A magisterial history of international relations in American history.
“The foreign policy of the United States…has been unusually ideological, unusually economic, and unusually democratic,” writes Mandelbaum, professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, with American leaders focused on ideals of liberty, human rights, and free elections. Comparatively weak for decades after the Revolution, America grew steadily, but it was the Civil War that caught the world’s attention. American money and production helped assure the Allied victory in World War I. Less “isolationist” between the wars than many popular histories claim, American foreign policy emphasized fiscal responsibility and disarmament until the Depression, when democratic powers turned inward and Germany and Japan sought to vastly expand their positions on the global stage. In his account of World War II, Mandelbaum emphasizes America’s own titanic expansion. By 1945, the U.S. manufactured 40% percent “of all the world’s armaments” and had built the world’s largest military. Then it was confronted by another superpower: the Soviet Union. Aided by conquests in Eastern Europe, a purported ally in Mao’s China, and the growing appeal of Marxism, the rise of the Soviets convinced Americans that they were under threat. This led to two large, disastrous wars in Korea and Vietnam, many smaller confrontations, a reconciliation with China, and, eventually, the unexpected disintegration of the Soviet Union. In the 1990s, America was the world’s unchallenged hyperpower, but the 21st century has been characterized by failure. The specter of terrorism, never a true military threat, obsessed American leaders, who plunged into expensive, fruitless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mandelbaum painfully concludes that many so-called American ideals have lost their appeal. Across the globe, radical nationalism has surged, and autocrats, often freely elected, have assumed power in many nations. Jingoistic extremist movements are flourishing in Western Europe and the U.S., and China’s rapid rise seems to have demoted America to superpower status or perhaps introduced another hyperpower.
A deeply insightful—and disturbing—analysis of both history and current affairs.
Pub Date: yesterday
Page Count: 600
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022