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Kirkus Reviews (11/29/2019):
A remarkably comprehensive account of the history of American foreign policy, coupled with unflinching predictions of its future.
Kurth (Political Science Emeritus /Swarthmore Coll.; Family and Civilization, 2008, etc.) notes that the general consensus in the international community is that “we are now nearing a major inflection point in world history”—one marked by the nearly certain end of the “American Empire” and the diminishment of its global influence. The height of the United States’ power, he says, will be from 1945 to 2020—the “American Century”—within which the nation managed to rebuild Europe after its victory in World War II and successfully defeat the Soviet Union in the Cold War. With dizzying scholarly breadth, the author traces the development of America’s foreign policy from its inception, marking the birth of its imperial stature in the late 19th century—specifically, the Spanish-American War and aggressive expansion into Latin America and the Caribbean. Kurth explores the nation’s cultural and ideological traditions in his search for the nation’s identity—one that abides, despite oscillations in ideology between liberalism, conservatism, and socialism—and argues that Protestantism, as practiced by Americans, shows moral deterioration, due to “successive departures” from its original version. One could reasonably criticize the book for attempting to traverse too broad an intellectual landscape. Still, this is a compellingly astute study, and a brilliant indictment of the “extraordinary ambition, pride, greed, and fantasies” that left American influence “in ruins.” Over the course of this book, Kurth’s analysis is astonishingly exhaustive; he impressively covers the failings of the Iraq War, as well as the dangers of plutocracy, and he presents a conclusion that’s neither fatalistically grim nor cheerily hopeful: The United States will surely lose its worldwide dominance, he asserts, but not necessarily its prominence, and it will continue to persuasively offer the “most attractive…of the ways of life.” In order to do this, he says, it needs to maintain its technological superiority and recapture its economic strength.
A stunningly original work that provocatively explores the heights and depths of America’s global stature.
BookLife Review (11/23/19):
In this impressive and accessible work of scholarship, Kurth, professor emeritus of political science at Swarthmore, collects enlightening essays arguing that historic empire-building decisions—both successful and disastrous—shaped American foreign policy from the Revolutionary War to the present day. A theoretical overview of imperialist structures prepares the reader for analysis demonstrating how Protestant religious belief created an “American creed.” Kurth then explicates past military strategies and geopolitical events, examines how current strategies may enhance or impede the U.S.’s ability to accomplish its foreign policy goals, and thoughtfully extrapolates into the future. He makes connections that even dedicated readers of history will find both illuminating and applicable to current events.
The meticulously organized text and periodic references to previous talking points help the reader follow Kurth’s lines of reasoning. Readers new to the academic study of world events can easily parse Kurth’s ideas with the help of his strongly articulated theoretical framework. Kurth writes that the year 2001 ushered in “a long and trying period of descent and disintegration” from the peak of the triumph of the U.S. and its allies over Soviet Russia, and now sees that alliance system fracturing, heading toward “impending breakdown” both within the individual countries and in their alliances. The questions he then explores are what will replace this geopolitical system, and how the declining powers of the “Free World” will influence their successors. His essays provide an exceptional grounding in the whys and wherefores of American actions in relation to major powers such as Russia and China.
General readers will find some aspects difficult. Because the chapters were originally separate articles, primary concepts such as “the American way of war” are revisited in detail, which is an advantage for someone dipping into the book on different occasions but could prove irksome for some reading it straight through. The absence of maps is a challenge to readers interested in historical changes in boundary lines and areas of hegemonic influence. While not strictly necessary, such maps would be a bonus, particularly for a wider audience. Considered in terms of its arguments, however, this book has few flaws, and it would be a splendid gift for anyone seeking an in-depth look at the causes of current world tensions.
Takeaway: This deep dive into American imperial urges and their consequences will enlighten anyone interested in historical or present-day geopolitics.
Great for fans of Andrew Bacevich, Alfred McCoy.
"When it comes to deciphering the mysteries of American statecraft, no one can hold a candle to James Kurth. The American Way of Empire is, therefore, cause for gratitude and great rejoicing."
—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The Age of Illusions
James Kurth is Claude C. Smith Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Swarthmore College. A Stanford graduate who received his doctorate under Harvard’s Samuel P. Huntington, he has published over 120 articles and edited Orbis: A Journal of International Relations, as well as two books. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. A decorated Navy veteran, he taught strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, was advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group, and has been awarded the Department of the Navy Medal for Meritorious Civilian Service. A world-traveler who has visited more than 50 countries, he serves as an elder at Proclamation Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
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