Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, Ian Bremmer, Portfolio, 226 pages

By Christopher Preble
November 2, 2015
The American Conservative

The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. So said Thucydides in his account of the Peloponnesian War. And though these words were written nearly 2,500 years ago, the idea that a state’s power determines its conduct remains one of the canons of modern international relations theory.

To be sure, strong countries often do restrain their impulse to conquer or coerce weaker states. They may determine that the benefits are low, even if the costs and risks are also. And they may worry that undertaking a foreign adventure in a faraway place will distract them from more proximate security threats. In short, they prioritize. They choose.

But what informs the choices of when and whether to act for a nearly omnipotent state? Was Thucydides wrong? Can a superpower choose not to use its power? And if so, what restrains it?

Ian Bremmer believes that the strongest state in the international system, the United States, can and should choose. The greatest sin, he writes in Superpower, would be a failure to do so. And, crucially, Bremmer believes that the American people should have a major say in determining the nation’s foreign policies.

He starts with a simple 10-question survey testing the reader’s thoughts on various foreign-policy questions. The results reveal three distinct and competing approaches—Independent America, Moneyball America, and Indispensable America.

Independent America eschews most foreign entanglements and calls on Americans to focus on nation building at home. The United States should lead the world by its example, chiefly by creating a more perfect union consistent with the nation’s founding principles. Independent Americans are intensely proud of their country’s great virtues, but they appreciate that “others love their countries too, and they don’t consider themselves to be ‘Americans at an earlier stage of development’.” As Bremmer explains on behalf of Independent Americans, “It is foolish and arrogant to believe that we know better than the citizens of other countries how their governments should spend, save, invest and make laws.” It is time for U.S. allies to take responsibility for their own security and play a more active role in their respective regions.

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