Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 2: Why the Imperial Overstretch?

Chapter 2: Why the Imperial Overstretch?

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





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Chapter 2: Why the Imperial Overstretch?

17: Arbatov to Strobe Talbott cited in Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, That Used to Be Us (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011), p. 13; “Putin Deplores Collapse of USSR,” BBC News (Apr. 25, 2005):; The Education of Henry Adams (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918), p 418.

17-18: Richard K. Betts, “From Cold War to Hot Peace: The Habit of American Force,” Political Science Quarterly 127, no. 3 (2012): 353-68.

18-19: To a realist for whom power relationships are paramount the fact was the U.S. did not have much choice about whether to seek hegemony, but rather what form of hegemony to seek. See Barry Posen, “Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of U.S. Hegemony,” International Security 28, no. 1 (Summer 2003), p. 9. On the essential continuity among post-Cold War administrations see P. Edward Haley, Strategies of Dominance: The Misdirection of U.S. Foreign Policy (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center, 2006).  Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier, America Between the Wars, From 11/9 to 9/11: The Misunderstood Years Between the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Start of the War on Terror (New York: BBS Public Affairs, 2008); P. Edward Haley, Strategies of Dominance: The Misdirection of U.S. Foreign Policy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2006).  The halcyon notions were most commonly associated with Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History,” The National Interest (Summer 1989) and The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992), but see also Michael Mandelbaum, The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Public Affairs, 2002).

19: Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996); Zbigniew Brzezinski, Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower (New York: Basic Books, 2007), and The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership (New York: Basic Books, 2004); Michael J. Mazarr, “The Risks of Ignoring Strategic Insolvency,” The Washington Quarterly 35, no. 4 (Fall 2012): 7-22.

19-20: George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York: Vintage, 1998), pp. 355, 564; Jack F. Matlock, Jr., Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray — and How to Return to Reality (New Haven: Yale University, 2010).

21-22: Anthony Lake at Johns Hopkins University (Sep. 21, 1993), in Alvin Z. Rubinstein, et al, eds., The Clinton Foreign Policy Reader (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2000), 20-27; John Hillen, “Superpowers Don’t Do Windows,” Orbis 1997; Michael Mandelbaum, “Foreign Policy as Social Work,” Foreign Affairs 75, no. 1 (Jan / Feb 1996); William Kristol and Robert Kagan, “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs 75, no. 4 (July/August 1996) deceptively called military adventurism a Reaganite policy, while Donald and Frederick W. Kagan, While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), likened the 1990s to the 1930s while never mentioning the terrorist threat. On R2P see James Kurth, “Humanitarian Intervention After Iraq: Legal Ideals vs. Military Realities,” Orbis 50, no. 1 (Winter 2006): 87-101. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty adopted the R2P suggestion by Gareth Evans, Mohamed Sahnoun and Michael Ignatieff and made it the title of their December 2001 final report.

22: David Rieff, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002); Karin von Hippel. Democracy by Force: U.S. Military Intervention in the Post-Cold War World (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University, 2000), Lake quote March 6, 1996, p 206. See also David Halberstam, War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals (New York: Scribner, 2001); Lee Feinstein and Anne-Marie Slaughter, “A Duty to Prevent,” Foreign Affairs 83, no. 1 (2004): 136-50.

22-23: William G. Hyland, Clinton’s World: Remaking American Foreign Policy (Westport, Ct.: Praeger, 1999); Hal Brands, From Berlin to Baghdad: America’s Search for Purpose in the Post–Cold War World (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2008); Chollet and Goldgeier, America between the Wars; Haley, Strategies of Dominance.

23: Richard Sale, Clinton’s Secret Wars: The Evolution of a Commander in Chief (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009) defends President Clinton against charges of vacillation and weakness, but in ways that only underscore the continuity between his administration and George W. Bush’s. Sale cites especially Clinton’s many covert actions and secret programs. Faced with a contrary public opinion he imitated FDR and “made war on the sly,” ignoring Congress and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He endorsed regime-change in Serbia and Iraq, and targeted Osama bin-Laden.  He jettisoned the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine.  He was thought to have no strategy, but that was mistaken: globalization and free trade were his strategy.

23-24: See the early sympathetic treatment by Ivo H. Daaldier and James M. Lindsay, America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2003). Quotes from Oz Hassan, Constructing America’s Freedom Agenda for the Middle East: Democracy and Domination (New York: Routledge, 2013).

24, ¶ 1: The freedoms and rights compromised during the Global War on Terror included “freedom of speech, due process of law, freedom of the press, the right to privacy, and protection from unreasonable search and seizure. Expanding this list beyond the nation’s borders raises questions about U.S. acceptance of sovereignty, the ideal of self-determination, adherence to international law, indefinite detention and habeas corpus, and the resort to torture in the name of security”: Walker, National Security and Core Values, p. 269.

p. 24, ¶ 2: G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Garden City, NY: Image, 1959 <1908>), p. 30.


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