‘Superpower’: The Future of U.S. Foreign Policy

Superpower by Ian Bremmer is a succinct book which considers the future of American foreign policy. But what path should the world’s only superpower choose? And why does this matter? Bremmer makes it clear that options are available, although refusing to decide on America’s foreign policy vision (something that’s happened since the conclusion of the Cold War) “is the worst choice of all.” He lays out three distinct choices: Independent America, Moneyball America and Indispensable America.

Independent America calls for the United States to focus far more on its domestic affairs – including infrastructure, education and taking better care of its veterans. This is not isolationism, but we’re talking about serious retrenchment and a renewed commitment to improving democracy at home.

Moneyball America calls for more international engagement than Indispensable America, though is focused on clear-eyed cost-benefit analyses “designed to maximize the return on the taxpayer’s investment.” The use of drones, for example is a “low-cost, low risk” way to combat terrorism.

When it comes to global peace and security, America should convince others to share more of the burden. This approach also emphasizes the importance of trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Moneyball America would deemphasize American values in foreign policy – partly because the United States is far from perfect and also because doing so can bring exorbitant costs.

Indispensable America offers a maximalist vision for U.S. foreign policy. This is a whole-hearted embrace of American exceptionalism. America must lead the international order and actively promote its values abroad – including democracy and human rights. As the world’s sole superpower, America is uniquely positioned to play this role and failing to do so creates a void that will not be filled by any other nation. This, of course, would be the most expensive option for American taxpayers.

Some critics could complain that, in an increasingly complex world, boiling things down to three choices is too simplistic and that more nuance is needed, or more available choices. Perhaps some combination of Independent America and Moneyball America would do the trick, for example. Or maybe readers would prefer a slightly less expansive position than Indispensable America. Nevertheless, in order to craft a grand strategy a degree of simplification is needed and Bremmer has done an excellent job of presenting three discrete options for readers.

Bremmer devotes an entire chapter to each of the three previously mentioned visions. All choices come with strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and obstacles. This is a nonpartisan book written in crisp language that everyone will be able to understand.

At the end of the book, Bremmer tells readers which path he believes that America should pursue. (His choice for America’s foreign policy future certainly surprised me.)

This timely and imminently readable book is an essential contribution to the ongoing debates about America’s role in the world. Bremmer notes that it’s up to the American people to decide on what type of foreign policy they want and that prospective voters should consider how presidential candidates speak about foreign policy throughout the campaign. That being said, since almost all presidential hopefuls don’t have much in the way of foreign policy experience, they too are likely to benefit from reading this book — especially those whose foreign policy vision seems totally detached from reality.