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Powell has been engaged in the most important debates over foreign and defense policy during the past two decades, such as the uses of American power in the wake of the Vietnam war, the winding down of the Cold War and the quest for new paths for American foreign policy, and the interventions in Panama (1989) and the Persian Gulf (1990–1991). During the Clinton era, he was involved in the controversies over interventions in Bosnia and Somalia. As America's top diplomat from 2001 to 2004, he helped shape the aims and goals of U.S. diplomacy after September 11, 2001, and in the run-up to the Iraq War.
In this exploration of Powell's career and character, Christopher D. O'Sullivan reveals several broad themes crucial to American foreign policy and yields insights into the evolution of American foreign and defense policy in the post-Vietnam, post-Cold War eras. In addition, O'Sullivan explores the conflicts and debates between different foreign policy ideologies such as neo-conservatism and realism.
O'Sullivan's book not only explains Powell's diplomatic style, it provides crucial insights into the American foreign policy tradition in the modern era.
O'Sullivan (history, adjunct, Univ. of San Francisco; Sumner Welles, Postwar Planning, and the Quest for a New World Order) has written a brief interpretive analysis of Colin Powell's public career, focusing on his years as national security advisor under President Reagan, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H.W. Bush and briefly under Bill Clinton, and finally as George W. Bush's secretary of state until 2005. The author argues that Powell's major accomplishment was the so-called Powell Doctrine, which emphasized the use of caution and diplomacy before going to war; when war was necessary, it should be fought with clear objectives, coalition building, and public support. Powell's greatest failure, O'Sullivan states, was his inability to convince President George W. Bush to implement this doctrine in the case of the Iraq War, owing partly to Powell's unwillingness to step outside the chain of command and partly to the ability of Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to influence the President. O'Sullivan's work will be of interest to all students of Colin Powell's career and all who are looking at George W. Bush's military policies.