The 1970s was a decade of gloom for U.S. foreign policy commentators. The Soviet Union appeared to be winning the Cold War arms race. Moscow-backed revolutionary movements surged across the Third World. Stagflation, a fear of Japanese imports, and oil-price shocks plagued the U.S. economy. The trauma of the Iranian hostage crisis seemed to underscore a lack of American confidence on the global stage. By the 1990s, this situation was dramatically transformed. Four decades of super-power rivalry ruined the Soviet Union and converted the United States into a “hyper power” (p. 336). Open markets, free societies, and democratic norms were in the ascendant globally. In 1991 the U.S.-led coalition's stunning victory over Iraq forces confirmed the return of U.S. confidence, vitality, and purpose. In this beautifully crafted, cogent, and thoroughly researched book, Hal Brands offers a compelling explanation for this stunning reversal of U.S. fortunes. The making of the unipolar moment was not an accident, but instead the result of sound statecraft and deep structural changes in the international system. As Brands shows, economic, technological, and political forces that gathered force in the 1980s and took off in the 1990s reinforced American primacy. The worldwide turn toward open markets, an integrated world economy, and the respect for human rights and democracy benefited the United States and sapped the prestige and strength of the Soviet Union. Globalization alone, however, does not explain the United States's stellar trajectory. Brands emphasises that a shrewd and iterative process of strategy making in Washington identified and harnessed global trends and turned them against the Kremlin. Although the outlines of this strategy emerged under Jimmy Carter, it was under the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations that a deliberate and proactive strategic vision developed. The crucial phase occurred in the 1989–1992 period, when the United States managed the Soviet Union's demise and reversed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, establishing U.S. primacy in a new world order. Making the Unipolar Moment is not an unalloyed tale of American triumph and virtue, however. Brands argues that U.S. strategy combined a long-term vision with trial-and-error adaptations that were subject to misperception, miscalculation, and moral compromises. For example, the U.S. support of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan bought immediate Cold War gains at the cost of stoking future trouble. The Reagan administration's backing of murderous clients such as the Salvadoran army and the Nicaraguan rebels was as counterproductive as it was morally questionable. Historians will undoubtedly dispute Brands's judgements about these and other issues, but he has nonetheless written an indispensable account of the origins of the unipolar moment. His astute observations about the potentially decisive relationship between global trends and competent strategizing in the White House will no doubt give many readers pause for reflection and concern at a time when the worldwide currents are shifting toward authoritarianism, economic nationalism, and jingoism. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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