By More Than Providence is a history of U.S. strategic thinking about Asia and the Pacific since 1783. Michael J. Green, a policy analyst and practitioner, claims that “the roots of modern American strategic thought on the Pacific have remained largely untouched for generations” (2). He downplays arguments that focus on economic or racial factors to explain foreign-policy formation. The book is based largely on secondary and published or digitalized primary sources, though for the later periods interviews with principals are used; it is heavily footnoted. It provides a useful, if perhaps controversial, overview of the history of American strategic thought, including interesting portraits of important thinkers and actors. The book’s primary focus is on the twentieth century and after. Only 108 pages are devoted to the period from 1783 to 1909 (and there is little that is new here), while the slightly shorter period from 1909 to 2016 receives 430 pages. Green greatly admires John Quincy Adams, “the nation’s first notable grand strategist” (27), who, with a few likeminded thinkers, believed that the United States must prevent “any other power establishing exclusive hegemonic control” (5) over the Asia/Pacific region. Later, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt articulated this strategy more completely, and they are, therefore, Green’s most important heroes. (Green also asserts that scholars have not appreciated Roosevelt’s grasp of the power factor in international relations—a dubious claim, given the work of Howard K. Beale, Frederick W. Marks III, Bradford Perkins, and others.) Future administrations whose Asia/Pacific policies agreed with Mahan’s and Roosevelt’s receive high marks. Those who did not are often dismissed, sometimes contemptuously, as are the idealists in the Jimmy Carter administration, whom Green terms “goo-goos” (386). One might ask whether these “goo-goos,” who, for example, strongly objected to U.S. support for resuscitating the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (after the Vietnamese drove them out), deserve more contempt than the realist Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was proud of his decision to support them. Green usually finds something praiseworthy to say about each administration after 1909. But it is clear that he finds some better than others. Thus, Woodrow Wilson “had no clear plan for shaping the regional order” (131). The Treaties of Washington that defined U.S. policy in the 1920s had some merit, but the administrations put too much trust in written agreements and failed to take needed actions, such as upgrading the U.S.’s own naval forces. (A contrary view might be that the treaties kept the peace in the Pacific for a decade, a not insubstantial accomplishment.) Franklin Roosevelt somewhat belatedly concluded, like his cousin Theodore had, “that the United States did have vital interests in the Pacific that were worth fighting for” (187). But his idealistic side sometimes got in the way of clear thinking, and he should have worked more cooperatively with Chiang Kai-shek. At Teheran and Yalta he went “too far in empowering the Soviets in the Far East at the expense of China and even Japan” (224). Green is sympathetic with all of the Republican administrations in the postwar years. He admires Dwight Eisenhower’s system of alliances (he says little about Eisenhower’s reliance on covert actions) and thinks John Foster Dulles was a good strategic thinker, though both men insufficiently understood the force of Asian nationalism. Richard Nixon, he argues, “entered office with the most coherent strategic framework for U.S. foreign policy toward Asia of any president since Theodore Roosevelt” (327). Green admires Nixon’s determination to fight on in Vietnam to maintain U.S. prestige, and his “sheer audacity” (346) in going to China. “The clarity and consistency in Nixon and [Henry] Kissinger’s grand strategy toward Asia,” he concludes, “can be compared only with that of Theodore Roosevelt … Neorealists ever since have pined for the glory days of 1969–1972” (354). Ronald Reagan personified “the confidence and willpower to lead” (387) that had been sadly lacking. Reagan initially stumbled on China policy but soon established a strategy that diminished Soviet ambitions. His secretary of state, George P. Shultz, was the “first real Mahanian in the cabinet in a generation” (391). In the end, Reagan “prevented a rival hegemon from dominating Asia” (421). George H. W. Bush lacked the “vision thing” (434), as he confessed, but he “deserves enormous credit for avoiding passing fads” and left “workable if bruised relations with China and Japan” (451–452). “Every one of his successors eventually returned to the building blocks he left in place” (452), Green writes. George W. Bush (on whose National Security Council Green served) “entered office with a straightforward but coherent strategic concept for management of great-power relations in Asia” (486). Later, Barack Obama would “pivot” toward Asia (427), but Green wonders what he was pivoting toward, since Bush had been consistently engaged with Asia. Green mentions Bush’s decision not to implement the Kyoto Protocol but does not criticize it; he thinks Bush could have done better on Southeast Asia and the Koreas. But overall Bush receives very high marks. By contrast, the Democratic administrations receive lower marks. Vietnam was lost, Green suggests, because of the “lack of a coherent regional strategy to guide decision-making on the war” (297). Green credits Carter for taking Brzezinski’s advice, stabilizing U.S.-China relations when he established full diplomatic relations, and infusing consideration of human rights into American diplomacy. But in the end, Carter “never understood the purpose of American power itself” (386). Bill Clinton had “impressive contextual intelligence” (454), but overall his policy lacked coherence. The book concludes with a critical assessment of Obama, who possessed an inherent understanding of “the rising importance of Asia” (519) but lacked “a cohesive strategic concept animating the focus on Asia” (523). Green dislikes Obama’s reliance on progressive foreign policy experts, his efforts to “engage unconditionally with authoritarian regimes such as Cuba, Syria, Iran, and North Korea” (519), and his hesitancy to use military force. He also chastises Obama for proceeding too cautiously on concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. But perhaps primary blame lies with the Republican Congress that declined to support the agreement when support was most needed. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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