Trying to get a rogue state to behave the way one likes is a messy business. It’s a touch easier when the nations of the world join you. It’s near impossible when you try to go it alone.
Thus, in a nutshell, is the arc of the latest exercise in geopolitics by former Clinton Deputy Secretary of State and current Brookings Institution president Talbott (Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Bomb, 2004, etc.), a fluent, smart observer of the international scene. The presumed premise of the book isn’t exactly earth-shattering. The growth of the nation-state from its clannish and tribal origins has been well documented in thousands of previous studies, though the historically minded reader may well enjoy recalling the many successes of the medieval Hanseatic League, committed to the notion of international peace in the interest of commerce. It is always useful, too, to be reminded why the United Nations came into being and of the “lofty but elusive goals” it is meant to pursue and sometimes attains. Yet all of that is prelude to the heart of Talbott’s argument, a withering assessment of current U.S. foreign policy. The author admits to not liking Bush and recounts Bush’s clear dislike of him. Thus, while there is no danger of Greenspanian out-of-left-field revelations, neither is there reason to expect Talbott to find much right with the way things are going. He doesn’t. He does turn in a few nice surprises, though, including an account of a meeting with Pentagon top brass in which the absence of multilateralism is sorely missed, a solid appreciation for Bush the Elder as just the sort of multilateralist that ought to be missed and a sharp study of the deep dislike for former UN ambassador Josh Bolton within the state department.
Bush’s policies, Talbott concludes, are “an aberration in the evolution of American internationalism,” likely to be corrected but still liable to do much harm to the nation and the world. This book makes for lucid dissent.