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The Hell of Good Intentions: America's Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  137 ratings  ·  24 reviews
From the New York Times-bestselling author Stephen M. Walt, The Hell of Good Intentions dissects the faults and foibles of recent American foreign policy--explaining why it has been plagued by disasters like the "forever wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan and outlining what can be done to fix it.

In 1992, the United States stood at the pinnacle of world power and Americans were
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 16th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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4.09  · 
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 ·  137 ratings  ·  24 reviews

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Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A thoroughly iconoclastic book about America's disastrous post-Cold War foreign policy establishment. Walt is a "realist" when it comes to international relations and is opposed to the strategy of liberal hegemony that the United States has been pursuing over the past several decades. The demand that other states be liberal and emulate American values, for their own good, has created many disasters and fed an intolerantly Manichean view of the world. Walt is what you could call a principled real ...more
James Murphy
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
The message of Stephen Walt's book is that ever since the end of the Cold War the United States has pursued a foreign policy which promotes liberal democracy globally. What we've been doing for 30 years is seeking to use American power to spread the traditional liberal principles of our democracy, meaning our way of government, our pursuit of individual freedoms, and a market-based economy. It's thought that what's good for the U. S. is good for the rest of the world and that the U. S. is the "i ...more
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: listened-2019
This book is essential reading for anybody interested in US foreign policy and is written well enough to engage both the casual reader and well-informed graduate students. Walt's criticism of the foreign-policy making community in Washington DC as insular and resistant to challenges to conventional wisdom is supported with strong evidence and a compelling narrative. Walt's take on foreign policy is a refreshing divergence from recent books written by Eliot Cohen and Kurt Campbell, to cite two fo ...more
Brian Denton
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The thesis of this book is that the post-Cold War foreign policy of the United States of America has been a disaster and its enduring appeal and continuing application is due to an entrenched and protected self-interested foreign policy elite that dominates domestic discourse. Walt identifies their failed foreign policy as liberal hegemony which he defines as an overly ambitious foreign policy seeking to influence nations to adopt a suite of liberal reforms - democracy, market economics, propert ...more
Nick Lloyd
I generally like Walt's approach to foreign policy, so perhaps I'm being a bit generous here with the rating of four stars. The book is an interesting explanation of a chronically underexplored world view: Realism as US Foreign Policy/Grand Strategy. Walt goes through great (sometimes excruciating) detail documenting the various reasons why Realism is not the accepted consensus of "the Blob", and why he thinks it would produce much greater results for the country than the dominant Liberal Hegemo ...more
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Deep State Radio podcast member Rosa Brooks wrote in her blurb for Professor Walt's book that it will "wake you up, shake you up, and leave you smarter...Members of the US foreign policy establishment won't like this book. They should read it anyway." Ms. Brooks was spot-on with her assessment. The foreign policy establishment won't like it because Professor Walt takes it to task and essentially rips it to pieces over the space of 254 pages. I even found myself angry at Professor Walt's complain ...more
John Blevins
Dec 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I did a lot of skimming in this thoughtful book. So, I'm a bit uneasy about stating my position, but here it is. Walt suggests a move away from our long-time US practice of "liberal hegemony" toward a practice of "offshore balancing". First, don't assume you know what is being referred to until you read Walt's definitions.

It seems to me that Walt is suggesting that we (the USA) move to a global engagement model based on the practice of preventing other countries from becoming hegemons through a
Nov 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have read writings of this author for many years. This book is great. He is clear, he has foundations for each assertion, argument and conclusion. This is a masterful work on US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, including numerous errors of policy.
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
Probably now the definitive text for both making the case against liberal hegemony in foreign policy as well as making the case for a more defensive realist offshore balancing.

My full review can be found here:
William Gallo
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Walt argues that since the Cold War ended the US has tried to do too much in too many places, that it has consistently failed, and that it hasn’t acknowledged when it was wrong.

Basically, Walt is opposed to US global hegemony. And he rejects the notion that the only thing keeping the world from sliding into chaos is a global US military presence. Instead of trying to preserve US global dominance, he argues Washington should adopt a strategy of “offshore balancing,” which would greatly limit its
I agree with this book, mostly. He's a respected member of the political science elite and a foreign policy writer that was assigned back when I took college classes on the subject. This is a book form of a lecture he gave to members of the institutions he's criticizing, and it's narrated by the author, both of which are positives for me.

It's a strong argument that we as a nation discuss foreign policy weakly when we do it all. We don't follow deeper narratives and lack information on the true
John Mosman
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Walt postulates the current "foreign policy community" is on the wrong track and supports policies that continue those who work in the community, spending for favorite programs and always an "America First" posture. He points to the number of troops and weapons the US keeps in play all around the world. He believes we are losing lives and treasure fighting wars we are not winning. This points to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Walt believes US foreign policy should follow Overshore Balancing:
Shane Hawk
Excellent treatise on American foreign policy post-1993. Walt is not afraid to name names here. Very refreshing take as a whole. Recommended to all who wonder why our elite foreign policy apparatus continues to thrive despite three decades of blatant mistakes and ham-fisted approaches. It “fails upward.”
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
First, this is an excellent book. But I don’t intend to write a detailed review, but more like some random thoughts.

I read some of his writings before, such as The Israel lobby and US foreign policy, and felt the author is coolheaded, and has a clear and realistic view on US foreign policy.

The Iraq War was something I was totally against before it was even started, I seriously thought that I would not end well. Little did I suspect that the premises were all fake and the end was even worse tha
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Harvard international affairs scholar Stephen M. Walt is critical of the U.S. "foreign policy elite" in his book "The Hell of Good Intentions". I had trouble maintaining focus and interest, and didn't find the book to be an easy read, nor particularly helpful. I went through the book too quickly and failed to put the effort needed to retain the full message. This is more a reflection on my skill and efforts as a reader than on Walt's skill and efforts as a writer.
I gather the message he tried
Anthony Locke
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
My first (audio)book on foreign policy. Walt looks at the foreign policy establishment and its, perhaps surprisingly, bi-partisan worldview of "liberal hegemony." He condemns the foreign policy establishment by examining their failures in a number of places across the last fifty years. He advocates for a policy position called "offshore balancing," which seeks to get strategically involved in key parts of the world, often without obvious military intervention. He prefers this than liberal hegemo ...more
John Conquest
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'd read anything with Stephen Walt or John Mearsheimer attached and they have coincidentally each released a book in late 2018 dealing with the same concept of 'liberal hegemony' as a failed model of US foreign policy.

While giving the names of the people and organizations responsible, you really get a vision of the foreign policy elite in the United States as similar to the worst kind of HR department; existing solely to sustain and enlarge itself with zero culpability regarding the resulting
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It probably could have been 50 or so pages shorter, but Walt's arguments are well thought out and very in-depth. His assessment of the flaws with American foreign policy are pretty much spot-on in my opinion, although I think he could have been more balanced by highlighting a few more of its successes and focusing as much on health & scientific cooperative ventures as he did on military operations. His proposed solutions sound as good as any I've heard.
Chris S.
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An interesting discussion of American foreign policy. It did a good job explaining how both major political parties are often like two sides of the same coin when it comes to foreign policy, especially military intervention. It suggests possible alternatives to the course the U.S. is currently steering.
Benyamin Poghosyan
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books of 2018 on U.S. Foreign policy
Abraham Hernandez
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing read. Recommended to those that want to understand the political reality based on facts and common sense.
Ryan Rommann
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The best foreign policy book in a long time!
John DeRosa
Jan 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Compelling argument for restraint. Yet it seems several years behind the critique of the liberal hegemonic project circulating the conflict resolution and critical theory fields.
Thomas Essel
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Jan 18, 2019
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Christina Z
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Chad Miller
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Apr 21, 2019
Brian Eoff
rated it it was amazing
Nov 07, 2018
Zachary Bellis
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Dec 28, 2018
Hunter Marston
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Mar 07, 2019
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“One might think that the explosion of new media outlets produced by the digital revolution would multiply checks on government power and that increased competition among different news outlets might encourage them to adopt higher standards. The reverse seems to be true, alas: instead of an ever-more vigiliant “fourth estate,” the growing role of cable news channels, the Internet, online publishing, the blogosphere, and social media seems to be making the media environment less accountable than ever before. Citizens can choose which version of a nearly infinite number of “realities” to read, listen to, or watch. Anonymous individuals and foreign intelligence agencies disseminate “fake news” that is all too often taken seriously, and such “news” sites as Breitbart, the Drudge Report, and InfoWars compete for viewers not by working harder to ferret out the truth, but by trafficking in rumors, unsupported accusations, and conspiracy theories. Leading politicians—most notoriously, Donald Trump himself—have given these outlets greater credibility by repeating their claims while simultaneously disparaging established media organizations as biased and unreliable.77 The net effect is to discredit any source of information that challenges one’s own version of events. If enough people genuinely believe “The New York Times is fake news,” as former congressman Newt Gingrich said in 2016, then all sources of information become equally valid and a key pillar of democracy is effectively neutered.” 0 likes
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