue of the leading Canadian journal International Journal is itself a review article on the field of Canadian foreign policy. It is conceived as an update of a similar article written by the two authors in 1993 and published by the Canadian Journal of Political Science.[1] I was asked to write a review of a review article inspired by a review article. And yet, not only did I enjoy very much reading the piece – which is not surprising as it is written by two seasoned and prominent scholars in Canadian foreign policy – but writing that review proved itself to be a fascinating and exciting opportunity to discuss important issues facing the field.

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