Characteristically, Stanley Hoffmann assesses the challenges facing American foreign policy with the touch of a master: broad brush strokes set on an enormous canvas, with impressive attention to nuance. The stance adopted is neither critical nor apologetic, but rather magisterial: the detached scholar sensitive to complexity and human frailty, approaching the torments of the world with compassion, but also with a measure of irony, given the way states behave, especially the sole surviving superpower, and thus not expecting much to be forthcoming by way of innovation or commitment. I find myself in general agreement with Hoffmann on specifics, but disappointed by his accommodating tone and by the absence of a more radical line of critique that might contribute to the building of a post-Marxist, post-cold war consensus on foreign policy among progressives in the United States.
On tone, I find the reliance on Kissinger’s banal insistence that the United States must find a balance between excessive involvement in the troubles of the world and withdrawal quite puzzling, and on reflection disturbing. Why make such a gesture of deference to the realist wizardry that Kissinger exemplifies? The Kissinger quote also appears to operate as a signaling device in Hoffmann’s essay, conveying acceptance of the world as constituted, with criticism limited to matters of tactics and process. As such, it is not surprising that the only reform mentioned by Hoffmann is a call for “a world steering committee” (the Concert of Europe globalized) of leading states and regional powers to handle the daunting agenda of humanitarian crises, failed states—in effect, to address the whole domain of implosive geopolitics that has come to dominate the international political scene since the end of the Gulf War....
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