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Superpower Illusions

Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray--And How to Return to Reality

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Superpower Illusions
    Book Description:

    Former U.S. ambassador to the USSR Jack F. Matlock refutes the enduring idea that the United States forced the collapse of the Soviet Union by applying military and economic pressure-with wide-ranging implications for U.S. foreign policy. Matlock argues that Gorbachev, not Reagan, undermined Communist Party rule in the Soviet Union and that the Cold War ended in a negotiated settlement that benefited both sides. He posits that the end of the Cold War diminished rather than enhanced American power; with the removal of the Soviet threat, allies were less willing to accept American protection and leadership that seemed increasingly to ignore their interests.

    Matlock shows how, during the Clinton and particularly the Bush-Cheney administrations, the belief that the United States had defeated the Soviet Union led to a conviction that it did not need allies, international organizations, or diplomacy, but could dominate and change the world by using its military power unilaterally. The result is a weakened America that has compromised its ability to lead. Matlock makes a passionate plea for the United States under Obama to reenvision its foreign policy and gives examples of how the new administration can reorient the U.S. approach to critical issues, taking advantage of lessons we should have learned from our experience in ending the Cold War.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15596-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    • 1 Myths and Realities
      (pp. 3-30)

      In 1998, cnn broadcast a documentary series on the Cold War produced by Sir Jeremy Isaacs.¹ It concluded with scenes showing the USSR’s hammer-and-sickle-emblazoned red flag being replaced with the new Russian tricolor. A truly dramatic ending to the Cold War, right?

      When President Ronald Reagan died, theEconomistdescribed him on its cover as “The Man Who Beat Communism.”² He had called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” and a few short years later it was gone.

      During his losing bid for reelection in 1992, President George H. W. Bush bragged, “We won the Cold War!” It didn’t help...

    • 2 Framework Diplomacy: Reagan’s Approach to Gorbachev
      (pp. 31-56)

      When ronald reagan took office in 1981, the Cold War seemed as intense as it ever had been. The détente of the 1970s had gradually frayed, then ended abruptly with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Reagan’s anti-Soviet statements suggested to the Soviet leaders—and to much of the public in both countries—that he was not interested in reviving the sort of limited cooperation that had developed during the Nixon and Ford administrations.¹

      His aim was more ambitious. He wanted to put an end to the arms race and reduce weaponry substantially. But that would require a change,...

    • 3 Cleanup Diplomacy and Conclusions We Can Draw
      (pp. 57-77)

      While those of us observing events in the Soviet Union when George Herbert Walker Bush was inaugurated in January 1989 may have sensed that the Cold War was over in an ideological sense, it is not surprising that persons more distant from the epicenter of change had not yet recognized that fact. Agreements to reduce strategic and conventional arms still eluded us, and—most significantly—Europe continued to be divided between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. There were still two separate German states, with hundreds of thousands of American troops stationed in the Federal Republic and even more Soviet troops...

    • 4 Regime Change: The Soviet Union Disintegrates
      (pp. 78-98)

      Neither ronald reagan nor George H. W. Bush tried to destroy the Soviet Union. They wanted to change the behavior of its government but never posited “regime change” as a policy goal. Both were smart enough to know that such a goal would only strengthen the authoritarian tendencies of the regime and make any genuine accommodation impossible.

      Gorbachev also did not set out to weaken the Soviet state, but only to improve the way it was governed. Even before he became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he had become convinced that the country was headed...

    • 5 A New World? 1992
      (pp. 99-128)

      By the time january 1, 1992, had dawned, it was obvious that communism was no longer a threat to the world order and the Cold War was definitively in the past. The post–World War II era, dominated by two nuclear-armed superpowers confronting each other, had ended. The United States was left as the preeminent military, economic, and political power in the world. It had become so not by defeating other countries, but by building a more productive society at home, regulating most disputes with others through negotiation, and attracting the support of other countries that shared the values of...


    • 6 The Unipolar Delusion: The 1990s
      (pp. 131-158)

      Perceptions of the state of the world varied in the 1990s, but one thing was clear to all: the United States was the predominant power and had no rival. Its military was more than a match for any conceivable combination of countries. Its economy was the most productive, its currency had become the world standard. It was, for most people in the world, the most admired country, and its youth culture, fads, and fashions spread throughout the world, often to the dismay of older generations.

      This was power, power in all its forms: power to attract, power to persuade, power...

    • 7 Hubris and Its Consequences: 1993–2000
      (pp. 159-187)

      Bill clinton did not set out to remake the world in America’s image when he assumed the presidency in 1993. He set out to pull the United States out of a mild recession, to stimulate growth of the American economy, to improve the health care system, and—above all—to ensure his reelection in 1996. In contrast to the preceding Bush administration, which prided itself on its foreign policy competence, the Clinton administration devoted more attention to domestic issues than to foreign policy, particularly in its early years. This was not necessarily bad, since the United States needed leadership not...

    • 8 Asleep at the Switch: 9/11 and the “War on Terror”
      (pp. 188-212)

      The attacks on the world trade center in New York and the Pentagon in northern Virginia on September 11, 2001, could have been prevented. They very likelywouldhave been prevented if a competent, alert administration had been in office in Washington.

      That was not the explicit conclusion of the bipartisan commission established by Congress and the president to investigate the terrorist attacks on the United States.¹ But few people knowledgeable about the manner in which most presidents and their national security assistants react to intelligence warnings can escape the conclusion that President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney,...

    • 9 Tar Baby Iraq
      (pp. 213-236)

      One of joel chandler harris’s best-known Uncle Remus stories is the one about Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit, and the tar baby. Using his superior wiles, Brer Rabbit consistently eludes Brer Fox’s pursuit, so Brer Fox decides to get even by taking advantage of Brer Rabbit’s inordinate pride (a scholar of Greek might call it hubris). Brer Fox devises a lure that looks like a baby but is made of sticky tar. When the tar baby fails to respond to Brer Rabbit’s greeting, Brer Rabbit decides to teach him to show proper respect by cuffing him. His paw sticks, so he...

    • 10 Ideology Trumps Reality: 2001–2009
      (pp. 237-266)

      The financial crisis and deepening recession that gripped public attention during the final months of 2008 dealt a heavy blow to American primacy in the world financial system. Washington was forced to transcend some of its dogma and to follow a European initiative as it struggled to cope with the prospect that the financial meltdown could bring on a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

      The George W. Bush administration had been guided by an economic ideology that was peddled to the public with misleading slogans. George Soros labeled the ideology “market fundamentalism”—the idea that markets can...


    • 11 Course Change
      (pp. 269-292)

      President barack obama received a mandate for change not matched in American politics since Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in 1932. He entered office with an overwhelming electoral vote in his favor and an incoming House and Senate with Democratic majorities. The nation’s desire for change was so intense in the run-up to the 2008 election that both he and his opponent, Senator John McCain, competed over who was better suited to bring it about. Neither was willing to defend the outgoing Bush administration, which seemed in 2008 to have slipped into irrelevance many months before it was scheduled to...

    • 12 An Agenda, Not a Doctrine
      (pp. 293-314)

      Journalists and scholars will be eager to identify a phrase to characterize President Obama’s foreign policy, the “Obama doctrine” or some such, and members of his staff may be tempted to play along. It may not be best for them to do so. We faced the problem of labeling policy in the Reagan administration and found a different solution.

      As we prepared the speech on U.S.-Soviet relations that President Reagan delivered on January 16, 1984, members of the White House staff and the State Department discussed at length what they would call Reagan’s policy toward the Soviet Union. (Journalists had...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 315-330)
    (pp. 331-332)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 333-344)