"Money can't buy happiness," the old saying goes, and anyone who doubts that this is sometimes true should conduct
In international relations, power is the equivalent of money -- highly desired, actively sought, and eagerly used.
The theme of three new books about power and U.S. foreign policy is that as with money, so with power: a great deal of it does not necessarily bring success.
It can even have the opposite effect. Powerful countries can and do carry out foreign policies that fail, making
them less prosperous, less respected, and, ultimately, less powerful. In each of the books, the prime example of the
dangers of power, the equivalent of the lottery winners destroyed by riches, is the United States
during the George W. Bush administration. For all three authors, the essence of what
Each author advocates a foreign policy different from the one Bush conducted. Each calls for more modest aims and wider international cooperation. And although each severely criticizes the Bush administration, all find evidence of the drawbacks of power in the policies of other administrations and in the histories of other countries as well.
The three books have another important feature in common: each is backward-looking. Although they do not seem to recognize it, the era in which U.S. foreign policy could be driven in counterproductive directions by an excess of power is in the process of ending.
Matlock's assessment of the Bush administration is harshly negative.
He says, for example, that the 9/11 attacks "could have been prevented if the Bush administration had shown
minimal competence in using the information the CIA had provided." Matlock, a trusted aide to Reagan, contends that
in temperament and outlook, if not always in policy preferences,
The most important feature of
Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray--And How to Return to Reality
is Matlock's explanation of the wayward course of U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War. It has stemmed, he believes,
from a mistaken understanding of how and why the great conflict with the
The triumphalist interpretation has had pernicious consequences. It has reinforced Russian leader Vladimir Putin's
narrative of his country's recent history, which asserts that the end of the
The incorrect reading of the Cold War's end has also contributed, by fostering an exaggerated sense of American
power, to harmful foreign policies on the part of the United States. Matlock is particularly
eloquent and convincing on one of them: the decision to expand
Matlock writes on the basis of 35 years as an active participant in making and carrying out foreign policy. Giulio
Gallarotti's perspective, by contrast, is that of an observer. Gallarotti is a professor of government at
Its title echoes a phenomenon familiar to economists: the resource curse. This is the perverse tendency for a large endowment of a valuable resource -- usually oil -- to make a country poorer by stunting the development of the institutions necessary for a productive economy and by boosting the value of the country's currency, thereby harming its exports. Gallarotti asserts that a large endowment of power has a comparable effect, leading its possessor to adopt policies that weaken it.
In one sense, his thesis is surely correct. The foreign policies of great powers do sometimes fail, and their
power is almost always a cause of the failure in that without this power they would not have embarked on the failed
initiatives in the first place. To take two of the cases Gallarotti discusses, ancient
He argues that power leads to failure in four distinct ways: by discouraging states from adapting to complexity, by making them vulnerable to overstretch, by leading them to fall victim to moral hazard, and by inducing them to act unilaterally. Not all of the terms he uses are well defined. "Moral hazard," in its original economic context, refers to a situation in which the gains from economic activity are privatized and the losses are socialized -- that is, borne by the government. As Gallarotti uses the term, however, it seems to mean merely overconfidence, which is something different. A firm or an individual operating in circumstances of moral hazard has a strong incentive to engage in behavior known to be risky because the potential economic benefits are large and the losses will be borne by somebody else. An overconfident government, by contrast, carries out policies that it does not consider risky. It believes that it will suffer no losses because the policies cannot fail.
Like Matlock, Gallarotti believes that the Bush administration's foreign policies, to which he devotes an entire chapter, weakened the United States, but the chapter does not always inspire confidence in his grasp of the realities of the world in which Bush and his colleagues formulated these policies. Gallarotti writes, for example, of the social welfare activities of the three principal terrorist organizations in the
The Power Curse concludes with a series of lessons from the cases it examines, which amount to an injunction to governments to conduct their foreign policies in a prudent, cautious, and flexible fashion. This is surely good advice for powerful countries -- and for weak ones, and for those that are neither, as well.
The recommendations for U.S. foreign policy in
He, his colleague
Preble denies that he is an isolationist, and he and his colleagues do strongly favor free trade. Cato's approach to foreign policy in fact corresponds to what the scholar
Some who find post-Cold War U.S. military interventions unwise would subscribe to President
Preble makes frequent reference to the founders of the American republic, whose definition of a proper foreign policy in many ways matches his own. Like him, they generally opposed maintaining a large military establishment and the waging of foreign wars. However,
THE FRUGAL FUTURE
Whatever the quality of the analysis underlying it, however, Preble's vision of a more modest U.S. foreign policy, which Matlock and Gallarotti share, is destined to be adopted. the United States will do less, perhaps much less, beyond its borders in the next two decades than it has in the last two.
This retrenchment will not come about because the views of the founders have gained currency among the wider U.S. public or as the result of the disappointments and failures of recent U.S. military interventions. The principal cause will be the fiscal condition of the United States. The country will bear the burden of a huge and growing national debt, from three principal sources: the chronic deficits from 2001 to 2008, the very high costs of coping with the financial crisis of 2008 and the recession it dramatically deepened, and, most important, the skyrocketing bill for
The Bush administration, it is worth noting, was directly responsible for the first of these sources, indirectly responsible for the second, and did nothing to reduce the costs of the third. Under the eyes of eternity, therefore, the greatest damage that the administration will be seen to have inflicted on
There are four ways to address a deficit: by borrowing, by reducing spending, by raising taxes, and by printing money. Because the second and the third have proved politically impossible and the fourth would be economically ruinous, the United States has relied on the first. But it will not always be able to borrow all the money required to fill the gap between the government's expenditures and its revenues. At some point, taxes will have to rise and spending will have to fall. Fewer resources will be available for all other programs, including foreign policy. In these circumstances, with Americans paying more to the government and receiving fewer benefits from it, popular support for an expansive foreign policy will decline. The public will insist more strongly than at any time since before World War II on using its dollars for domestic, rather than international, purposes.
It will not permit expensive military interventions leading to state-building exercises, such as those in
The prospect of a reduced U.S. presence around the world does not disturb Matlock, Gallarotti, or Preble. Each is confident that other countries will step forward to fill any geopolitically perilous vacuum that a more modest U.S. foreign policy creates. With the passing of what they regard as the wantonly unilateralist Bush administration, all see great potential for more extensive international cooperation. All believe, that is, that other countries will risk lives and spend money in pursuit of goals they have in common with the United States.
Perhaps eventually they will, but the first year of the presumably kinder, gentler, more multilateral Obama administration yielded little evidence of a willingness on the part of others to share
Available at Amazon.com:
- Expeditionary Economics: Spurring Growth After Conflicts and Disasters
- Why More Diplomacy Won't Keep the Financial System Safe
- Bigger Is Better: Case for Transatlantic Economic Union
- European Union: A Fragile Partnership
- The Brussels Wall: Tearing Down the EU-NATO Barrier
- Muddling through Greece's Tremors
- Greece Financial Crisis Raises Doubts About European Union
- Greek Debt Crisis May Hurt Latin America Economy
- The U.S. Mission in Iraq
- Shared Goals for Pakistan's Militants
- Bringing Change From Below in Afghanistan
- The Global Glass Ceiling: Why Empowering Women Is Good for Business
- The Future of American Security Assistance
- Questioning the Wisdom of American Restraint
- Enforcing Human Rights for World's Poor
- The Geography of Chinese Power
- The Rise of Asia's Universities
- On Israel: Obama Playing the Middle East Game Wrong
- What's Happening With Israel?
- Exaggeration of Iranian Threat Could Have Dire Consequences
- Obama's Nuclear Policy Enhances America's Moral Position and Security
- New Obama Nuclear Policy Could Spur Proliferation and Harm America
- U.S. and Russia Should Share Anti-Iran Missile Defense
- Obama's Promise to Work With Foreign Governments
- The NATO Nuisance
- Cuban Cardinal Says Too Little Too Late
- The Starving Armenians
- Arizona's Anti-Immigrant Law Will Spark Hispanic Exodus
- Open Season on Latinos in Arizona
- Obama Criticism of Arizona Immigration Law Ignores Federal Incompetence
- Change for U.S. Nuclear Strategy: Nuclear War Planning and Non-proliferation
- Obama's Nuclear-Weapons Conference Fatally Flawed Before It Began
- Fear Factor: Swine Flu, Nuclear Weapons, Reacting to Doom
- Documents Reveal Al Qaeda Cyberattacks
- Iraq Elections - So What Happened to Iraq?
- Mexico's Big Hope: Get 5 Million U.S. Retirees
- U.S. Latin Policy: Big Gestures and Little Substance
- United States - 5 Ways to Keep America Great
- Iran - Sanctions on Iran
- Securing Afghanistan - Pakistan Connection
- Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai Ungrateful Puppet
- As Iraq Threatens to Come Apart Problems in Afghanistan Mount
- Latin America Must Diversify Trade With China
- Cuba After Fidel and Raul Castro
- China Should Be Ashamed of Its Aid to Haiti
- Pivot to Foreign Policy: American-Russian Cooperation
- Nuclear Roulette: The Obama Doctrine
- Al-Qaeda has Lost the Battle. But has it Won the War?
- Why Natural Disasters Are More Expensive But Less Deadly
- Dangerous Bias of United Nations Goldstone Report
- Greek Financial Debt Crisis Only Part of EU's Woes
- Remember the Pacific War
- Strange Sighting in Iraq
- Mexico Facing Six Wars Not Just One
- Mexican Violence Rising but Less Than in Washington
- Pakistan's Shrewd Shift in Dialogue
- Earthquake May Delay Chile's First World Goal
- Trees for Haiti Campaign Starts -- Slowly
- Haiti: Reforestation Should Be Part of Rebuilding Process
- Pentagon Wrestles With Haiti Relief
- Chile's Sebastian Pinera Unlikely to Be South American Silvio Berlusconi
- Earthquake Buries Progress in Haiti
- Beyond Haitian Relief Effort, How to Fix Haiti
- Haiti Needs a Version of the Marshall Plan
- Tough Love Only Long-Term Cure for Haiti
(C) 2010 Foreign Affairs