Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy [NOOK Book]


From one of the nation's leading foreign-policy minds comes a provocative new account of how to think about—and use—America's power in the twenty-first century.

Inspired by Machiavelli's classic The Prince, Leslie H. Gelb offers illuminating guidelines on how American power actually works and should be wielded in today's tumultuous world, writing with the perspective of four decades of extraordinary access and influence in government, think tanks, and journalism. He argues ...

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Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy

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From one of the nation's leading foreign-policy minds comes a provocative new account of how to think about—and use—America's power in the twenty-first century.

Inspired by Machiavelli's classic The Prince, Leslie H. Gelb offers illuminating guidelines on how American power actually works and should be wielded in today's tumultuous world, writing with the perspective of four decades of extraordinary access and influence in government, think tanks, and journalism. He argues that Washington risks losing the essential lifeblood of its national security—its power—unless American leaders relearn the lessons of how to use that power. Contrary to runaway fashion, Gelb argues that the world is not flat, power is not soft, and that we have not entered a post-American era in global affairs. The United States remains far and away the most powerful country in a world where power remains sharply pyramidal. But the U.S. is not the dominant power, and it can't dictate to others.

Gelb persuasively shows that America's future power must be based on the principle of mutual indispensability: Washington is the indispensable leader because it alone can galvanize coalitions to solve major international problems (and all nations know this), while other key nations are indispensable partners in getting the job done. The reality is this: succeed together or fail apart. Washington will also fail if it forgets that power is still, as in the days of Machiavelli, about pressure and coercion, carrots and sticks. Reason, values, and understanding are foreplay, but not the real thing. Gelb provides an incisive look at the major U.S. foreign-policy triumphs and tragedies of the last half century, and offers practical rules on how to effectively exercise power today. Power Rules is an impassioned challenge to both liberals and conservatives and a plea to reclaim the true meaning of power and the essential role of common sense in solving global problems.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Beschloss
…persuasively argues that the most effective presidents try to fashion a coherent strategy, explain it forthrightly to the public and resist the temptation to be distracted by sudden opportunities and crises. Others have made this point before…But Gelb's treatment is distinctive, adorned with astute historical examples and reminiscences from his own high-level service in Johnson's Pentagon and Carter's State Department. It is filled with gritty, shrewd, specific advice on foreign policy ends and means
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Gelb, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, sets out guidelines for stewarding American power through the 21st century in this thoughtful, comprehensive and engaging examination. Drawing on Machiavelli's The Prince, the author addresses current leaders and their real-world choices, aiming his critiques at "the soft and hard powerites, America's premature gravediggers, the world-is-flat globalization crowd, and the usually triumphant schemers" who make up the typical U.S. foreign policy roundtable. Gelb writes that America remains the world's most powerful single nation, but this does not mean that the U.S. has absolute or even dominant global hegemony. Along with other major nations, it must accept "the principle of mutual indispensability," and work toward global objectives with the full cooperation of Russia, China and other emerging powers. Gelb's bulleted rules and clear advice to President Obama distill his moderate strategic thinking on the future of America: "a poised, posed, and credible sword, wrapped in diplomacy and economic power." It is a vision of a pragmatic but responsible global U.S. presence that eschews partisan politics and should find favor in the coming political clime. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Council on Foreign Relations maven Gelb (Intervention and American Foreign Policy, 2001, etc.) channels Machiavelli in this set of prescriptions and proscriptions on the world beyond America's shores..The author's latest is modeled—thinly—on The Prince, couched in occasional hortatory utterances to "our elected prince." He is quick to warn, however, that he is not fishing for a job in the Obama administration, since the two dominant political parties "have made me not partisan, but just a bit surly." In the hands of, say, Kissinger, a Machiavellian take on the world would be truly Machiavellian, but Gelb takes a milder stance. In the place of exhortations to eliminate opponents and their families and sow their fields with salt while denying everything plausibly, Gelb encourages the president to "break the hold of television and particularly cable news on the public debate"; to "be seen as above petty politics"; to fix "dependence on foreign resources such as oil and the mountains of accumulated foreign debt." That's all commonsensical, as the subtitle advertises, though none of Gelb's counsel goes beyond the expected wisdom. Between the too-sparse lists of dos and don'ts come more straightforward glosses, including a tip of the hat to the Kissingerian notion of linkage, which joins two issues that may or may not be related and "adds bargaining power to both." Gelb demonstrates a clear command of big, gnarly issues, and his overall take on where the elected prince's principality stands is anything but cheery. Having enumerated countless slips, flaws and flubs, he closes by observing that "we can already see the United States of America…beginning to decline…and on the path to becoming justanother great power, a nation barely worth fearing or following.".Meaty reading for policy wonks.
The Washington Post
"Lively. . . . Power Rules is worth the read. . . . Gelb’s career embodies big and powerful Washington, with all its turf battles, crises, and war stories."
The Boston Globe
"An excellent primer for those seeking a common-sense approach to foreign policy. . . . Gelb’s informative and well-crafted analysis is filled with rules for wielding power and goals worth striving for globally."
"Power Rules gets the new rules right. . . . Gelb skillfully weaves the current tapestry of global events into the history of what brought us here."
Michael Beschloss
"Fluent, well-timed, provocative. . . . Gelb’s ruminations are welcome and stimulating. . . . Filled with gritty, shrewd, specific advice on foreign policy ends and means that will be especially useful for a new president and secretary of state without deep experience dealing with the world."
Michael Ignatieff
"Few Americans know the inner world of American foreign policy—its feuds, follies, and fashions—as well as Leslie H. Gelb. . . . Power Rules builds on that lifetime of experience with power and is a witty and acerbic primer."
Joe Klein
"Gelb has raised an essential question: Will Obama know how, and whether, to react if diplomacy fails? . . . Gelb takes a defiant step away from gimmicks and grand theories, toward a re-examination of the most basic and eternal tool in the game of nations."
Fareed Zakaria
"A smart and lively new book."
Richard Holbrooke
"Les Gelb, one of America’s most distinguished practitioner-observers of foreign policy, brilliantly explains how a series of administrations weakened our nation’s security, and shows how we can reverse this trend. . . . Power Rules is an indispensable book for the new era."
Brent Scowcroft
"Les Gelb tells it like it is: making US foreign policy and using American power are common sense, not rocket science. Incisive and thoroughly compelling, Power Rules is rich in colorful stories as well as in sound advice for our president and our people."
The National Interest
"Compared to the piles of books being churned out about America’s place in the world, Power Rules belongs in the top tier. Gelb intended this book as a long letter to President Obama; I fervently hope that the intended recipient reads it carefully."
Jacob Weisberg
"This book is a must-read not just for President Obama, but for anyone who wants to understand how the new administration can improve its odds of strategic success."
George Packer
"Leslie Gelb has as much experience in foreign policy as anyone alive. Unlike most writers in this field, he isn’t afraid to use plain language and say what he means. And he doesn’t mind making powerful enemies."
Andrew Bacevich
"Power Rules provides a much-needed antidote to the ideological fevers that have ravaged American statecraft in recent years. Leslie Gelb’s reflections on power, its effective use, and its limitations are shrewd, trenchant, and refreshingly devoid of either cant or partisanship."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061864179
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/17/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • File size: 573 KB

Meet the Author

Leslie H. Gelb is President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former columnist at The New York Times, where he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism. Gelb has worked as a senior official in the State and Defense departments. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Power Rules

How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy

By Leslie Gelb
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2009

Leslie Gelb
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061714542

Chapter One

The Revolution in World Power

Here's the central paradox of twenty-first-century world affairs: The United States is probably the most powerful nation in history, yet far more often than not, it can't get its way. The 500-year story that led up to the current state of affairs reveals the new and revolutionary rules and rhythms of international power.

Fidel Castro's Cuba, one of the world's smaller and weaker nations, gave constant strategic and political grief to the United States, the world's strongest, and survived to tell the tale for almost half a century. In any previous era, a major power like the United States would have quickly and violently crushed such a pesky little neighbor. But America's forbearance toward Cuba epitomizes a profound and underappreciated story, the story of the reshaping and rechanneling of international power—nothing short of a revolution in the history of world affairs.

Leaving aside philosophical rights and wrongs, the fact is that Castro flouted all the rules of deference toward great powers, especially one only ninety miles away. He joined with the Soviet Union, America's mortal foe, in precipitating the 1962 missile crisis, the single most dangerous moment of the Cold War. Later, he picked at thesores by sending his troops to fight the United States' allies in Africa and Latin America.

By historical standards, Washington had more than sufficient grounds to overthrow Castro. Instead, one by one, U.S. presidents, including some of the toughest, restricted themselves to feeble and futile efforts to spark anti-Castro revolutions (e.g., the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961) and strangle him economically. No American president seriously undertook the only action guaranteed to rid Washington of Castro—an all-out invasion of Cuba. To be sure, the clever Cuban dictator helped stave off attacks by perching under the Soviet wing, waiting for Moscow and Washington to agree to live and let live in Cuba. But such distant protection and promises of restraint from great powers had rarely held up in the past. Historically, protectors like the Soviet Union readily sold out a client like Cuba for a better power deal somewhere else. Castro surely sensed other, deeper restraints on America's power. He clearly understood that U.S. presidents, for all their bellicose Cold War rhetoric, dared not invade Cuba without clear provocation. He must have grasped that the restraints of world opinion and American democracy, as well as the prospect of fighting a determined insurgency inside Cuba, had come to matter a great deal and would stay the hand of even the fiercest U.S. president.

Castro's Cuba was both the beneficiary and the symbol of profound changes in the rules and rhythms of international power. The seeds of this revolution ran deep into history, took hold during the Cold War, and then fully rooted in the twenty-first century. During those almost five decades, the number of nation-states multiplied, most of them with the political will and new means to resist domination by the great powers. Worldwide communications expanded exponentially with the effect of informing and exciting peoples against the great powers' machinations. International commerce took unprecedented flight, creating common interests and restraints on rich and poor nations alike. And nuclear weapons fundamentally altered the role of military force in traditional big power rivalries.

It was hard to get a solid fix on how power was changing, and on what was old and what was new in international affairs. But three patterns began to emerge.

First, the strong fled from direct military confrontations with one another, instead of following their time-honored pattern of resolving their differences by war. Nuclear weapons especially made big power military contests too destructive and dangerous. Traditional conventional war had become much too expensive as well, especially when governments assumed greater responsibility for their citizens' welfare. Even hawks found it increasingly difficult to define national interests in such a way as to justify risking the catastrophe of nuclear war.

Second, the power of the weak to resist the strong started to rival the power of the strong to command—at least on the weak's own turf. Backed by a slew of new international constraints on the strong, the weak frequently challenged the strong—and often got away with it.

Third, while traditional balance-of-power competition continued to mark twenty-first-century international affairs, competition over vital interests was not as ferocious as before. Big and small states alike increasingly turned to a vast and relatively new array of international institutions and norms to protect their interests. When these proved ineffective or required supplementing, most nations resorted to the old balance-of-power reflexes.

All these twenty-first-century patterns of power are underpinned and reinforced by two earthquaking historical trends: the declining utility of military power and the concomitant rise of international economic power. Military capability—both the threat and the use of force—still counts significantly, but today, as compared with the past, there are more uncertainties about its use. At the same time, economic strength has increased in importance, both as an instrument of international power and as a restraint on it. This is a mysterious form of power, far more complex to wield than sheer military force, the mother of all blunt instruments.

The net effect of the new patterns of power and the underlying changes in military and economic power do not negate the importance of power, but they do restrain and complicate its use. Power continues to matter more than anything else in international transactions. Ideas, leadership, and appeals to reason can mobilize peoples to revolt against tyrants and persuade citizens to make sacrifices within nations; but they rarely lead to changes in government policies, and they have a poor track record in resolving conflicts between and among nations. For this, economic and other benefits bestowed and withheld, the twin instruments of pressure and coercion, still prove the better, if not the only, means of getting things done internationally. But this crucial instrument—power—cannot be used effectively in the twenty-first century without an understanding of how the new constraints on it have evolved.


Excerpted from Power Rules by Leslie Gelb Copyright © 2009 by Leslie Gelb. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Letter to Our Elected Prince vii

Introduction xi

Part I Power in the New World

1 The Revolution in World Power 3

2 What Power Is, and What Power Isn't 26

3 Power in the American Century 44

4 The New Pyramid of World Power 73

Part II Rules for Exercising Power

5 Strategy and Power: Mutual Indispensability 93

6 Intelligence and Power 122

7 U.S. Domestic Politics and Power 138

8 Military Power 161

9 Economic Power 188

10 Stage-Setting Power 219

Part III Policy and Power

11 Foreign Policy Power 237

12 U.S. Policy and Power in the Middle East 255

13 Necessity, Choice, and Common Sense 278

Acknowledgments 303

Notes 307

Selected Bibliography 315

Index 319

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  • Posted May 30, 2009

    A highly readable review on POLICY from the inside

    Les Gelb has pulled his experiences and observations together into a valuable review of important policy battles in our government. Some may argue about which are more important than others. But Gelb has the benefit of being there and of hindsight. He helps the reader understand the many forces that push and pull on policy decisions, and why some of them are short-sighted and foolish.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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