Unilateral big-stick carrying may seem well and good to the “hegemons” in the Bush administration, writes erstwhile Clinton advisor Soderberg, but it hasn’t made the world safer or better.
In the tradition of Clinton and other Democratic leaders (John Kerry comes to mind), the author argues that the way for the White House to win friends and influence people abroad is to build strong international alliances and share the burden of promoting peace and order with our partners. The Bush administration had the chance to extend the Clinton approach in addressing recent events, she continues, and did so to some extent in Afghanistan. But it chose to do otherwise after the fall of the Taliban. The present administration’s insistence on going to war in Iraq “will prove to be a test of the myth of the hegemon’s view of America’s role as a superpower,” writes Soderberg, who contends that going it alone in the modern world leads to isolation and the accumulation of enemies. The Superpower Myth has some interesting moments, as when the author recounts the 1993 attack on American soldiers in Somalia so ably depicted in Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down (1999). Soderberg describes a livid Bill Clinton demanding to know what had gone wrong, letting a few heads roll as a result, then taking charge of his own foreign policy. Lessons learned: Don’t allow Pentagon types to go unquestioned, and don’t allow the United Nations to lead American troops into battle. The second lesson has become an article of rhetorical faith among politicos, but the first has been lost on the onetime cold warriors of Ford and Reagan vintage who now serve Bush II. The point is well taken, but Soderberg’s arguments swim in a sea of dreary detail; her narrative is less a book than an extended white paper, with all the requisite problem-describing, pundit-quoting, and policy-recommending.
May set a think-tank denizen’s pulse racing, but won’t do much for general readers with a concern for America’s role in the world.