The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy

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9780802716996: The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy

"For years," William Pfaff writes, "there has been little or no critical reexamination of how and why the successful postwar American policy of 'patient but firm containment of Soviet expansionist tendencies...has over decades turned into a vast project for ending tyranny in the world. We defend this position by making the claim that the United States possesses an exceptional status among nations that confers upon it special international responsibilities, and exceptional privileges in meeting those responsibilities. This is where the problem lies. It has become somewhat of a national heresy to suggest the U .S. does not have a unique moral status and role to play in the history of nations and therefore in the affairs of the contemporary world. In fact it does not."
Cogently, thoughtfully, powerfully, Pfaff lays out the historical roots behind the American exceptionalism that animates our politics and foreign relations-and makes clear why it is flawed and must ultimately fail. Those roots lie in the secularization of western society brought about by the Enlightenment, and in America's effective separation from the common history of the west during the nineteenth and early parts of the twentieth century, during which it failed to gain "the indispensable experience Europeans have acquired of modern ideological folly and national tragedy." We are, thus, hubristic and naïve in our adventurism, and blind to the truth of the threats we face. No mere critic, Pfaff offers insightful observations on how we can and must adapt to Muslim extremism, nuclear competition, and other challenges of our time.

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About the Author:

William Pfaff is the author of 8 books on American foreign policy, international relations, and contemporary history. They include Barbarian Sentiments: America in the New Century, which was a finalist for the 1989 National Book Award, and which Ronald Steel called "a work of moral passion and striking insight by America's best foreign-affairs columnist." The late Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. said "William Pfaff is Walter Lippmann's authentic heir. Like Lippmann, he places the rush of events in historical and cultural perspective and writes about them with lucidity and grace." For 25 years, Pfaff wrote a column for the International Herald Tribune, and his essays and articles have appeared widely, in the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Harper's, and Foreign Affairs. He lives in Paris.

Review:

“In an age of charlatans and poseurs, William Pfaff has long stood for realism and sobriety. With its penetrating critique of the secular utopianism that perverts American statecraft, The Irony of Manifest Destiny affirms his standing as our wisest critic of U.S. foreign policy.” ―Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The Limits of Power and Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War

“Eleanor Roosevelt once said that wishful thinking was America's ‘besetting sin.' In an era of seemingly permanent war, when the doctrine of American exceptionalism and the manifest destiny of the United States reigns virtually unchallenged in Washington, William Pfaff's lucid, dismayed commentary on the follies of such triumphalism has been an island of reason in the imperial sea. If his prescriptions, which hearken back to the America of foreign policy commonsense--that is, to George Kennan rather than George W. Bush, and, alas Barack Obama too--had been followed, the United States and the world would be in a far, far better situation. As things stand, though, Pfaff's clarity and rigor at least offer posterity a way of understanding what actually happened, and why, when national power and national blindness combined to lead the United States down the path of utopian nationalism and in the process become both a danger to the world and to itself.” ―David Rieff, author of At The Point of a Gun

“Anyone fortunate enough to have read the International Herald Tribune over the last several decades knows William Pfaff as the thoughtful and original American heir to George Kennan's sober Niebuhurian realism. Now, in his brilliant new essay on American foreign policy, Pfaff has applied his prudent realist vision to deconstructing the "tragedy" of America's global interventionism. In the name of what he calls "secular utopianism," Pfaff sees in America's increasingly imperialist foreign policy a residue of Enlightenment exceptionalism – America as a beacon of liberty and democracy's global "keeper." He shows persuasively why al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism are less perilous than we think, why our interventions in Iraq, Iran and Pakistan are successors to the futility of Vietnam, and why – despite his new spirit of multilateralism – President Obama is caught up in overseas policies likely to fail. This is a book by an American looking from the outside in that needs to be read by every political leader and thinker caught on the inside looking out – most of all by President Obama, who celebrates Niebuhr in theory but seems caught up in the insidious practices of Dick Cheney and George Bush, Jr.” ―Benjamin R. Barber, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Demos, author, Consumed and Jihad vs. McWorld

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William Pfaff
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