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Rogue Nation
American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions
By Clyde Prestowitz
Basic Books
HC, 430 pg. US$26/C$40
ISBN: 0-4650-6279-2

Blaming America from the right

By Steven Martinovich
web posted September 1, 2003

Rogue Nation: American Unilaterialism and the Failure of Good IntentionsThere is a type of American who while abroad and sitting at his dinner host's table nods his head knowingly when he hears his countrymen described as provincial, arrogant and too unsophisticated to understand the realities of the world. Judging by Rogue Nation: American Unilaterialism and the Failure of Good Intentions former Reagan administration official Clyde Prestowitz is one of those Americans. His embarrassment of his nation's political and economic policies is palpable throughout his book.

Rogue Nation reads as if it had been penned by an anti-American European intellectual -- with all that implies -- and not a man described as a conservative Republican. It is the latest entry in an already crowded field that sees the author's pet peeves become axes to grind in an attempt to prove America is a dangerous imperial power. With a list that includes the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court and environmentalism, among others, it's a book drags any issue it can – whether related or not – into the fray to prove its point.

It is Prestowitz's contention that the United States is a rogue nation -- that is one that engages in unilateral actions with good intentions but is deaf to the concerns of the rest of the world when it goes adventuring. America is an elephant that means no harm to its smaller friends but often ends up trampling them when it begins to move with purpose. It pronounces rather than explains and despite its usually honorable intentions it can occasionally engage in atrocious behavior.

Although American foreign policy has always suffered from some inconsistency Prestowitz lays much of the blame on the current Bush administration and its actions before and after September 11, 2001. Prestowitz accuses Bush of overturning two centuries of strategic policy and moved America from the status of reluctant superpower to imperial entity with its new doctrine of preemptive strikes when necessary. It wasn't until the Second World War, he argues, that the United States took an active role in the world, necessitated by the Soviet Union. For six decades it joined and helped create international organizations and promoted a multilateral approach to problems.

Prestowitz is right but only to a certain extent. For much of America's history it was a nation wary of alliances and foreign wars but it is credibly argued by many historians that this stance was a necessary one because it simply wasn't able to project its power across the world. As America's power began to grow over the last century, history documents increasing adventurism both in the Western hemisphere and overseas. America's post-war multilateralism was only possible because it and the free European nations shared the same goal, defence against the communist world. Once that threat receded no one should have been surprised that the different philosophies and histories that motivate the United States and the European nations should see them increasingly take different roads.

Unfortunately his analysis of America's strategic policy is the strongest part of the book. From there Rogue Nation begins to read as if it were a screed by a member of International A.N.S.W.E.R. Why is America unpopular around the world? According to Prestowitz it's because of issues like the Kyoto Protocol, globalization, national missile defence, and America's support for Israel and Taiwan. Thanks to cherry picking of evidence to support his arguments, apart from the Kyoto Protocol he barely makes an effort to see both sides of an issue, Prestowitz is unable to find a foreign criticism of the United States that he can't validate.

To be fair to Prestowitz he does make several valid criticisms of Bush administration trade policy. Bush the candidate campaigned on the expansion of free trade but Bush the president has failed to live up to those promises. Subsidies to farmers have only grown more generous, tariffs are levied to redress American weakness in certain industries and no new major trade deals have been announced since the Clinton administration. Bush's abandonment of the free trade ethos is surely one of his greatest failures and Prestowitz is entirely correct in accusing the United States of hypocrisy.

It's been a banner couple of years -- not surprisingly coinciding with the election of George W. Bush -- for books criticizing the United States. Most have been juvenile exercises that failed to address the arguments that support policies they disagree with and they tend to simply repeat the same old mantras that we saw on protest signs earlier this year. One doesn't expect a higher standard from conservative Republicans but if Rogue Nation has proved one thing it's that they are no less susceptible to facile, one-dimensional arguments than their counterparts on the political left.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.

Buy Rogue Nation: American Unilaterialism and the Failure of Good Intentions at Amazon.com for only $18.20 (30% off)

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • Different perspectives on power by Steve Martinovich (March 24, 2003)
    Steve Martinovich thinks Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power is a remarkable look at the philosophical differences between the United States and Europe and what it means for the future
  • Hating America by Steve Martinovich (November 11, 2002)
    Steve Martinovich finds The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World to be a not very thinly veiled attack on America and its values
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