In Republic in Peril: American Empire and the Liberal Tradition, David Hendrickson, a prolific and provocative scholar, offers an eloquent root-and-branch critique of American foreign policy, focusing chiefly on the post-Cold War decades.[1] In essence, Hendrickson contends that the precepts and practices of U.S. statecraft have corroded Americans’ liberty at home and increased the threats they face from abroad. Be it the current configuration of U.S. alliances, the worldwide military presence of the United States, American leaders’ attempts to reshape—especially by military means—the internal order of states, or the magnitude of expenditure on the national security apparatus, Hendrickson calls for a break with a status quo to which, he believes, Republicans and Democrats are both committed, though not always to the same degree.

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When the World Seemed New coverMore time has transpired between the fall of the Berlin Wall and today than the entire duration of that iconic Cold War barrier. Meanwhile, George H.W. Bush, the main subject of Jeffrey Engel’s When the World Seemed New, became the longest-living U.S. president, while there are undergraduates this semester who were born during the presidency of his son, George W. Bush. In short, this book can make a lot of readers feel old.

It should also makes us feel hopeful. “Tomorrow our children will go to school and study history and how plants grow,” President Bush said in his 1992 State of the Union address. “And they won’t have, as my children did, air raid drills in which they crawl under their desks and cover their heads in case of nuclear war.”[2] Scholars can forever debate the causes and consequences of the end of the Cold War, yet one ought not lose sight of the fact that good and incredible things happened.

 

 

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It has become accepted wisdom in Washington, D.C., and among many international relations scholars, that East Asia is a region rife with geopolitical rivalry, and that the United States and China are destined for protracted great-power competition and perhaps conflict. In his newest book, David Kang offers a sharply contrarian viewpoint. He argues that East Asia is far more peaceful and stable than it seems, that China’s rise is not particularly threatening to most East Asian states, and that the United States will only find itself in an intense competition with China if it makes unwise policy choices that turn that danger into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The United States should, therefore, refrain from the temptation to double-down on its East Asian security commitments and efforts to check China’s rise; it should adopt a more restrained posture that minimizes rather than embraces great-power competition.

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According to one of Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird’s successors, James Schlesinger, “The list of secretarial responsibilities is so imposing that no single individual can totally fulfill them all.”[2] Given the challenges inherent in the role, Laird was remarkably successful at establishing priorities for his tenure, attaining his key goals, and leaving office on his own terms.Continue reading

The quote from baseball legend (and wordsmith) Yogi Berra throws caution at legendary Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s famous reminder to all politicians at election time. And for good reason, judging from the titles of the two new headlines above about the 2018 primary and general elections: politics are not local but national, with President Donald Trump front and center; Jonathan Martin can readily make this case. Regarding former President Barack Obama’s endorsements of congressional and state-level candidates, Alexi McCammond then goes on to say Why it matters: Obama is the left’s answer to President Trump’s continued presence in the primaries. Not only will Obama announce another round of endorsements before Nov. 6, but he also plans to campaign in several of these states throughout the fall.”

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Richard Nephew’s The Art of Sanctions: A View from the Field offers a refreshing perspective on the study of economic sanctions. It draws on the author’s experience as Director for Iran on the National Security Council and as deputy sanctions coordinator at the State Department in the Obama Administration. Having been involved in developing and managing sanctions during the negotiations with Iran that eventually produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, Nephew speaks from the point of view of a practitioner who brings a hands-on approach to the topic. The book offers practical insights about what sanctions can and cannot do, rather than ex cathedra statements about their efficacy in general. The most commonly asked question about sanctions—do they work?—is misleading because it is incomplete, since the utility of any tool can only be judged against a specific goal and under a determinate set of conditions. Against this, The Art of Sanctions presents a practice-oriented study of the preconditions for their success.

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As the Trump administration’s second year in office rolls onward, what is the state of the transatlantic alliance? Writing for H-Diplo last year, I argued that Trump’s first year in office saw the emergence of a “Trumpian NATO policy.”[1] In brief, this policy encompassed significant continuity with the substance of prior U.S. policy towards NATO, coupled with highly conditional U.S. rhetorical backing for the transatlantic relationship. As Trump—in a break from his campaign rhetoric—emphasized through mid-2017, NATO provided value to the United States, even as he suggested the United States might exit the alliance should its allies not agree to U.S. demands in intra-alliance discussions.

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America First PoliciesOn 8 March 2018, National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong of the Republic of Korea (ROK) met with President Donald J. Trump at the White House to brief him on his recent talks with Kim Jong Un, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), in Pyongyang. Trump learned that Kim had promised not to stage any further nuclear tests and take steps toward denuclearization. Chung emerged from the meeting to read a statement outside the West Wing announcing that Trump had accepted Kim’s proposal for the two leaders to meet in person.[2] This news shocked people around the world because it constituted a sudden and dramatic reversal in a U.S.-DPRK relationship of intense mutual hostility. In December 2017, under U.S. leadership, the United Nations imposed the last of a series of crippling economic sanctions on North Korea after it launched a missile the previous month that Kim Jong Un claimed could reach any target in the continental United States. By then, Trump had threatened military destruction of the DPRK. On 8 August 2017, at his golf club in New Jersey, he warned that if Pyongyang continued to threaten the United States, it would “be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”[3] A month later at the United Nations, Trump repeated his threat. If the United States “is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” he declared. Mocking the DPRK’s leader, Trump then remarked that “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself.”[4] A few days later, Kim Jong Un publicly read an official statement in which he called Trump “a frightened dog” and a “gangster fond of playing with fire.” He added that “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” using an arcane term for a mentally impaired elderly person.[5]

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Over the last year, the mass killing and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar has become a major international issue. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled from the Rakhine state, the death roll exceeded 10,000 in a four month period from August to December 2017 alone, and policymakers and United Nations (UN) experts have been moving towards calling the situation a genocide.[1] In the U.S., Congress, the State Department, and public pressure has begun to mount over whether the U.S. response—thus far a combination of congressional hearings, humanitarian assistance, and withdrawal of aid to the military—warrants a shift. [2]

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For all their differences, Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama have taken remarkably similar approaches to Afghanistan. Both entered office, conducted reviews of the domestically unpopular American-led war, and ultimately decided to increase the U.S. troop numbers there while continuing to support shaky, often corrupt, Afghan government partners.

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