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Strategies of Dominance: The Misdirection of U.S. Foreign Policy

Strategies of Dominance: The Misdirection of U.S. Foreign Policy by P. Edward Haley. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006, 304 pp.

This monograph examines American foreign policy under the George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations. Haley wrote the book while a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He is currently the W. F. Keck Foundation chair of International Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.

This book belongs to American foreign policy literature that seeks not only to analyze policies of the past but also to suggest policies for the future. Its central analytic proposition is that, with the end of the Cold War, three successive administrations adopted a “new foreign policy paradigm” based on numerous assumptions such as American exceptionalism, American global dominance, and the expectation that other nations would welcome these, along with democracy, free markets, and globalization (pp. 2–3). In the author’s view, that paradigm was deeply flawed, has led to many problems for the United States, and will continue to do so if left unchanged.

His argument proceeds with a review of the foreign policy of the United States since 1990, Haley’s evaluation of it, and recommendations for the future. George H. W. Bush’s administration emerged into the dawn of the post–Cold War era, understandably slow to adjust its vision to new global realities. It sought to continue many of the policies that had brought America victory over the Soviet Union. Clinton’s was decidedly inward looking, though it saw democracy and globalization as positive, constructive examples for all humanity. George W. Bush began with a similarly domestic focus, but quickly sought to secure a country targeted by terrorism by bringing the ideals of American civilization to the rest of the world—by force if needed. All of them applied the same flawed paradigm and led their country from one misstep to another.

To be fair, Haley gives credit for foreign policy successes, such as the previously unimaginable transition of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe from deadly foes threatening apocalypse to struggling democracies trying to rebuild their nations. Nevertheless, the consistent theme is of mistakes measured in lost international legitimacy and lost lives. The treatments of the Balkans, Somalia, Rwanda, and Iraq are especially vilifying. To avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, the author recommends rejecting the existing post–Cold War paradigm. Specifically, the United States should lose its focus on the democratic imperative for humanity. In a particularly powerful statement, Haley says, “The insistence that there exists only one good form of government also transports diplomacy and strategy out of the realm of politics and into that of morality” (p. 209). Next, the country must realize that, while it is superior by many measures to any other nation (in terms of economy, military strength, etc.) it is not globally dominant (p. 217). Finally, he suggests the United States “cherish and defend American values and institutions” without forcing its will on the rest of the world (p. 215). The author takes pain to say this is not a cry for isolationism but for a more circumspect approach to international relations.

Overall, Haley’s product is excellent, with two strengths in particular: an easily accessible structure and a thought-provoking conclusion. He devotes two chapters to each of the three presidents. The first covers foreign-policy initiatives and the domestic and international reactions to them; the second contains his critique of those policies. This bifurcation, along with chronological organization, allows the reader to remain oriented to history and keep description separated from value judgments. The conclusion recapitulates the treatment of each administration in turn and moves briskly to a well-balanced inventory of recommendations. These proposals provide ample food for thought and encourage the reader to take them forward into discussions with other students of foreign policy.

The one weakness is the sheer volume of policy history presented. While this deserves a nod for attempting a comprehensive treatment, cataloguing every significant American foreign policy initiative over a 16-year period is bound to result in skipping across the wave tops. In effect, the evidence is presented in such a manner as to create an evidentiary cacophony. It also contains one factual error bound to grab an Airman’s eye. On page 20, while covering the first Bush administration, the author mentions the pragmatic decision to continue American cooperation with Chinese efforts to upgrade one of their fighter aircraft, “the F-8 aircraft that China had acquired from the United States.” Whether a case of mistaking the Chinese F-8 Finback for the American F-8 Crusader in his own mind or the works he referenced, such a transaction never occurred, thus bringing into question the blizzard of data presented in the rest of the book.

In conclusion, this book will appeal to anyone interested in grand strategy in general, as it discusses all instruments of national power as well as modern American foreign-policy history in particular. It is also valuable for anyone seeking to understand the global context in which future American foreign policy will evolve.

Maj Paul F. Spaven, USAF

School of Advanced Air and Space Studies

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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