Book Review – America in Retreat

America in Retreat002


Recently there have been a number of books published on America’s role in world events and what the world would be like absent such participation. Mark Steyn published After America in 2011. Earlier this year Dinesh D’Souza gave us America: Imagine a World Without Her. Now, renowned, Pulitzer Prize winning Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens brings us his view on the subject in America in Retreat.

As an author, Stephens may be uniquely qualified for this subject. Raised in Mexico City, educated at the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics, he has written in the field of international relations for many years, and served as editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post. If nothing else, he has the international experience to back up his writing and obviously understands that the way the world works is rarely the way we want it to. Thus, his opinion as to why the positive presence of the USA in international affairs is extremely important.

Stephens sees the world as it is, not as he wishes it to be, which is vital for the role of commentator on this subject. Unlike the idealists, or the anti-Americans, he understands precisely how the world is being shaped by events that are beyond the control of the bullies who forever crop up on the world scene. He sees the need for intelligent decisiveness as a quality in leadership; that muddling through simply won’t get the job done. He also brings to the table a host of resources on international opinion of what is happening and how the world’s leaders and common folk view America’s actual versus desired role. Lastly, he truly understands that if you do not act to control world events, eventually they will control you.

He begins his analysis with a study of Isolationism; a phenomenon that is rearing its head now, as it did following the tragedy of World War I, comparing it to today’s foreign policy posture and reaction to undesirable world events. He then moves into the origins of the Pax Americana after World War II and the birth of the Truman Doctrine; something now, largely forgotten. He examines the Progressive views and ideals of the 20th Century and where their view was right, and also wrong. This is followed by scrutiny of the role of idealism in foreign policy, and the end of the cold war. As Stephens cogently puts it “…we conflated the West with the world, human ideals with human nature, a respite from history with a victory over it.” His discussion of perception over reality, and the nature of history as seen from the perspective of the realist, the idealist, or the specific nationalist makes for extremely enlightening reading.

It becomes obvious that Stephens is, at least from the perspective of his writing, an ardent realist. He sees and understands world events in ways that many government “experts” likely do not. Thus, he is able to provide is with a view that is frequently not seen in the “mainstream” press, including the apparent belief that containment of the United States in international affairs is more important that containment of international aggressors such as Iran, or perhaps ISIS. There is a overlying philosophy within this that victory over international troublemakers may not be possible, or desirable. Thus, retreat from the stage of international events becomes the option of choice, perhaps as an easy way out, consequences be damned.

After analysis of exactly how the world arrived at its present state, and what rules of chaos appear operative, he proposes rules of order that could be the foundation of a way forward. Rules that are economical, practical, and realistic, based, in part on the idea that, as former Senator Joe Liebermann puts it, the US must be the world’s policeman or at least police chief. The reasoning is for all practical purposes unassailable because it is backed by facts from current and 20th Century history that frequently make the case for the author; facts that the average citizen is frequently not aware of, and which are either deliberately or conveniently ignored by those behind the microphones who wish to make a case that may not be entirely realistic.

America in Retreat is a vital piece of writing, of extreme importance to people who wish to be truly informed. It blows apart many of the myths that surround conventional wisdom on foreign affairs and allows the reader to understand precisely why America best interests require and active and engaged foreign policy, not only for the benefit of other nations, but of America itself. In fact, one might gain the reasonable conclusion that Secretary of State Bret Stephens might be an excellent idea.


America in Retreat is available at

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