Outlier States: American Strategies to Change, Contain, or Engage Regimes

Nothing has bedeviled U.S. foreign policy more since the end of the Cold War than how to deal with a collection of despotic, hostile, and dangerous middle-tier states, such as Iran and North Korea. In this lucid and thoughtful book, Litwak compares the performances of the George W. Bush and Obama administrations in handling such foes. In the aftermath the 9/11 attacks, Bush argued that “rogue” conduct derived from the character of the regime itself and used that notion to justify a shift from a policy of containing Iraq to one of regime change. Litwak argues that the Bush administration sent mixed signals on Iran and North Korea, never fully making clear whether the U.S. objective was regime change or behavior change. The Obama administration has tried to recast the debate by framing “outlier” status in terms of conduct that violates established international norms, offering Iran and North Korea a pathway into the community of nations. But this engagement strategy has also faltered. In the end, Litwak suggests that combining a strategy of containment with offers of negotiations is the best way to cope with states that threaten the international order.

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