America is the last remaining superpower. Yet what does this triumph mean when the challenges we face often defy military solutions? In Temptations of a Superpower, one of our most eloquent and incisive foreign policy analysts takes a hard look at this question, with all its implications for America's role in the post-Cold War world. Ronald Steel offers a devastating critique of a high-stakes game of foreign policy played by rules that no longer apply, and then proposes a more realistic--and pragmatic--view of the world and our place in it.
The Cold War imposed a certain order on the world, giving us a secure sense of our enemies and allies, our interests and our mission. Steel paints a disturbing picture of the world now deprived of its ordering principle, where ethnic conflicts and national rivalries once held in check erupt in violence, where the shifting allegiances and fevered ambitions flout familiar strategies for keeping peace, conducting trade, and protecting human rights. He explores the history of our present predicament and explains the dangers of adapting outmoded but habitual policies to a new world whose shape is fast evolving. What, for instance, is the future of America's military, deeply embedded as it is in our culture and economy? If Wilsonian idealism, with its vision of converting the world to democracy, replaces anti-communism as the guiding principle behind foreign policy, how far should it take us? What distinctions should we make between our nearest neighbors and distant nations? How are we to balance economic needs and ethical imperatives?
Analyzing the turmoil sweeping the world from China to Bosnia, Haiti to the Caucasus, Steel depicts the shattering dilemmas facing American policymakers. What concern should the United States have with many world quarrels? How can national interest be reconciled with strategic considerations and morality? When should domestic needs take precedence over foreign policy? The alternatives that Steel proposes to current policies defy much of the conventional wisdom and are certain to provoke controversy. He asks not only what America should do for the world, but what it must do for itself. Reminding us that foreign and domestic policy are inseparable, Steel argues that a renewed foreign policy must address not only changes in the world order, but the pressing, unmet needs within America itself.
Temptations of a Superpower deserves a wide readership among both foreign policy experts and laymen. [It] is a rare example of clarity, wisdom, and intellectual integrity. It would stand out even in a time when the nation's chattering classes were able to distinguish argument from invective.
Consistency is an admirable intellectual trait, and Mr. Steel's writings show a disciplined coherence over thirty years...In fact, they are the expression of a distinct sensibility that holds that no matter what the world looks like, a minimalist foreign policy is best for both America and the world. These convictions are heartfelt and expressed with moral clarity.
Ronald Steel has been a brilliant and iconoclastic critic of American policy and American follies for a quarter century--perhaps our most brilliant. This book recapitulates absurdities and excesses of the Cold War now over, summarizing with a certain peremptoriness, and even a certain weariness, things Steel has often said before.
Put bluntly, Steel's message in this nicely crafted series of essays is: Forget most of what you learned during the past half-century. The United States may be the world's only superpower, but it is far less 'super' than before, and the honor may be more trouble than it's worth...This is a direct and bracing argument, more useful than anything our major politicians have said about foreign policy over the past few years.
This sharp little book offers an important contribution to the current debate on the future of US foreign policy. As is almost de rigueur these days, Temptations of a Superpower opens with a depiction of the US foreign-policy establishment's disorientation following the end of the Cold War, and the loss of an enemy that now looks 'more like a deflated blowfish than a whale.' Given Ronald Steel's long-standing suspicion of this establishment, including both its commentators and practitioners, this is done with a certain relish.
Picking a word or two to describe the Steel doctrine won't be easy...None does justice to the depth, poignancy or persuasiveness of Steel's call for the US to put domestic priorities first, now that the threats posed to its security by other countries are few and far apart.
Clear-eyed, hardheaded American liberalism has no more able a foreign affairs analyst than Ronald Steel, an editor at the New Republic and professor of international relations at the University of Southern California. For over 30 years...Steel has been developing a sagacious and iconoclastic body of writing on American foreign policy...[An] impressive analysis...In this small book, Steel is, as [Walter] Lippmann was, truth's pilgrim at the plow.
- 144 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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