Tom Sulcer's Reviews > How America Got It Right: The U.S. March to Military and Political Supremacy

How America Got It Right by Bevin Alexander
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Dec 27, 08

Read in August, 2008

What's highly instructive, on reading this sharp and impartial critique of foreign policy, is not that America's foreign policy decisions are consistently excellent, but rather that it's a mixed bag. Perhaps I'm being cynical, but the title "How America Got It Right" suggests America is a savvy world player. So I was surprised to read healthy doses of frank criticism of past presidential decisions. So the book tries to appeal to flag-waving patriots, but offers a tough history lesson. The real title should be: "How America Is Sometimes Right And Sometimes Wrong" but this might have discouraged sales?

Bevin Alexander is an authoritative military historian. His book covers a lot of ground. He's frank, non-partisan. He grades past presidents on specific decisions. From recent history...

Successes: Nixon reining in Israel after the six-day war by threatening to cut off supplies; Reagan's military build-up; Reagan's diplomacy with the Soviets; Reagan's policy leading to dismantling of the Soviet Union; Bush I's organizing multilateral effort to oust Saddam from Kuwait; Bush I's first Gulf War; Bush I's decision was to oust Saddam from Kuwait was "completely justified" according to Alexander.

Failures: Carter's granting permission to Shah of Iran to enter US for medical treatment which triggered the takeover of the US embassy in Teheran; Carter's failed Iran hostage rescue; Reagan's allowing 241 marines to be killed in Lebanon by suicide truck bomber; Reagan's allowing Arafat to escape to Tunisia despite Israeli northwards military push into Lebanon; Bush I's inaction when Balkans began disintegrating; Bush I's not pursuing Saddam after liberating Kuwait and ending first Gulf War prematurely; Clinton's "Blackhawk Down" fiasco in Somalia caused by failing to send in heavily armored troops and angering warlord Aydid; Clinton's failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda; Bush II's second Gulf war was a mistake.

Alexander shows why nations want nuclear weapons. There's a huge cost savings -- having a nuclear bomb provides freedom from attack because no non-nuclear state will attack one with atomic weaponry. So nations can reduce their conventional forces significantly and save money. He also shows how public perceptions can have a powerful effect on leaders. For example, the shelling of a marketplace in Sarajevo, in which television audiences worldwide saw innocent people being killed, prompted president Clinton to finally do something "because he saw that inaction would lower his numbers in the next poll" writes Alexander.

For me, the lesson of Alexander's excellent book is that America's foreign policy is mediocre. America's foreign policy is largely a function of presidential skill. None of America's recent presidents have had a spotless record. Most have had a mediocre record. I see this as highly troubling in a world with dangerous stateless actors struggling to get weapons of mass destruction.

My personal sense is that America's rise to global power was not based on diplomatic smarts or foreign policy skill; rather, America had a strong legal system built on individual rights and a government based on popular sovereignty. The legal system encouraged investment, protected property, rewarded invention. The result is a perfect climate for business growth. Since there were few natural enemies in a resource-rich land protected by vast oceans, America grew into an industrial powerhouse. When wars came, America could overwhelm adversaries by outproducing them with more tanks, guns, uniforms, bullets.

But in the future America's relative economic advantage will deteriorate, in my view. Rising nations are copying America's blueprint for democratic capitalism and will challenge its economic hegemony. And America in the 21st century can no longer get by with mediocre foreign policy making, with occasional goofs, with incompetent presidents, with distracted short-term decision making. I argue that America needs a smarter, tougher, shrewder foreign policy architecture, and I don't think this can happen unless there is substantial political reform which requires, in my view, a Second Constitutional Convention. My book "Common Sense II: How to Prevent the Three Types of Terrorism" (Amazon & Kindle, 184 pages) offers a terrorism prevention strategy for America. It will prevent all types of terrorism, including smuggled nuclear bombs. It is brief, rational, non-religious, written by a citizen for citizens, non-technical. It's plain logic from one citizen to another. It is serious reform. I urge people who care about America to read my book.

Alexander's book is sharp, incisive, critical, well-written and instructive, with a somewhat misleading title, and makes the case, in my view, that America's foreign policy needs serious repair. I challenge Mr. Alexander to debate the merits of my strategy to prevent terrorism.

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