Monday, 15 September 2008

"America & The World", by Zbigniew Brzezinski & Brent Scowcroft (Basic Books)

Two of America's leading foreign policy specialists discuss the issues that face the United States today and the future

In a similar style to one of Brzezinski's most frequently quoted articles ("The Clash of Titans" with John J. Mearsheimer, Foreign Policy 2005), America And The World is our chance to sit in on a spontaneous, unscripted discussion between the two authors and David Ignatius, who acted as moderator, as they discuss some of the most significant foreign policy challenges facing America today. Brzezinski and Scowcroft, both former National Security Advisors, have a history of working together – in both articles and letters that offer suggestions to administrations if they believe a policy shift is required.

Following the welcoming introduction by Ignatius (which does a brilliant job of dissipating any fears that this might be a stuffy, plodding book), the discussion sets out to give us a “sense of the problem of the world today”, before it moves on to offer solutions for the various
realities confronting the United States, which some will no doubt be familiar with: the war in Iraq; a bellicose and near-nuclear Iran; a resurgent Russia; globalisation and its inherent problems; and growing competition with China and East Asia. As Ignatius says, “Both men believe the United States is in some difficulty abroad because it hasn’t yet adapted to these new realities.”

It is rare to find these topics discussed so openly outside of a lecture or debate. The authors don’t always agree (Brzezinski is a Democrat, Scowcroft is a Republican), but they do manage to find a certain amount of common ground, drawing on their own experiences in government and since to provide advice and anecdotes when warranted. Theoretically, they’re both foreign policy realists, believing that the national interest should form the basis of America’s foreign policy.

An unusual format for such a long work, it works surprisingly well and offers something new in a field that has a tendency to become rather formulaic. That the book describes their differing opinions also makes this book valuable, as it doesn’t just present one ideological argument, rather offering both sides, leaving it to the reader to decide which he/she prefers.

Insightful, learned and well argued, both Brzezinski and Scowcroft present some compelling arguments and suggestions for America's conduct in the near future. The conversational style also allows for some different perspectives on their already published works (either in articles or books) that should also be welcome to people who are looking for more explanation of their opinions, and how they stand up to direct questioning.

Recommended reading.

Extra Mini-Review: “Second Chance”, by Zbigniew Brzezinski

Another excellent book on American foreign policy, this time the author presents the foreign policies of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Brzezinski compares the methods, approach and accomplishments of the three presidents, explaining how they each stepped up to the challenges presented to them upon reaching the White House.

Covering some of the same issues as the above book, Brzezinski discusses the way the international climate is changing – as a result of globalization, the rise of fundamentalism, and a “global political awakening” – and offers some suggestions for tackling these challenges successfully.

Concise, well presented and extremely readable, this is a perfect companion book to American And The World, but also a worthy addition to anyone’s library if they are interested in a more liberal-leaning perspective of international relations, US foreign policy, and the challenges that lie ahead.

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