America’s Role in the World

Ian BremmerI just finished reading a new book by Ian Bremmer: Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World. Bremmer is a well-known political/economic commentator and president of a political risk consulting firm. He must have unlimited energy because he appears on every imaginable news program commenting insightfully on events from Russia, Ukraine, China, Germany, Brazil, India to the U.S. His depth of knowledge about global politics and the economy is very impressive. I like him because like we do at the Center for Global Awareness he takes a holistic approach and global perspective, even though he doesn’t say so in those words.

In his latest book he argued that the U.S. does not have a coherent foreign policy strategy, and we haven’t had one since the end of the Cold War. He says that we desperately need one. He outlined three foreign policy approaches as suggestions for the U.S. to consistently follow and urges the reader to pick one that resonates with him/her. He calls the three approaches: Independent America, Moneyball America, and Indispensable America.
Before explaining the three approaches he asks the reader 10 questions to assess their particular foreign policy position. To give you a sampling of the questionnaire, here are three of the ten questions: (answers at the end)

1. America is:

a. Exceptional because of what it represents.
b. Exceptional because of all it has done for the world.
c. Not exception, it is the most powerful, but that doesn’t mean it’s always right.

2. America’s biggest problem in the Middle East is that:

a. Washington supports the region’s dictators rather than its people.
b. Washington ignores small problems until they turn into big ones.
c. Washington believes it can manage an unmanageable region.

3. China is:

a. America’s greatest challenge and greatest opportunity.
b. The place where too many American jobs have gone.
c. The world’s largest dictatorship.

Here is a brief summary from the book jacket describing each of the three approaches:

  1. Independent America asserts that it’s time to wean ourselves from the responsibility to solve other people’s problems. Instead, America should lead by example—in part, by investing in the country’s vast untapped potential.
  2. Moneyball America should look beyond exceptionalism arguments and values, and focus on opportunities and to defend American interests where they’re threatened.
  3. Indispensable America says that only America can defend the values which global stability depend upon. We must bring the most basic freedoms to countries where they are denied, such as in China, Russia, and the Middle East.

BremmerBremmer is writing the book because he finds that the U.S. has had an incoherent foreign policy strategy since 1991. He reasons that all the presidents since that time have lurched from crisis to crisis and have not had a consistent way of dealing with them. The most catastrophic, in Bremmer’s (and my) opinion, is the U.S. over-reaction to 9/11, which has had far-reaching implications in terms of costs – $4-6 trillion, lives lost, and our damaged international reputation. It has cost us dearly. He warns that the U.S. does not have the resources or international clout to continue this indispensable America strategy that it did in 2001.

I took the full quiz before reading the book and found that I was not consistent in my answers. They roughly divided between all three. But after reading the book, I found that Independent America resonated more with me than the others. Although the Indispensable America stirs my heart strings, I would love to see American values of freedom, liberty, and democracy spread around the world. But my head intervenes and says it is impossible to impose these values on others, they have to be grassroots efforts, as attested to in Vietnam in the 1960s and Iraq in the 00s. Therefore, my practical nature overrode my idealism and I came down in the Independent camp. The Moneyball America makes some sense, but it shouldn’t be the overriding foreign policy strategy, otherwise all the “softpower” that the U.S. has compiled will be completely squandered.

I have a few other reasons for supporting Independent America. Even though Americans toot our values as being worth emulating, if we don’t enact them at home (and we aren’t) then our credibility around the world suffers. The money we have misspent in Iraq and Afghanistan could have helped enormously to improve American education, infrastructure, health care, and so on, but instead our problems have mounted since 2001 and our world prestige has suffered. What a colossal mistake.

Bremmer is quick to say that there are pros and cons to each strategy. Interestingly, the findings broke along generational lines: more millennials fell into the Independent camp, while baby-boomers (my generation) fell into the Indispensable camp. He was reluctant at first to reveal his first choice, but he did finally indicate that he sided with Independent America.

One of the reasons that Bremmer wrote this book is that he is hopeful that Americans and the political candidates will seriously think about and debate a consistent foreign policy strategy. He believes that the U.S. is the most stable country in the world and the only one who can take the world leadership role. But we do not have the financial or good will resources that we did in 2001 to embark on a reckless course of nation-building. But he bets on American resilience and believes that hopefully we will be able to fashion a coherent strategy that best reflects America’s values and aspirations.


  1. Do you think the United States has a coherent foreign policy strategy? If so, what is it?
  2. Do you think any of the presidential candidates have espoused a coherent foreign policy strategy? If not, why not?

Independent America 1. A, 2. C, 3. B
Indispensable America 1. B, 2. A, 4. C
Moneyball America 1. C, 2. B, 3. A

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