American Unilaterlaism and the Failure of Good
by Clyde Prestowitz
Reviewed June 30, 2003.
Basic Books, 2003. 328 pages.
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:
#1, Political Nonfiction
Like Of Paradise and Power,
by Robert Kagan, Rogue Nation
attempts to show Americans how
other people in the world see our actions. Unlike Robert Kagan,
Clyde Prestowitz does not confine his scope to attitudes in Europe and
America, but covers the whole world. He also deals less in theory
and more in details.
Let me quote the author’s opening paragraph: “The title
of this book is purposely provocative. So let me hasten to emphasize
that I in no way mean to equate the United States with Saddam Hussein’s
Iraq or any other brutal, dictatorial regime. Indeed, I have always
preferred to think of my country as the ‘citty upon a hill,’ if sometimes
a bit more cloudy than shining. No, what troubles me, and has inspired
my title, is that increasingly large numbers of people abroad, including
many longtime friends of America, are beginning to see us, if not exactly
like Saddam or other brutes, certainly as, in the words of Webster’s dictionary,
‘no longer. . . belonging, not controllable or answerable, and with an
He continues, “My purpose in this book is to try to explain
to baffled and hurt Americans why the world seems to be turning against
them, and also to show foreigners how they frequently misinterpret America’s
good intentions. While I will be giving a sober view of America,
I do not aim to bash it.”
Clyde Prestowitz is not some liberal seeking only to tear down
the current administration. He comes from a conservative background,
having worked as part of the Regan administration. He is also
a Christian and makes a final appeal in the last chapter of the book to
fellow Christians. His biggest qualification to write this is that
he has spent years of his life overseas, in many different parts of the
world. He seems to understand the way people from different cultures
view the United States, and very capably explains those views to his readers.
This book is long on specifics, discussing specific world hot
spots, specific treaties that we negotiated and then refused to sign,
and specific obligations that we agreed to and then have not carried
out. He believes that our motives are good, but shows how it often
doesn’t look that way to other countries. He talks about principles
that we claim to believe in and then only apply where it suits us.
The book also talks about how America’s influence has spread
so that our choices affect everyone on the planet. He makes a strong
case that we need to consider these effects much more deeply, and he
concludes with several specific suggestions for changes that we should
I found the scope of his research impressive. He does
make a compelling case. I hope that our leaders will listen to
his ideas. This book helps explain why the world might not think
that we are always the Good Guys we want to be.
Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.
All rights reserved.