September 27, 2010

Mandelbaum book looks at America as ‘Frugal Superpower’

Michael Mandelbaum, the Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy and director of the American Foreign Policy Program at SAIS, is the author of a new book, The Frugal Superpower: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era, published in August by Public Affairs.

In The Frugal Superpower, Mandelbaum sees a looming, fundamental shift in the United States’ approach to foreign policy, one driven by economic factors, and makes the case that the country’s soaring deficits, fueled by the huge costs of the financial crash and of the nation’s entitlement programs—Social Security and health care—will compel a more modest American international presence in the 21st century.

The ultimate impact of the country’s restricted foreign policy on the rest of the world, he says, is likely to be significant.

Mandelbaum notes that “other countries have come to depend on a robust, ambitious and extensive American foreign policy” and have benefited greatly from the peacekeeping role the United States has taken around the world in the past half-century. No other country, he says, is ready to step in to fill the U.S.’s shoes. Yet Russia, China and Iran—all relatively deep-pocketed at the moment—have the capacity to disturb the current order, and have some motivation to do so.

Whether or not these countries choose to “take advantage of the new limits on American foreign policy is the most important question hanging over international relations in the second decade of the 21st century,” Mandelbaum writes.

He recommends a new policy, centered on a reduction in the nation’s dependence on imported oil, that can do for America and the world in this century what containment of the Soviet Union did in the last one.

In a recent column in The New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman called The Frugal Superpower “very timely,” and Christopher Caldwell, reviewing the book in the Financial Times, described it as “reasonable and clear.” George Walden, writing in the London Observer, termed it “cool and concise.” In the Huntington (West Virginia) News, David M. Kinchen wrote of The Frugal Superpower, “I hope that President Barack Obama and his Cabinet and advisers and Congress will follow the sensible policies advocated by its author.”

Mandelbaum, who is considered one of America’s leading foreign policy thinkers, is the author of 11 previous books, including The Ideas That Conquered the World, The Case for Goliath and Democracy’s Good Name.