Thursday, November 10, 2005

Taming American Power

It's no secret that many people around the world, elite and otherwise, are angry at the United States. One of the great debates is whether this is caused by who we are or what we do. If it is who we are, whether due to culture or sheer size and power, then perhaps we shouldn't be concerned as it is a simply a fact of international life. If it is what we do, then we need to reevaluate policy. In Taming American Power, Stephen Walt argues that is both, there will always be resentment due to disproportionate influence of the U.S. but also that U.S. policy often increases this resentment and leads to actual resistance or opposition. Beacause there is an inevitable amount of opposition, his argument implies, policy choices must be made with care.

While the book's title makes it sound like it might come from the viewpoint of a Noam Chomsky or a Chalmers Johnson, it is actually a sober analysis of the foreign policy options of states that must deal with the U.S. Based on these options and the current direction of American policy, Walt reviews possible American strategies including the Bush doctrine, selective engagement (Bush 1 and Clinton) and offshore balancing. He likes the third choice, but even if you disagree, I think you will find his clear and succinct prose and analysis of immense value. Walt is a international relations scholar, but here he is writing for the reasonably informed non-specialist. He does an excellent job of distilling key concepts into terms anyone can understand. This is a great book to read if you want to understand how a country like North Korea or France deals with the U.S. or how states interact in general.

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