In a recent talk Ian Bremmer explained why he wrote this book now, an endeavor he had not contemplated in prior years stating “I think it is extremely important for all Americans to discuss our country’s role in the world, its choices, and make it a large part of the upcoming election.” Bremmer feels that the United States is at a crossroads in its foreign policy, wandering between multiple ideologies which has weakened its position and left our allies and foes wondering what, if any commitments the USA is prepared to support. As a guide Bremmer offers our future President three choices: Indispensable America, Money America and Independent America. Each is expanded upon and discussed in the main body of the book after a brief synopsis of the current and recent history of the world’s foreign relations and America’s involvement.
Bremmer begins by giving a general outline of questions for the reader to consider as one weighs the three options and includes the topics: Freedom is? America is? China is? America’s biggest problem in the Middle East is? What are the USA’s spy capabilities? What are the risks? What is the primary responsibility of the president? What should America look like in 2050? He uses this outline to help readers shape their own views and then benchmark those views against his three options described below:
- Indispensable America: “Argues that only America can define the values on which global stability increasingly depends. In today’s interdependent, hyperconnected world, a turn inward would undermine America’s own security and prosperity. We will never live in a stable world while others are denied their most basic freedoms – from China to Russia to the Middle East and beyond.” Since America is the only country that is capable of utilizing its vast resources to underwrite global security and support a general prosperity, it is our duty to help all democratic minded people who support human rights through military campaigns globally. It is through our defense of our values that we can accomplish a peaceful world, and any retreat would subject millions (if not billions) of individuals to pain and suffering under the hands of maniacal dictators and cultures bent on domination and control. It is America’s duty to free the world, and we as a nation must not only project strength but use our strength as needed. This option calls for an expansion of military and economic aid throughout the world. Pulling back fails to recognize the interconnectedness of the world, and America’s need for a stable world for economic growth.
- Moneyball America: This option “acknowledges that Washington cannot meet every international challenge. With clear-eyed assessment of USA strengths and limitations, we must look beyond empty arguments over exceptionalism and American values. The priorities must be to focus on opportunities and to defend U.S. interests where they are threatened.” This option states that the U.S cannot be everywhere and do everything globally. The next president will have to weigh each challenge, doing a cost benefit analysis on America’s role and decide which areas are worth America’s involvement and which are situations where the U.S. is simply overspending for the return received by both America and the world. In order to do this correctly, a well thought out and consistent message and action plan must be accomplished. If the U.S. is not clear when it will get involved and when it will not, the world will be left in confusion as to our intentions and commitments.
- Independent America: This option “asserts that it is time for America to declare independence from the responsibility to solve other people’s problems. Instead, Americans should lead by example – in part by investing in the country’s vast untapped potential.” This argument is based on the belief that America’s history of foreign involvement recently has not benefited the world, and has left our own country in decay. This option allows for a massive decrease in military and foreign aid that should be invested in America through: rebuilding our public infrastructure, investing in American education, increasing our care to our brave veterans, decreasing taxes, and getting our own financial position under control. Bremmer recognizes this cannot be done immediately, but should be done gradually so as our allies can prepare their own defenses to face future challenges. The next president should send a clear message that we are going independent and that the world will need to take a much bigger role in helping the oppressed and realize the U.S. is not going to be the policeman of the world into the future.
Bremmer leads the reader through the three choices, and offers a fourth which is “Question Mark America” which he totally dismisses. This is the America which we are, going back and forth between the three options mattering on political polls and global sentiment. He openly criticizes our current and near history policies, and calls for a clear solution and hopes that all Americans will force the presidential candidates to be coherent and specific on their foreign policy in the upcoming election.
The author does choose an option and defends his position – we will not disclose the final chapters so as not to spoil the ending. However the strength of the book is not Bremmer’s own conclusion but that it is well constructed for all readers to really contemplate the current policy, the options and reach one’s own conclusion. Many members began with one view but were slowly swayed one way or the other as they read this thoughtful treatise, remarking that the book contained many compelling and thought provoking ideas.
As a group we felt the book was an accurate snapshot of world events, and provided an excellent event synthesis on recent historical events. Although a few indicated they began as a supporter of Indispensable America, after reading the arguments however, the group mainly felt the rest of the world needed to provide further global support and the U.S. was carrying too much of the burden. In general it was felt that the world needed to step up their involvement in global policies and they needed to be more independent in their own defense structures. We discussed in detail what we felt were the three major “hotspots” of the world namely the Middle East, Korean Peninsular and Eastern Europe. Although we concluded it was impossible to serve as policeman to the entire world, the group in general thought it would be too dangerous to completely remove our commitments to these three areas. Thus, the group in general thought Moneyball was the ultimate solution, although many agreed that the U.S. was not very good at deciding on the fly which was the best time and place for engagement. In order for Moneyball to work a deep discussion is needed by our political structure to set up clear and decisive guidelines so our allies are fully aware of our intentions. We also recognized the limitations to this strategy given the changing and dysfunctional environment in Washington at the present time.
There was also support for Independent America, given a long lead time for our Allies to “step up” their capabilities, but most thought the world would become too dangerous if we pulled back entirely and the ultimate result would provide a greater instability to world economic and political order. We also discussed the fact that there may be alternatives to these three options including the idea presented to pull back but give implicit assumption guarantees to several of our allies in the crossfire such as South Korea, Baltic States and Israel. Many also felt that pulling back was a hard decision when so many are suffering; can America sit by while many die to ruthless, uncivilized factions? Simply withdrawing may be too repugnant for many, but who is willing to send their sons and daughters to sacrifice for these countries? The question is difficult and the answer more so, but these are the thoughts of the reader who chooses to engage in Ian Bremmer’s world.
Lastly, it was noted that one entity was glaringly omitted from the book (although one brief mention did occur but was minor) – the United Nations.
September 15, 2015: The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State by Mark Juergensmeyer
October 20, 2015: The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
November 17, 2015: No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends by Richard Dobbs, James Manyika, Jonathan Woetzel
December 15, 2015: TBD
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