Imperialism: the Highest Stage of American Capitalism?

Andrew Bacevich's American Empire is really two books in one: one quite good, the other quite inexplicable.

Issue: Spring 2003

When the dust from the Soviet Union's collapse was still settling, the future of the international system seemed up for grabs. Now that bipolarity has given way to unipolarity, parsing the behavior of the hegemon is clearly the order of the day--and this is the task Andrew Bacevich sets for himself in American Empire. His study is really two books in one. The first, a description of post-Cold War American foreign policy that stresses continuity over change, is impressive and persuasive. The second, an attempt to explain this record with reference to an expansionary logic supposedly inherent in America's domestic political economy, is not.

Bacevich begins by noting how conventional wisdom views the end of the Cold War as a dramatic turning point in the history of American foreign policy. It rendered the country's old grand strategy of containment obsolete, this story runs, forcing policymakers to come up with a replacement appropriate to a new and turbulent era--something they failed to do during the 1990s. Hogwash, he says; in recent years "the United States has in fact adhered to a well-defined grand strategy", which is "to preserve and . . . expand an American imperium." Far from being an improvisation, moreover, this strategy "derives directly from U.S. principles and practices elaborated and implemented during and even before the Cold War."

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