Meet the Neocons' Apologist in Chief

Meet the Neocons' Apologist in Chief

Mandelbaum’s Mission Failure fails at its own mission. 

Michael Mandelbaum, Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post–Cold War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 504 pp., $29.95.

IN 1996, Michael Mandelbaum, who teaches international relations at Johns Hopkins University, published an essay entitled “Foreign Policy As Social Work” in Foreign Affairs. In it, he decried the Clinton administration’s interventions in Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti. “These failed interventions,” he wrote, “expressed the view of the worldwide role of the United States that the members of the Clinton foreign policy team brought to office.” A decade later, he published The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the Twenty-First Century. It formed an eloquent statement of “liberal hegemony theory,” the contention that the role of the post–Cold War United States as the sole hegemon has enabled both great-power peace and the benefits of economic globalization.

In Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post–Cold War Era, Mandelbaum blends these themes in a sweeping narrative history from the end of the Cold War until the present that seeks to diagnose where America has gone astray. Mandelbaum advances four major arguments. The first one essentially restates the thesis of The Case for Goliath that America’s overwhelming military superiority following the Cold War suppressed traditional great-power rivalries. The second is that the absence of great-power conflict made possible an era of economic globalization from which all sides benefited. The third argument holds that the relaxation of traditional great-power rivalries enabled the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations to seek to effect the liberalization and democratization of foreign societies out of idealism, rather than on the basis of traditional strategic calculations—in other words, as “social work.” And the fourth thesis maintains that most of these projects of democratic transformation abroad were doomed from the outset because of the inherent difficulties in implanting Western values in backward, authoritarian societies.

Mandelbaum is an accomplished scholar and a skillful writer, two qualities that don’t always go hand in hand. But just how persuasive are his principal contentions? In examining the past few decades of U.S. foreign policy, Mandelbaum seeks to upend conventional wisdom about America’s role abroad. Ultimately, however, he affirms it.


THE PROBLEMS begin with Mandelbaum’s contention that post–Cold War U.S. military supremacy so effectively suppressed great-power rivalries that the very nature of world politics changed for several decades, with every other great power, including China and Russia for a time, embracing or at least acquiescing in a benign Pax Americana. “American power defined what President George H. W. Bush called ‘the new world order,’ along with three other features of international relations after the Cold War”—economic globalization, the limitation of nuclear weapons to “countries that could be relied upon not to use them” and

“the lack of interest on the part of China and Russia, each with the capacity to act as a traditional great power, in pursuing the assertive policies that in the past had put rivalry, security, and military competition at the center of international relations.”

According to Mandelbaum, the post–Cold War order’s defining trait was “the absence of the military and political competition between and among the strongest states around which international politics had traditionally revolved.”

For reasons rooted in the cultures and domestic politics of China and Russia, security competition among the great powers has returned:

“By 2014 both [China and Russia] had abandoned their reticence and restraint in favor of the classic great-power quest to control more territory. . . . Chinese and Russian foreign policies reversed the revolution in international politics that had taken place at the end of the Cold War. They restored the old international regime of power politics, thereby presenting the United States with challenges that differed from the ones with which it had been preoccupied for two decades.”

At first glance, this may seem like a compelling description of the last generation, with a holiday from great-power politics attributable to American global hegemony that ended with Russian and Chinese aggression in 2014. But neither the United States nor China nor Russia ceased practicing traditional great-power politics between 1989 and 2014.

In 1995–96—during what Mandelbaum describes as the absence of great-power rivalry—America mustered its greatest show of naval force since the Vietnam War during the Taiwan Strait crisis with China. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the major anti-American military alliance in the post–Cold War world, first took the form of the Shanghai Five (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) as early as 1996, assuming its present name in 2001.

In 1998, violating informal promises to the Russian government, the Clinton administration and its European allies expanded the NATO alliance into Eastern Europe. Mandelbaum describes this as “the most consequential American foreign policy of the post–Cold War years.” Beginning in 2005 under SCO auspices, China and Russia have repeatedly engaged in large-scale war games which are widely interpreted as sending a signal to the United States and its allies. In 2007, China shot down one of its own satellites in a show of force directed toward Washington and other potential adversaries, creating the greatest amount of space debris in history; the United States responded in 2008 by shooting down a U.S. satellite, something it had not done since 1985 during the late Cold War. Six years before 2014, in 2008, Russia invaded Georgia to forestall possible NATO expansion. Combine this with Chinese and Russian military modernization and their low-level cyber attacks on the United States and its allies and it seems hard to describe the period of 1989–2014 as one from which “the old international regime of power politics” was temporarily absent. If this does not quite rise to the level of a second Cold War, it surely merits Boris Yeltsin’s “cold peace.”


THE COROLLARY of Mandelbaum’s claim that U.S. hegemony suppressed great-power rivalries between the Cold War and the present lies in his second argument: that the absence of great-power competition made possible a process of economic globalization that benefited all of humanity. Mandelbaum acknowledges that transnational financial flows can cause difficulties. But his discussion of international trade and manufacturing reflects the conventional wisdom of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment that more trade is always good: “Free trade—the unfettered flow of goods and services across national borders—always and everywhere enhances total welfare, a point established by the English economist David Ricardo in 1817 that has weathered many intellectual challenges since then.” On the contrary, the most successful industrial countries of the last three centuries—Britain before the 1840s, the United States and Imperial Germany in the late nineteenth century, Japan and the Little Tigers, and more recently China—have all initially industrialized by some combination of protectionism and subsidies for infant industries in strategic sectors. The leading industrial countries have adopted policies of trade liberalization only when the benefits of access to foreign markets for their domestic producers outweigh the dangers of import competition. The irrelevance of Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage to industries with increasing returns to scale was well known to policymakers and thinkers like Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Horace Walpole, Alexander Hamilton and Friedrich List, even before Paul Krugman, Elhanan Helpman and others worked out the mathematical theory of trade in conditions of imperfect competition a generation ago.

In industries with increasing returns to scale—industries in which it is cheaper to engage in mass production runs than in limited production—there is a tendency for competition to be eliminated by large, efficient oligopolies or monopolies. At the same time, massive, fixed investment costs in industries like manufacturing make it difficult for new firms to enter the market. This is why there tends to be a small number of giant firms that make aircraft, automobiles, computers, steel and glass. Among other things, this means that under global free trade, countries like Victorian Britain with an initial advantage in increasing-returns manufacturing are likely to dominate global markets. Other countries seeking to catch up to the leaders—like the United States and Germany in the nineteenth century; Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in the late twentieth century; and China, India and Brazil today—can only do so by rigging markets in various ways in favor of their domestic industries.

The kind of rule-governed, borderless economic globalization described by Mandelbaum has never existed except as an aspiration. Notwithstanding the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a weak and largely symbolic replacement for the older General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), the actual story of the post-1989 world economy is one of a major shift from economic globalism to strategic bilateralism and “minilateralism,” driven mostly by strategic calculations or economic nationalism, not by devotion to the free-trade ideal of Adam Smith and David Ricardo.

The reunification of Germany after the Cold War inspired fears of a powerful, independent “Fourth Reich,” among French elites in particular. In the 1990s, deeper integration of the EU, including the adoption of the euro as a common currency, was widely viewed as a way of restraining German power while increasing the competitiveness of Europe in what was seen erroneously as an emerging three-bloc world centered on Europe, North America and Japan.

For its part, the United States sought to bolster its relative position in a zero-sum battle for global market share by consolidating a North American bloc (NAFTA) and preventing America’s exclusion from Asian and European markets by means of U.S. participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) and failed proposals in the 1990s for a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA). The United States hoped in vain that membership in the WTO would encourage China to abandon its catch-up mercantilist strategies for market liberalism.

The relative decline of Japan and the rapid rise of China as a military and industrial power changed U.S. and European calculations without changing the zero-sum nature of geoeconomics. When their dreams of dominating China’s huge domestic market were thwarted by the Chinese government’s attempt to build up its own industrial “national champions,” many American and European corporate and political elites supported the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as a way of creating a common Euro-American bloc that could write the rules of world trade in ways favoring Western companies and industries. Meanwhile, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is best understood as the economic corollary of the new hub-and-spoke U.S. military alliance system, including old allies like Japan and new ones like Vietnam, which Washington is constructing to encircle China in East Asia.

In the period Mandelbaum describes as one of rule-governed globalization under benign American global governance, authoritarian, mercantilist China has been even more creative in its use of trade in the service of military or economic nationalist goals. China’s proposed alternative to the TPP is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed trade agreement between China and its Asian neighbors that excludes the United States in the same way that the U.S.-backed TPP excludes China. China has participated in the creation of new international financial institutions, including the New Development Bank (formerly the BRICS Development Bank) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which, unlike the World Bank, the IMF and older international agencies are not controlled by America and its allies. By means of its “one belt, one road” policy, China is promoting overland pipeline and travel infrastructure between China, Europe and the Middle East in order to achieve a goal that is simultaneously geopolitical and geoeconomic—reducing the need for China to rely on imports of energy and exports of manufactured goods by means of shipping lanes vulnerable to the U.S. Navy.

Mandelbaum and other theorists of liberal hegemony argue that, without the United States acting as a global pacifier, rule-governed international trade might collapse into the sort of protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbor trade policies to which World War II is often attributed. But the dichotomy of a rule-governed economy and global economic chaos misses the point. Both developed and developing countries want more regional and global trade—but on their terms. The purpose of today’s blocs, including the EU and NAFTA and the projected Euro-American TTIP bloc, is to write rules that favor particular domestic producers in international commerce and investment. China, India and Brazil want rules that allow them to promote their infant manufacturing industries. The United States emphasizes rewriting international intellectual-property rules to guarantee streams of royalties, patents and other forms of intellectual property to Silicon Valley firms, Hollywood studios and the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, among others. The debate is not over whether there will be rule-governed trade among nations, but what the rules will be and whom they will benefit.

If the period since the Cold War has been one not only of limited yet real great-power rivalries but also of limited yet real mercantilist struggles for global market share, then Mandelbaum’s description of the post–Cold War era as an age of liberal economic globalization under benign and widely accepted U.S. military and diplomatic hegemony cannot be maintained.


MANDELBAUM’S THIRD major thesis—his claim that the U.S. wars of regime change in the Middle East since the end of the Cold War have been motivated by idealism, not strategy—is no more persuasive than his vision of a generation of benign, mutually beneficial globalization made possible by the suppression of great-power competition under American hegemony. In his view, for two decades after the post–Cold War period “the goals of American foreign policy changed fundamentally. . . . The Cold War involved the defense of the West; post–Cold War foreign policy aspired to the political and ideological extension of the West.” Mandelbaum qualifies his bold claim almost immediately, by writing that the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations did not deliberately set out to replace a traditional U.S. foreign policy with one based on democratic transformation of foreign societies. He acknowledges other motives, or pretexts, for U.S. interventions: the protection of populations in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo; combatting terrorism in Afghanistan; and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Nevertheless, according to Mandelbaum, “all three administrations ended in the same place”—namely, “efforts to transform the political institutions, the political practices, and the political values of China, Russia, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and the wider Arab world.”

Sometimes Mandelbaum cites the influence of domestic politics, as in the case of the Clinton administration’s decision to expand NATO. But most of the time, he takes the public rationales for post–Cold War U.S. interventions like humanitarian concerns at face value. But as Lyndon Johnson’s National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy said of the Vietcong attack on U.S. advisers in Pleiku, South Vietnam in 1965: “Pleikus are like streetcars”—that is, if you miss one public pretext for a policy, another one will appear shortly.

In his 1859 lecture on “Discoveries, Inventions and Improvements,” Abraham Lincoln, who had opposed the U.S.-Mexican War (1846–48) observed,

“[Young America] is a great friend of humanity, and his desire for land is not selfish, but merely an impulse to extend the area of freedom. He is very anxious to fight for the liberation of enslaved nations and colonies, provided, always, they have land, and have not any liking for his interference. As to those who have no land, and would be glad of help from any quarter, he considers they can afford to wait a few hundred years longer (original emphasis).”

Today one would substitute oil and gas reserves or ports and potential military bases for land.

Many foreign policies have multiple rationales, and the ones offered for public consumption may not be the most significant. In a 2003 interview with Sam Tanenhaus in Vanity Fair, Paul Wolfowitz said,

“The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but . . . there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there’s a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two.”

Other possible reasons, unmentioned by Wolfowitz, were the desirability of turning Iraq into a permanent U.S. ally hosting U.S. military bases, and the prospect of having U.S. allies in charge of Iraq’s oil production.

Mandelbaum also sees the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s as idealistic ones. “The two Balkan wars, however, unlike other conflicts, were waged explicitly and exclusively for moral purposes.” Explicitly, yes, but exclusively? In 1996, the same year in which Mandelbaum published “Foreign Policy as Social Work,” I published an essay, together with Jacob Heilbrunn, in the New York Times entitled “The Third American Empire.” It suggested that the United States would continue to expand its influence into Eastern Europe and the Greater Middle East:

“President Clinton is depicting his decision to send 20,000 troops into Bosnia as a natural outgrowth of America’s European alliance. But instead of seeing Bosnia as the eastern frontier of NATO, we should view the Balkans as the western frontier of America’s rapidly expanding sphere of influence in the Middle East. . . . The regions once ruled by the Ottoman Turks show signs of becoming the heart of a third American empire. . . . Since the Persian Gulf war, the United States, to the fury of Islamic militants, has expanded its permanent military presence in Saudi Arabia and the surrounding emirates—even establishing the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in the gulf. . . . The main purpose of NATO countries, for the foreseeable future, will be to serve as staging areas for American wars in the Balkans, the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.”

This classical realist explanation of U.S. geopolitical expansion into the Eastern European and Middle Eastern power vacuums opened up by the collapse of Soviet power may explain the events of the last quarter century better than Mandelbaum’s theory of American policymakers enjoying a holiday from historical necessity. The pretexts have varied, but the strategic result has tended to consolidate U.S. military power and influence in the formerly contested Greater Middle East, by, among other things, encouraging the replacement of anti-American regimes by pro-American clients or allies by means of elections, as in Egypt, or American-led wars, as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya.

I believe that the United States would have been better served by alternate strategies—a loose Euro-American concert of power including Russia, and an offshore balancing strategy in the Middle East. But while it has been costly and unwise, America’s hegemonic strategy in the Middle East and Eastern Europe is still a traditional strategy. Trying to fill geopolitical vacuums with military bases and client states is what great powers are prone to do.

The closest parallel to Washington’s deepening military involvement in the Middle East in the last generation has been the consolidation of U.S. military hegemony in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America in the first third of the twentieth century. Having caught up with and surpassed not only the British Isles but also the British Empire in GDP, Washington flexed its geopolitical muscles by edging Britain and other European powers out of the North American quartersphere. The consolidation of the U.S. sphere of influence in North America involved numerous military interventions in Cuba (occupied from 1898 to 1902 and intermittently afterward), Panama (its U.S.-backed secession from Colombia in 1903), Mexico (1910–19), the Dominican Republic (1903, 1904, 1914–16), Honduras (1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924, 1925) and Nicaragua (1912–33). Washington gave various reasons for particular invasions and occupations—restoring order, protecting foreign investors and corporations, even promoting democracy. When the interventionist policies of the Wilson administration were attacked by Republicans in the 1920 election, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the former assistant secretary of the Navy in the Wilson administration, replied, “The facts are that I wrote Haiti’s constitution, myself, and if I do say it, I think it’s a pretty good Constitution.” Whatever the ostensible reasons for individual interventions in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America between the 1890s and the 1930s, from the perspective of U.S. grand strategy they shared the common geopolitical goal of edging out the British Empire while preventing Germany from gaining allies and bases in America’s “near abroad.”

Outside of its new post–Cold War spheres of influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and its oldest sphere of influence in the Caribbean, America has refrained from engaging in major military interventions, despite genocide in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in Sudan and tyranny in Burma. The logic of realpolitik explains post–Cold War U.S. interventions far better than Mandelbaum’s theory of “foreign policy as social work.”


MANDELBAUM’S FOURTH thesis is by far the least plausible. He makes the sweeping claim that from Haiti to Iraq the supposed American project of democratic transformation failed because of the clannishness and tribalism of the societies that American policymakers allegedly tried to transform. Mandelbaum writes,

The natural allegiance of human beings, by contrast, is neither universal nor impersonal: it is to other people either with whom they have ties of blood or to whom they are bound by a history of reciprocal assistance. The world has many such societies, including in China, Russia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.”

The idea that liberal democracies or, to use the older term, republics can exist only in societies with certain preconditions—a degree of separation of church and state, a middle-class majority, a strong adherence to the rule of law—has been familiar in Western political philosophy since ancient times. During the Adams administration, Alexander Hamilton favored independence from France for Haiti but argued, “The Government if independent must be military, partaking of the feudal system.” Recognizing that monarchy was impractical, Hamilton proposed a “single Executive to hold his place for life.” In Arab countries and Afghanistan, it is a legitimate question whether traditions like cousin marriage undermine the transition from familism to greater individualism, which has been associated with political and economic modernization in Europe, North America and Asia.

But Mandelbaum pushes a legitimate idea too far when he attributes most deviations from an idealized version of liberal democracy to clannishness and tribalism. “Unlike the American experience in Germany and Japan after World War II, the gold standard for state-building, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo were not generously endowed with the human resources needed to build them from scratch.” Furthermore, he writes, “Unlike the United States, Germany, Japan, and the other modern countries that Americans wanted them to emulate, they had not escaped the great and fundamental obstacle to modernity—the tyranny of kinship.”

In the 1980s, observers might have been skeptical if told that one-party Mexico and every authoritarian country in Latin America and the Caribbean except for communist Cuba would make transitions, some bumpier than others, to multiparty democracy in the next decade. Didn’t they have age-old traditions of caudillismo and civil turmoil? The rapid and successful transitions to democracy in post-Franco Spain and South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines following the Cold War should also make us wary of cultural determinist theories of which societies can and cannot become democratic.

In the case of Russia, Mandelbaum invokes culture to explain not only Vladimir Putin’s version of illiberal democracy but also what realists might consider to be traditional great-power strategic calculations:

The Russian political system that made possible the invasion of Ukraine in turn had two major sources: first, a centuries-old authoritarian political tradition that carried over into the post-Soviet period, a tradition that, like the political histories of the places where more active American missions of transformation had failed, did not include regular elections or the protection of liberty; and second, the gusher of oil money that enabled Putin to recruit a loyal cadre of beneficiaries while paying the public to remain politically quiescent and launching a military buildup, all without the normal underpinnings of economic success.”

Perhaps the frailest part of Mission Failure is Mandelbaum’s discussion of U.S. attempts to mediate the Arab-Israeli conflict. This section is only weakly connected to the rest of the book by the theme that U.S. efforts to broker peace among the Israelis and Palestinians were doomed by the antidemocratic culture of the latter. Mandelbaum concedes that his stress on ethnic culture might be viewed as “ethnocentric bordering on racist.” In his view, “The new Israeli government had even urged [Palestinian Arabs] to stay; Arab leaders had told them to leave, promising that they would return after the anticipated destruction of the new state.” This is too simplistic. The Israeli historian Benny Morris long ago documented the deliberate ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel, and went on to defend it in an interview entitled “Survival of the Fittest.” “A Jewish state,” he told Haaretz, “would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population.”

Mandelbaum attributes the opposition of the Arab population of Palestine to its colonization by mostly European Jews under the auspices of the British Empire after World War I and their opposition to the creation of Israel in 1948 to Muslim anti-Semitism and the “tribal structure of Arab society, with its emphasis on group solidarity against outsiders.” But what local ethnic majority in the world has ever consented to being displaced from its own territory by another ethnic group seeking to establish its own ethnic nation-state on part or all of that territory?


WHETHER BY design or not, Mission Failure tends to absolve the neoconservatives of any special blame in what Mandelbaum considers the foreign-policy disasters of the last generation. He describes neoconservatives as follows:

“A prominent and vocal minority of those associated with the Republican Party endorsed the use of American force to rescue distressed people. Often known as ‘neoconservatives,’ they approved of the promotion of American values abroad, something they believed President Ronald Reagan had undertaken with great success. For them, humanitarian intervention continued to be one of the most compelling features of the Reagan foreign policy.”

As a description of the post–Cold War school of so-called “humanitarian hawks,” which includes Samantha Power and Susan Rice, along with those who favored the idea of a “responsibility to protect” individuals threatened by their own governments, this works. As a description of the neoconservatives, it doesn’t. What distinguished most neoconservatives following the Cold War was not humanitarian intervention, but the goal of creating American global hegemony.

In a book that purports to be a history of U.S. foreign policy in the last generation, Mandelbaum neglects to mention the Project for the New American Century. Founded in 1997, PNAC agitated for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and contributed key personnel to the administration of George W. Bush, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Elliott Abrams. Nor does Mandelbaum mention the Office of Special Plans in the Bush Pentagon, which has been accused of manipulating intelligence in order to bolster the case for toppling Saddam.

Instead, Mandelbaum airbrushes the important neocon proponents of the Iraq War out of the picture by portraying Bush’s decision to go to war in terms of seamless continuity with the Clinton administration—and the Founding Fathers:

“Perhaps most importantly in explaining the administration’s fatally optimistic and casual approach to Iraq, behind the conviction that it would blossom without Saddam lay the missionary spirit that had animated the initial policies of the Clinton administration toward China and Russia, the humanitarian interventions of the 1990s, and the nation building in Afghanistan. The Bush administration believed what Americans had believed since the founding of the republic.”

By blurring the different foreign-policy strategies of the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and by depicting them as a product of American idealism and an irresistible Zeitgeist, Mandelbaum, wittingly or not, provides an exculpatory alibi for many of the leading neoconservatives who either promoted the Iraq disaster within the Bush administration or cheered it on as academics and pundits.

Whatever their private beliefs about Islam and Arab culture, American policymakers cannot publicly demean either. Nor are American presidents of either party in the future likely to follow Mandelbaum’s counsel to abandon any effort to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace.

But if Mandelbaum’s generalizations about the ethnic cultures of Arabs, Chinese, Russians and others are dropped, what remains is remarkably close to the consensus espoused by mainstream Republicans and Democrats. The idea that the world is better off under the benign hegemony of the United States as the sole global superpower is central to the thinking of U.S. foreign-policy elites of both parties. So is the claim that Chinese and Russian challenges to U.S. military hegemony in their neighborhoods represent wholly unjustified aggression. And the lingering public hostility toward U.S. interventions requiring “boots on the ground” in the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghan Wars may make something like Mandelbaum’s combination of a defense of U.S. hegemony with a rejection of ambitious nation building an appealing grand strategy for the United States in the near future.

To anyone interested in comprehending the thinking of the foreign-policy establishment in Washington, Mandelbaum inadvertently provides an instructive primer. As an account of U.S. foreign policy, world politics and economics after the Cold War, however, Mission Failure fails at its own mission.

Michael Lind is a cofounder of New America, a contributing editor at the National Interest and author of The American Way of Strategy (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Image: Donald Rumsfeld during a Pentagon press conference on Dec. 16, 2003​. Wikimedia Commons/