Impotent Power

Issue: Sept-Oct 2006

During the last several years it seems as if every major book or article on American grand strategy contains the observation that the United States is more powerful than any international actor since the Roman Empire was at its zenith. At the same time, however, the U.S. failures to suppress the insurgency in Iraq and to stabilize Afghanistan have caused many foreign policy analysts to ask, "Why is it that the United States with all its hegemonic power cannot seem to get its way and attain its objectives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and in its disputes with powers like Iran and North Korea?"

There is a paradox between the magnitude of American power and Washington's inability to use that power to always get what it wants in international politics. There are many factors that limit the exercise of U.S. power. Some of these are obvious, others less so.

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