Henry Kissinger has drawn on his experience of statecraft to explore the contradictions of world order, and elucidate how statesmen keep international relations from becoming an anarchic struggle. Pithy observations punctuate his latest analysis, World Order, an engaging book informed by a wide appreciation of history and culture.
Books reviewed in this essay:
Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy, by Barry R. Posen. Cornell University Press 2014
America In Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder, by Bret Stephens. Sentinel 2014
This generation’s U.S. foreign policy, resulting as it has in lost wars and almost universal disrespect for Americans, does not have many defenders.
Politicians and pundits of the Establishment Left, who made socioeconomic reform the hallmark of their foreign policy in the 1950s and 1960s, stopped advocating it in the 1980s—or any other means of supporting their remaining pretenses of global leadership. Whether they call themselves “internationalists” or “realists,” they are about reducing America’s power, and cover impotence with terms such as “multilateralism” and “leading from behind.”
Neoconservatives continue to support America’s primacy, as well as traditional geopolitical commitments including victory in the “war on terror.” They led the Bush administration into picking up “nation-building” as the Left was dropping it, became its last defenders, and were dragged into sharing the American people’s disdain for it. Now, neoconservatives are at a loss about how to square such means as they are willing to use with the grandiose ends they still advocate.
President Barack Obama drew criticism from our ruling class for acknowledging that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for putting an end to the Islamic State that calls for American blood by internetting the beheading of American captives, as well as for his complaisance with China’s harassment of an American aircraft over international waters and with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sooner or later, Obama is sure to order some actions with regard to each of these situations. But even more surely, these will worsen problems rather than fix them because Obama, like the ruling class he represents, does not connect means with ends, wishes with actions.