Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

America Isn't as Powerful as It Thinks It Is

| Apr. 26, 2019

Just how powerful is the United States? Is it still the unipolar power, able to impose its will on adversaries, allies, and neutrals, and force them—however reluctantly—to go along with policies they think are foolish, dangerous, or simply contrary to their interests? Or are there clear and significant limits to U.S. power, suggesting that it should be more selective and strategic in setting goals and pursuing them?

The Trump administration has embraced the first position, especially since John Bolton became White House national security advisor and Mike Pompeo took over as secretary of state. Whatever President Donald Trump's initial instincts may have been, their arrival marked a return to the unilateralist, take-no-prisoners approach to foreign policy that characterized George W. Bush's first term as president, when Vice President Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives held sway. A key feature of that earlier period was the assumption that the United States was so powerful that it could go it alone on many issues and that other states could be cowed into submission by demonstrations of U.S. power and resolve. As a senior advisor to Bush (reportedly Karl Rove) told the journalist Ron Suskind: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." Compromises and coalition-building were for wimps and appeasers; as Cheney himself reportedly said in 2003: "We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it."

The Bush-Cheney approach produced a string of failures, but the same unilateral arrogance lives on in the Trump administration....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“America Isn't as Powerful as It Thinks It Is.” Foreign Policy, April 26, 2019.

The Author

Stephen Walt