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U.S. no longer superpower, now a besieged global power, scholars say


Jeff Unger, News Bureau

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The United States remains a formidable but besieged global power, according to the editors of “From Superpower to Besieged Global Power: Restoring World Order After the Failure of the Bush Doctrine” (University of Georgia Press).

The new book, co-edited by Edward A. Kolodziej, the director of the Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois, and Roger E. Kanet, a professor of international studies at the University of Miami, evaluates the extent to which the Bush Doctrine, as the rationale for the projection of American power and purpose, has succeeded in shaping world order and regional politics to reflect and support American interests and values. 

The editors and contributors, drawn from 10 nations, conclude that the doctrine, detailed in the September 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States, squandered enormous military and economic resources, diminished U.S. power, undermined the nation’s reputation as a defender of democratic values and human rights, divided Americans, and gravely (but still not fatally) undermined American hard and soft power to influence world order in preferred ways.

A central explanation for the failure of American security and foreign policy under the Bush administration lies in the unfounded assumption underlying the Bush Doctrine that the United States is a superpower capable of coercing rivals and inducing allies and neutral nations to support the Bush vision of world order. The doctrine led to policies that overextended the reach of American power beyond its grasp, most obviously in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also around the globe.

Notwithstanding recent setbacks, the U.S. remains a formidable global power, one of a few states capable of significantly influencing but not dictating the trajectories of global and regional politics and the evolution of world order, the editors say.

The volume rejects the Bush administration’s unilateralist, pre-emption strategy, inspired, the editors argue, by neo-conservatives, whose championing of the United States as the world’s sole superpower dominated, until recently, the administration’s security and foreign policies.

“The book also rejects the counter liberal argument that the United States is, indeed, a superpower, which has used its material and human resources incompetently,” Kolodziej said. “According to this train of thinking, all that is needed is a better management of its soft and hard power to retain what is misguidedly assumed to be the continued superpower status of the United States.”

Finally, the authors dismiss what Kolodziej calls the declinist argument, most popular in the 1990s and still accepted by some at home and abroad, that holds that the U.S. is a quickly declining power that will be overtaken soon by China – much as Japan was once thought to be on the verge of overtaking the U.S.

“Prevailing schools of foreign policy must be rejected,” Kolodziej said, “because they err in fundamental ways about the limits and opportunities of American power. There must be a return to the proven strategies of cooperation after World War II. These resulted in the ascendancy of a strong coalition of free, democratic, market states in the Cold War – a coalition mindlessly ruptured by the misguided application of a strategic doctrine based on the assumption of American superpower omnipotence.”

U.S. power and influence are greatest when the U.S. adheres to moral norms and legal standards, and operates according to the political accords and agreements reached with other like-minded states and peoples, Kolodziej said. The latter, in cooperation with the United States, form the coalition of open, democratic, market-oriented states and peoples who arose ascendant from the Cold War struggle. It is this winning coalition that the ill-advised policies generated by the Bush Doctrine place in jeopardy.

The editors and the contributors agree that U.S. security and foreign policy must be based on understanding the limits of U.S. economic, cultural and military power to mold world order in a way that reflects American interests. They also propose ways, emphasizing the reconstitution of American power at home, as the precondition for the effective projection of American power abroad. This reversal of priorities in which domestic imperatives are privileged, will help to repair the damage that has resulted from flawed security and foreign policy decisions, a process of reorientation that will take a generation to be fully completed.

The book is the inaugural volume in the series Studies in Security and International Affairs under the aegis of the University of Georgia Press and the department of international relations at Georgia.