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Hegemony Constrained: Evasion, Modification, and Resistance to American Foreign Policy

Hegemony Constrained: Evasion, Modification, and Resistance to American Foreign Policy edited by Davis B. Bobrow. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008, 344 pp.

This anthology delves into areas that often escape thoughtful consideration by the public and, more importantly, by decision makers involved in policy formation. Those confounded as to why American policies often twist themselves into unrecognizable forms would benefit from reading this volume, but be warned: the second half is an arduous read—many issues addressed here presume a fair amount of reader sophistication on complex topics such as climate policy, trade regimes, international tax havens, and public health.

Bobrow opens the discussion by elaborating on a useful model which identifies numerous strategies used to buck US hegemony on particular issues. His framework is anchored by two axes: “arenas” and “actions” (p. 13). The former is straightforward, stretching from unilateralism to collective action networks involving American participants. The latter axis is a mix of both widely recognized and less-obvious options available to actors intent on thwarting US policy prerogatives. This model provides the backdrop for all other issues tackled within.

Chapters 2–5 offer case studies of how states have used the tools outlined in chapter 1 to evade, modify, or resist US initiatives ill-suited to their near-term political agendas or national politics in Iraq, Germany, China, and Turkey, respectively. In “Modes of Iraqi Response to American Occupation,” Jeremy Pressman recounts how local players undermined US objectives and what it says to challengers in other contexts. While offering no profound insights, it underscores how US objectives can be co-opted by others with differing agendas to the detriment of US policy. Siegmar Schmidt’s “The Reluctant Ally” is an outstanding exposé of the underlying factors that fueled the very public and atypical German-American collision over Iraq. Chief among these factors were German domestic political/electoral concerns. Steve Chan’s “Soft Deterrence, Passive Resistance” delivers an excellent peek inside the Chinese approach to derailing US policies interpreted as attempts to insure continued regional and global dominance. The implied message: China is at war with the United States, but few Americans recognize it. Notably, he accuses the “engagement” crowd of ethnocentrism, which is the charge often used to lambast “containment” advocates for supposedly seeing a threat where none exists, thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the final case study, “The United States and Turkey: Limiting Unilateralism,” Ilter Turan argues Turkey was able to avoid acquiescence with US policy during the 2003 Iraq invasion through a combination of delaying tactics, bureaucratic shuffles, and blatant excuses.

While the case studies offered compelling evidence supporting Bobrow’s original model, going forward that elegance is lost in a smattering of issues which lack the same clarity. Chapter 6, “Resistance to Hegemony within the Core,” suffers from over-reliance on charts and graphs while ultimately arguing that domestic political concerns jade decision maker actions. It also paints a bleak picture of the prospects for an expanded G-7 to include Russia and China. In “Thwarting US Missile Defense from within the Missile Technology Control Regime,” Dennis Gormley offers few new insights beyond the fact the United States has increasingly switched from nuclear deterrence to deterrence by denial using conventional precision strike to effect, via the military instrument, what it increasingly seems incapable of attaining via diplomacy. “Europa Riding the Hegemon? Transatlantic Climate Policy” is a rather tired piece depicting the United States being pulled along reluctantly toward global initiatives championed by Europe, but neither side is really getting what it wants from the other. Chapter 10, “US Defection from the OECD ‘Harmful Tax Competition’ Project,” is a “taxing” read chronicling US and OECD efforts to close “safe haven” tax loopholes. Regrettably, to grasp the myriad complexities involved, one almost has to be an accountant. Judith Wilkenfeld’s “Saving the World from Big Tobacco” provides a compelling, albeit thoroughly anti-George W. Bush, case study depicting how out-of-step the Bush administration was on this universally acknowledged threat to public health. Highly respected US scientific organizations unabashedly opposed the US position; quotes from US NGOs are damning to the hilt, clearly demonstrating how pro-business the Bush administration policies were—to the detriment of global health concerns.

In the final two chapters Bobrow examines the impact of international public opinion on future US agendas and the “Implications of Constrained Hegemony.” His dissecting international public opinion via a heavy use of statistical analysis makes for a rather dull presentation. That said, he offers two definitive conclusions (p. 241): first, as much as states chafe under US hegemony, the alternatives appear worse to polities in polled nations—even though negatively disposed toward many aspects of Americana; second, there is a stark perception gap dividing how Americans perceive themselves and how others see us. In the final chapter, Bobrow addresses the implications of US “constrainment.” His modest recap reverts to the easy-to-conceptualize matrix introduced in chapter 1. Even if Americans are accepting of some critiques of US foreign policy, they are, nonetheless, susceptible to three assumption sets (pp. 270–73), each of which are flawed, he argues. His contention makes for interesting reading, at once breathing new life into the book and resuscitating the reader. He concludes by offering prescriptions to mitigate future challenges to US hegemony.

Admittedly, significant attention is paid to events spanning the George W. Bush tenure. However, it is clear many US tendencies highlighted pre-date that administration. Several authors suggest that while international behaviors may wax and wane with different US administrations, they will not disappear with a different US president.

On the whole, this book will have a limited audience.

Lt Col John H. Modinger, USAF, PhD

US Air Force Academy

"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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