American Nation-Building from Washington to Obama
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An impassioned apology for spreading American hegemony throughout the world.

Nation-building, writes Suri (History/Univ. of Wisconsin; Henry Kissinger and the American Century, 2007, etc.), is like parenting. In order to bolster good conduct and civilized behavior in unruly nascent states, the United States intercedes by offering military protection and financial assistance so that the fledglings can get on their feet and organize their own future. This is how Suri characterizes the definitive nation-building “projects” throughout American history: the founding of the Republic, Reconstruction of the recalcitrant Confederacy, wresting the Philippines from Spain at the turn of the 19th century, the Marshall Plan implemented to reconstruct Europe and Asia after World War II and the sticky interventions in Korea, Vietnam and finally Afghanistan. In this patriotic study, Suri traces the origins of American nation-building as propounded best by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in a unique synthesis of plurality and union. This “fusion of republicanism and empire” would not only justify U.S. expansion from coast to coast, but also intervention elsewhere in order to eliminate perceived threats to its stability and preserve world order. By virtue of comparison with previous successful nation-building projects such as Reconstruction and rebuilding Germany after World War II, the author faults the Bush administration’s interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq as being too minimal, distracted, stingy and “part-time.” The long-term commitment that Suri urges is not “a traditional empire of forceful repression,” he insists, but more like a “visiting partner.” Finding partners, assisting citizens and even working with corrupt leaders prove acceptable as long as the goal is “stability, unity and cooperation within a functioning set of state institutions.” Unfortunately, the author neatly brushes off the rest of the world’s profound resentment of American self-interest and messianic muscle-flexing.

A blithe historical evaluation that fails to reach the lofty level of Suri’s previous book.


Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-1912-9
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2011


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