Monday, February 23, 2009

A useful revisionist look at American foreign policy

Much of today's foreign policy literature has argued that George W Bush's administration represented a shift away from American tradition. This view has been challenged by a number of writers, including Andrew Bacevich and Chalmers Johnson, but Christopher Layne's study of American foreign policy The Peace of Illusions is one of the best yet.

He builds on the work of William Appleman Williams and particularly on his Open Door theory. That theory argues that, at least partially, US foreign policy has long focused on making the world safe for American capitalism. The security element of the argument is that if the world became anti-capitalist and Eurasia were a unified power, the United States would move to a garrison state and the American Republic would end.

Expanding on this argument, Layne says that the US has pursued a policy of hegemony, ensuring that no rival power, friendly or not, rises anywhere in the world. He points to efforts to contain Europe with NATO and to the treaties with Asian powers to maintain American dominance.

The argument of the book uses quite a bit of international relations theory, which may sound dry, but I found it succintly and clearly written. Add this to your books to read when thinking about new directions in American foreign policy.

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