Superpower | Ian Bremmer

Summary of: Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World
By: Ian Bremmer


Embark on a thought-provoking journey as we explore Ian Bremmer’s ‘Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World’, a compelling examination of America’s past, present, and potential future as a global leader. In this insightful work, Bremmer scrutinizes the nation’s historical trajectory as a superpower, grappling with both isolation and intervention. Learn how the United States emerged as the unchallenged leader of the democratic world, despite its numerous fault lines and controversial decisions. Delve into the three possible paths the country faces today as it navigates through an increasingly complex and interconnected world, contending with diverse challenges like political unrest, public health, and terrorism.

The United States’ Ambiguous Path

The US has struggled to maintain its position as a superpower and has faced obstacles that have damaged its credibility. The country has oscillated between isolation and intervention depending on the conflicts’ size. For example, in World War I and II, the US waited to act and preserved human and financial resources. Sacrificing resources to create peace and prosperity helped the United States emerge as a leader in the democratic world. However, the US has made some ill-fated military decisions in Korea and Vietnam that ruined its unblemished record. This created a less aggressive superpower and confused citizens about how to respond to geopolitical turmoil.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US ousted Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait. This act, which boosted then-president George H.W. Bush’s approval rating, suggested that the US had kicked the “Vietnam syndrome.” By yanking US troops out of Somalia after the Black Hawk Down episode occurred, America’s enemies noticed that Americans would turn their back at the slightest defeat. In the end, it led to terrorist attacks against the US’s embassies, navy ship, and the World Trade Center.

Barack Obama, who followed George W. Bush, inherited a country that was exhausted from wars and hobbled by fruitless Middle East battles. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wound down, voters no longer supported the country’s involvement in wars of choice. Today, the US faces three options: Should it retreat into isolationism and forget about international affairs? Should it continue as the global enforcer, regardless of the cost? Or should it pursue the middle ground and evaluate carefully whether to engage in a conflict? The answer to this question remains unclear, but the US moved away from “incoherent America,” which confused citizens about how to navigate global events, in 2015.

The True Cost of America’s Military Power

Despite having no credible threats from superpowers, America’s military spending remains inflated and has led to a “military-industrial complex.” The US polices conflicts worldwide instead of focusing on building its infrastructure and public services. Other countries expect America to go into harm’s way, which has led to an overreach of American power. The costs of war have been desensitized to US voters, and the nation pays for the war machine abroad while shortchanging its children at home. The US must reconsider its role as the world’s security force and focus on rebuilding its own country.

The Moneyball Approach to Foreign Affairs

In “Moneyball,” Michael Lewis explains how the Oakland A’s revolutionized baseball by using data analysis to identify and recruit undervalued players. This same approach can be applied to foreign affairs, where the U.S. should use a rigorous calculus to determine its actions. The U.S. should ask important questions such as whether a war serves its interests, if there is a clear goal, whether policy makers have analyzed costs and risks accurately, and whether there is a peaceful alternative. The U.S. should reject American exceptionalism and nation building and instead focus on recruiting allies, imposing sanctions, negotiating with unsavory dictators, and using methods that risk as few American lives as possible. The use of drones is an example of the Moneyball approach in action.

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