A distinguished journalist and scholar looks at the shaping of America’s national security and foreign policy for the past decade.
We live, writes Rothkopf (Power Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead, 2012, etc.), in an age of fear in which the instant delivery of horrific images ratchets up the dread of terror attack, even as the country suffers a financial meltdown. These national emotional traumas help account for the swings in our policymaking, from the George W. Bush administration’s “overheated” response to the 9/11 attacks to the consequent temporizing of the Barack Obama administration, desperate to be seen as “un-Bush.” Bringing to bear his own government experience and decades of writing about these issues, Rothkopf sympathetically examines the two presidents and their principal advisers—he’s interviewed over 100 of them—and demonstrates how the sense of threat informed so many of their decisions during this highly charged era. Focusing evenhandedly on the personalities that transformed so much of our foreign policy and national security strategies, he considers the Bush team’s second-term makeover, the surge in Iraq, his handling of the 2008 financial crisis and the role played by national security in that year’s election. The author examines the construction of the Obama foreign policy team, the failure of Richard Holbrooke’s AfPak shop within the State Department and of George Mitchell’s efforts in the Middle East, the illusory “pivot” to Asia and “reset” with Russia, the secret outreach to Iran, and the flat-footed response to the Arab Spring, the drone war, and the widespread and largely unknown (until the Snowden disclosures) cyberwar. Rothkopf emphasizes the difficulty of properly calibrating our policy amid the zeitgeist of fear, and he makes some proposals that might allow us to better adjust.
A sharp, immensely readable account of how we’ve arrived at this juncture and where matters stand as we anticipate the election of a new president.