Machiavelli Revisited

With great power comes great responsibility. But Washington is adrift and our country in search of a strategy. Foreign-policy heavyweight Les Gelb wittily channels a master to update the classic realpolitik definition of power.

Issue: Mar-Apr 2009

Leslie H. Gelb, Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (New York: Harper, 2009), 352 pp., $27.99.


RICHARD NEUSTADT and Ernest May, in their classic work on statecraft, Thinking in Time, tell a revealing anecdote about the early months of the Carter administration. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and his team were jetting off to Moscow with a secret, dramatic proposal for deep cuts in nuclear weapons by both sides. Vance was filled with optimism about the chances of an arms-control breakthrough. Only one official expressed any pessimism-Leslie H. Gelb, Vance's assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs. Gelb bet Vance a dollar that the proposal would be rejected without so much as the politeness of a counterproposal. As it turns out, Gelb was right-the Soviets were annoyed by the absence of any advance work and rejected the proposal outright. Gelb left the administration after two years and ended up voting for Ronald Reagan in 1980.

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