Three Choices for America’s Role in the World

Ian Bremmer

Portfolio, New York, 2015, 256 pages

Book Review published on: May 25, 2017

Though once viewed as a social taboo to avoid in polite company, discussions on how current and future administrations promote and protect America’s national interests abroad have become commonplace during election years. Harder to find is a balanced and thoughtful discussion of the foreign policy options open to America’s leadership that allows the audience to make their own decisions based on their personal worldviews and values. In his new monograph, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, political scientist and author Ian Bremmer achieves precisely that. The author details the many obstacles America’s next commander-in-chief will face, from Russia challenging the status quo in Europe and undermining America’s efforts in Syria to the difficulty of cooperating economically while competing militarily with China.

Bremmer presents a candid critique of the problems with American foreign policy from the end of the Cold War to present, by outlining the achievements and failures of previous presidencies. To avoid incoherency in future American diplomacy, he examines three different approaches that he labels Independent America, Moneyball America, and Indispensable America. His approaches to American foreign policy solutions span the theorist spectrum from ardent isolationism to vital interest-driven engagement to hawkish interventionism. The reader might assume that the author is attempting to lead him toward a preferred method, but that is not the case.

Bremmer’s engaging and practical analysis outlines the strengths and weaknesses of each option, while encouraging readers to reflect on their own ideas and values to inform their own decision on which option is best for America. Lastly, he warns readers to avoid the familiar pitfall of making no decision at all, which he refers to as Question Mark America. Instead, the author maintains that “complex questions don’t yield simple answers”; therefore, it is impossible to serve America’s interests by abstention from discussion.

Bremmer does take several debatable stances, such as the United States’ decision to “lead from behind” in Libya as a model for effective contemporary intervention. Likewise, he feels increasing binding trade agreements, for example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is the optimal solution for America in global economic relations. Nonetheless, he caveats these arguments with detailed empirical research to bolster his case.

Currently on the United States Special Operations Command commander’s recommended reading list, Superpower would be a worthy addition to the professional education of all field-grade military officers. The comprehensive analysis of American foreign policy combined with the broad review of potential solutions makes this a meaningful “open debate.” Absent this discussion, the leaders of both our military and government may fall victim to the pitfall of indecision, which in turn hinders the progress of America’s national interests both at home and abroad.

Book Review written by: Capt. Charles A. Staab, U.S. Army, Monterey, California