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At War with Ourselves

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As correspondent for Newsweek, Michael Hirsh has traveled to every continent, reporting on American foreign policy. Now he draws on his experience to offer an original explanation of America's role in the world and the problems facing the nation today and in the future.
Using colorful vignettes and up-close reporting from his coverage of the first two post-Cold War presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Hirsh argues that America has a new role never before played by any ...
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Oxford, England 2003 Hard cover First edition. First printing [stated]/ Very good in very good dust jacket. Signed by author. Presented to Phil Kaiser (believed to be noted ... diplomat). DJ has slight wear and soiling. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. xiv, [2], 288 p. Notes. Index. From WIkipedia: "Michael Hirsh is a former foreign editor and chief diplomatic correspondent for Newsweek. He is now a senior editor in the magazine's Washington bureau. He was a member of JournoList. He is a lecturer and has appeared numerous times as a commentator on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and is a frequent guest of The Young Turks, a streaming internet political talk show. In addition to Newsweek, he has also written for Foreign Affairs, Harper's, and Washington Monthly. Hirsh was co-winner of the Overseas Press Club award for best magazine reporting from abroad in 2001 for "prescience in identifying the al Qaeda threat half a year before the September 11 attacks and for Newsweek's coverage of the war on ter Read more Show Less

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Overview


As correspondent for Newsweek, Michael Hirsh has traveled to every continent, reporting on American foreign policy. Now he draws on his experience to offer an original explanation of America's role in the world and the problems facing the nation today and in the future.
Using colorful vignettes and up-close reporting from his coverage of the first two post-Cold War presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Hirsh argues that America has a new role never before played by any nation: it is the world's Uberpower, overseeing the global system from the air, land, sea and, increasingly, from space as well. And that means America has a unique opportunity do what no great power in history has ever done--to perpetuate indefinitely the global system it has built, to create an international community with American power at its center that is so secure it may never be challenged. Yet Americans are squandering this chance by failing to realize what is at stake. At the same time that America as a nation possesses powers it barely comprehends, Americans as individuals have vulnerabilities they never before imagined. They desperately need the international community on their side.
In an era when democracy and free markets have become the prevailing ideology, Hirsh argues, one of America's biggest problems will be "ideological blowback"--facing up to the flaws and contradictions of its own ideals. Hence, for example, the biggest threat to political stability is not totalitarianism, but the tricky task of instituting democracy in the Arab world without giving Islamic fundamentalists the reigns of power. The only way for Washington to avoid accusations of hypocrisy is to allow the global institutions it has built, like the U.N., to do the hard work of promoting U.S. values.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Balanced, judicious, thoughtful and engagingly written."--Washington Post Book World

"An ideal primer for general readers trying to fathom the promise and peril of global politics."--Booklist

"Hirsh's judgement is sound. His book is well-informed, historically literate, nonidelogical common sense. That may sound like faint praise, but in an America that sometimes seems poised between reckless adventure and helpless inertia, centrist common sense is something to be treasured.... Hirsh outlines a sensible basis for detente between the warring hegemonists and internationalists, an America that leads without bullying. That is an accomplishment to be congratulated."--Bill Keller, The New York Times Book Review

"A coherent and humane approach to this confusing, war-torn world in which the most dangerous war, the one in Hirsh's title, is the philosophical battle over America's role, holding us back from working for a safer planet."--Boston Globe

"In this intelligent, sensible, and passionate book, Michael Hirsh blazes a middle path for American foreign policy between the extremes of unilateral bullying and naive meekness. With no trace of mawkishness or squishiness, he is on the side of the angels--and shows how Washington can be too."--Gideon Rose, Foreign Affairs

"He puts forward a strong argument in favor of the notion that Americans, with little help from their friends, have already gone a long way towards creating that integrated international society whose existence the arch-realist Hans Morgenthau denied."--The Economist

"A vivid account of today's American foreign policy debate and a powerful vision of what American foreign policy should be."--Michael Lind, author of Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics

"This is the best account of the tensions within American foreign policy today. Hirsh accurately describes America's varying attitudes towards the world and sets forth his own, intelligent ideas on what we should do. He moves easily from the telling detail to the big picture--and does it all in refreshingly lucid prose."--Fareed Zakaria, author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy At Home and Abroad

"A masterful account of American foreign policy in the Clinton and George W. Bush years. With compelling narratives of the personalities and policy choices that shaped the country's global relations over the last decade, Michael Hirsh brings into focus the ideas, turning points, and lost opportunities in America's confrontation with the post-Cold War era. Hirsh's book is essential reading for everyone interested in American foreign policy today." --G. John Ikenberry, author of After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint and the Rebuilding of Order after Major War

The New York Times
Hirsh outlines a sensible basis for detente between the warring hegemonists and internationalists, an America that leads without bullying. That is an accomplishment to be congratulated, even if you do not entirely share his optimism that this consensus is emerging before our eyes. — Bill Keller
Publishers Weekly
America's profound ambivalence toward stewardship of the international system will be the "permanent quagmire" of the 21st century, argues Hirsh (a senior editor at Newsweek, which excerpted this book in its May 12 issue) in his timely contribution to recent literature on the U.S. role in the post-Cold War world. While America "the "oberpower" dominates the globe by exerting a combination of ideological influence and military and economic power, Hirsh says that successive administrations have failed to grasp the nation's historic mandate as orchestrator of the new world order. Having been a foreign correspondent from Kosovo to Afghanistan, Hirsh reports on the discordant policies of Clinton and Bush, while providing the lay reader with an overview of the conflicts and personalities that have shaped a lackluster U.S. foreign policy over the past decade. Unconventional threats like terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction render the U.S. vulnerable and necessitate, in the author's view, a multilateral approach. In Hirsh's perfect world, Clinton's Wilsonian idealism-marked by economic integration, democratization and multilateral cooperation-would coalesce with Bush's unilateralist view of overwhelming military power to forge a strong and principled American leadership. In the meantime, America must confront the pitfalls of "ideological blowback" caused by the spotty application of its own ideals abroad. Repairing the disconnect in U.S. foreign policy that backs autocratic regimes in places like the Middle East while failing to press democracy in the area, offers, Hirsh says, a good place to start. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
Whatever one thinks of the Bush administration's foreign policy, the health of the U.S. political system clearly requires the articulation of realistic alternatives. Hirsh, of Newsweek, makes the classically Hamiltonian argument that American interests are best served by a pragmatic blend of military assertiveness and multilateral cooperation. He further burnishes his Hamiltonian credentials with an impassioned attack on export controls on high-tech products; keeping American tech firms competitive is necessary for the nation's long-term economic health and military prowess. Hirsh finds continuities between the Clinton and Bush approaches to foreign policy: both presidents were reluctant nation builders drawn irresistibly into difficult overseas entanglements against their instincts. In both its neoconservative and liberal internationalist incarnations, Hirsh argues, this Wilsonian foreign policy leads the United States toward infinite engagements and the danger of overstretch. The warning against neoconservative overstretch will clearly be a staple in foreign policy debates next year; Democrats looking to challenge the Bush approach while still advocating a robust defense of national interests would do well to consult this book.
Kirkus Reviews
A pointed examination, both timely and lively, of the risks and responsibilities attendant in being the world’s sole superpower. Since the day of Woodrow Wilson, when America’s global power first became apparent, politicians have expressed discomfort at the notion that the US is anything other than a world apart. Yet, as Newsweek writer Hirsh persuasively argues, this kind of isolationist thinking is both deluded and dangerous, for "today we simply cannot live in the world safely without setting it in order"—without, that is, removing tyrants and terrorists from the scene, but also, and more vexing, improving the lot of the rest of the planet’s inhabitants. The present administration, Hirsh writes, is sharply divided on whether we have any such responsibilities at all, or whether we have much business acting as the globe’s lone sheriff; witness, he remarks, the ongoing clash between the wings of the Cabinet represented by Donald Rumsfeld on one hand and Colin Powell on the other, the first concerned with visiting vengeance on wrongdoers, the second with nation- and coalition-building. Owing to the ascendance of the former, Hirsh argues, the president has steadily been "frittering away much of the goodwill he had started out with after September 11," while the so-called Bush Doctrine has effectively been serving as an instrument of isolation all its own, alienating allies all around. If the world is indeed to be made safe from terrorists and rogue states, Hirsh maintains, the US will have to take the lead. But it will do so most effectively by turning to the international organizations it has helped bring into being, especially the United Nations: "Washington must get past itsnow-settled bias that the UN and its sister agencies are hopeless, effete institutions," he writes, "recognize where they have value, focus on improving their performance in those areas, and fund them accordingly." A well-argued white paper for the internationalist set—and sure to be dismissed as wooly liberalism by readers on the right.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195152692
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/4/2003
  • Pages: 304
  • Lexile: 1470L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 6.38 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Hirsh is the former Foreign Editor and chief diplomatic correspondent for Newsweek. He is currently a senior editor in the magazine's Washington bureau. He is a lecturer and has appeared numerous times as a commentator on Fox news, CNN, MSNBC, and National Public Radio. In addition to Newsweek, he has also written for Foreign Affairs, Harper's, and Washington Monthly. Hirsh was co-winner of the Overseas Press Club award for best magazine reporting from abroad in 2001 for "prescience in identifying the al Qaeda threat half a year before September 11" and for Newsweek's coverage of the war on terror, which also won a National Magazine Award. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Read an Excerpt

At War With Ourselves

Why America is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World
By Michael Hirsh

Oxford

ISBN: 0195152697


Preface

George W. Bush seemed surprised to get any applause at all. Gazing out at his audience at the United Nations, the president gave what an aide described as his "trademark smirk" as the delegates clapped coolly. There was a definite chill in the air. Only a year before, America had been bathed in sympathy from around the world after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Hundreds of thousands of Germans had gathered at the Brandenburg Gate, the site of JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, to say that they now stood with America. France's Le Monde newspaper, normally no friend of Washington's, declared, "We are all Americans today." But this was September 12, 2002, a year and a day after the attacks, and the mood was very different. Other nations were angry at what they perceived to be American arrogance, the Bush administration's insistence on carrying a big stick-U.S. might-and talking loudly at the same time. This same week Bush would issue a new national security strategy, one that would mark the most historic shift in American thinking since the early days of the Cold War. While couched in diplomatic language, it was an unprecedentedly frank assertion that American dominance was here to stay, and that it was American values that would define the world.

Bush, a straightshooter from Texas by way of Andover, Yale, and Harvard, was a fervent believer in those values and in America as a special place, a nation apart. He wasn't big on nU-ance, as he liked to say, drawing out the syllables. And on this day, standing at the podium, Bush bluntly gave voice to a peculiarly American impatience: Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be "irrelevant"? Rapping out his lines like a prosecutor, Bush declared that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had flouted the will of the international community for more than a decade, defying UN Security Council resolutions that called on him to destroy his weapons of mass destruction. There was no immediate response from the cavernous hall. Staring out at the diplomats, each sitting motionless-not like the raucous political crowds he was used to-Bush thought he was addressing a "wax museum," as he later told aides. Part of it was the venue, the pretense of the so-called Parliament of Man. The General Assembly's very grandiosity seems foreign to American sensibilities; it is "anti-human," says diplomat Richard Holbrooke, compared to the parliamentary coziness of the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate.

The odd thing is that this strange entity, the United Nations, was conceived, born, and built in America. Its founding was a labor of love for three major twentieth-century presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. The UN is as much a New York City landmark as the World Trade Center, of cherished memory, once was. And yet few of us have ever really understood this stranger in our midst. For many Americans, the decaying, giant, green-tinted box on the bank of the East River might as well be a black box in Timbuktu, so foreign do its internal workings still seem. And in this particular era-an era in which the difference in power between America and the rest of the world has grown huge-it has become more difficult than ever to maintain the egalitarian myth, the idea of a community of nations, that the UN was built on.

The gulf of misunderstanding between the American president and the foreign diplomats he addressed that day was really about the tensions between America and the so-called international community. The battles that occurred behind the scenes in the war on terrorism-between the "allies" who were supposedly fighting on the same side-were as telling as the war itself. The Bush administration struggled internally over how much it needed other nations to help, while many of those nations doubted that America was sincere in wanting to defend the honor of the UN or "civilization," as Bush called it. One reason Bush got a cool reception at the UN was that people didn't easily accept the sudden switch of enemies from al-Qaeda to Saddam. Another reason for the skepticism was that the Bush administration and its supporters had spent months before his appearance hinting that America was ready to make unilateral war to remove Saddam-whose efforts to build biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons were no longer tolerable in a post-9/11 world, Bush said-and suggesting that UN inspections to determine whether he possessed weapons of mass destruction were useless. The Bush team was only now, almost as an afterthought, invoking the UN resolutions Saddam had violated and suggesting it wanted to send UN inspectors back in only to disarm him. This did not do much for Bush's credibility at the UN (though his bellicosity certainly made Saddam more compliant). Even when it came to the real power of the UN, the Security Council-which was FDR's creation, and of which America was one of the five permanent members-the Bush people constantly spoke of the UN as an alien entity. "The UN does not have forever," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer warned over and over as negotiations over Saddam's fate dragged on.

Yet as much as Bush tried to keep the UN at arm's length, by early 2003 the Security Council had become "the courtroom of world opinion" once again, as Adlai Stevenson had described it during the Cuban Missile Crisis. On February 5, in one of the most extraordinary moments of the post-Cold War era, U.S. television networks cut into their morning soap operas for eighty minutes to train their cameras on the larger melodrama inside the Security Council. Bush's much-admired secretary of state, Colin Powell, seated at a giant, horseshoe-shaped table, tried again to make the case for war against Iraq. Powell cited reams of intelligence information, but world opinion did not seem to be with America this time. Millions of people marched in world capitals against a war (including 200,000 at the Brandenburg Gate, this time mostly anti-American). Bush invaded Iraq almost alone. And polls showed that substantial numbers of people around the globe saw Bush as more of a menace to world peace and security than Saddam was.

So the questions remained: What exactly-and who-were we fighting for? Which side were we Americans on, and who was on our side? Was taking on a rogue tyrant like Saddam the UN's problem or was it America's problem? How much were American interests still a thing apart-a purely "national" issue-and how much were American interests the same as those of the rest of the "civilized" world?

This book is about answering those questions. Although the war on terror and its sequel in Iraq serve as a backdrop to the tale I have to tell, this is really a book about America and us, the Americans. It is about the war within our own hearts and minds over who we are as a nation of the world. This book is my attempt to resolve, to some degree at least, the debate that has been running for most of this country's two and a quarter centuries of existence (with time out for brief periods of national crisis and unity), a debate that for the last decade or so has left us utterly confused about our global role and what's at stake in it.

For most of the period since the Cold War, these issues about American engagement in the world-symbolized by our prickly relationship with the UN and other global institutions-have been dry fodder for policy wonks. They didn't seem to matter a great deal. Today these issues matter urgently. They are about securing the safety of the world that we will leave to our children decades hence. They force us to ask who and what we are as a nation since the new millennium revealed vulnerabilities we never before imagined and powers that we barely knew we possessed. What does it really mean to be the only Great Power left standing at the End of History (as one writer has called the spread of democratic capitalism worldwide) and for that reason the target of every malcontent's fury? Are we a nation that is truly of the world, or are we still, as we have been since the beginnings of the Republic, a people apart, with one foot in and one foot out? What, precisely, is our responsibility as a nation and as individuals?

During the course of the so-called American Century, when the United States came to dominate the world and built, almost by accident, an entire global system, we never really resolved these existential questions about our relationship with the world. Today we no longer have the luxury of leaving so much about our global role undefined. Why? Because today the perception of America abroad is almost as important as the reality. Perceptions, we now know, can kill. Osama bin Laden succeeded in gaining substantial support in the Muslim world because he accurately diagnosed our national confusion about our global role-our willingness to withdraw our troops from Somalia in 1993, for example, at the first sign of trouble-and he built his terror campaign upon it, calling the American soldier "a paper tiger [who] after a few blows ran in defeat." Bin Laden's error, of course, was to mistake America's weak-mindedness about its role in the world-our vacillation over how engaged we really wanted to be-for intrinsic American weakness. In fact, the United States was as strong as ever, and American force was more devastating than ever before. But thousands of us had to die to prove it.

This book argues, finally, that America can vacillate no longer. Circumstances have forced us into a stark choice: either withdraw completely to our borders and watch the international system wither away without us, or fully embrace, at long last, this global system we fathered and yet too often have fecklessly orphaned in our eagerness to retreat home. The first option, withdrawal, is simply not practical, for a whole variety of reasons I will go into further on. And yet we cannot quite bring ourselves to endorse the second option, full engagement, either.

This book is an argument for full engagement, one that unfolds chapter by chapter, with each chapter's conclusions building on the last. The book's argument draws largely on the experiences of the first two post-Cold War presidents, Clinton and Bush, and on my own experiences in covering both of their administrations up close, at home in Washington, and on travels to every continent. Many writers have preceded me in describing how the world should work. This book attempts to describe how it does work. The value I bring to the table is more than a decade of on-the-ground experience in watching the post-Cold War world evolve-crisis by crisis, war by war, and decision by decision. I have covered in great detail both the political and economic dimensions of this new world: the Kosovo war, Iraq, and the war on terror on one hand; and the Asian financial contagion and the anti-globalization movement, on the other. I have been privy to the discussions of many high-level officials as they have felt their own way through this period-crisis by crisis, war by war, and decision by decision.

This book is intended to help general readers navigate this complicated landscape-but it is especially for those who are or plan to be parents. The main reason I decided to write this book is that I have two young sons who are growing up in a world that is Americanized and yet often hostile at the same time, a world that most Americans scarcely understand. We parents spend much of our time absorbed in nurturing thoughts about schools and doctors and the perfect play date-but very little time thinking about the world these painstakingly brought-up children will face as adults.

That is not to say that my book should end up on the family how-to shelf with Dr. Spock and T. Berry Brazelton. This book is not What to Expect When You're a Superpower. But it is a book that's meant to be readable, even enjoyable, and to help the general reader take part in a debate about America's role in the world that is still too often confined to a foreign-policy elite, whether academics or government experts, and to the ever-yammering TV pundits of the Washington echo chamber. The arguments of these academics and pundits never really end. Nor do the squabbles on Capitol Hill over such critical issues as foreign aid and UN support. I suggest, again, that these arguments have to end-at least in the area of national strategy. But for that to happen, the public that elected presidents like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush must make its voice heard.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from At War With Ourselves by Michael Hirsh
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: The Age of the Uberpower 1
1 Navigating the Permanent Quagmire 26
2 The American Temptation 69
3 What Is the "International Community"? 93
4 The Argument from Hard Power 133
5 When Ideas Bite Back 159
6 Rethinking Multilateralism 187
7 The Dirty Work 216
Conclusion: Toward a New Consensus 237
Notes 259
Acknowledgments 275
Index 279
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