Temptations of a Superpower

In This Review

Temptations of a Superpower

By Ronald Steel
Harvard University Press, 1995
144 pp. $18.95
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This short volume, based on the inaugural Goldman lecture at the Library of Congress, is an eloquent meditation on the role of the United States in the world. Steel, a professor at the University of Southern California, believes that the foreign policy elite has lost touch with the interests of the nation and that its globalist vision, increasingly archaic with the end of the Cold War, stands as a profound obstacle to the reformation of domestic society. Steel is particularly effective as a critic of neo-Wilsonianism, and he gives a cogent account of the moral and practical hazards attending the indiscriminate support of national self-determination, the pursuit of collective security, and the coercive promotion of democracy. In a book filled with severe strictures against intervention, he carves out, somewhat surprisingly, a substantial exception for humanitarian interventions to end genocide, arguing that the failure of the United States to intervene in Rwanda and Cambodia was "shameful." (Even critics of imperial temptations, one must conclude, are not entirely free of the syndromes they normally lambaste.) As in his first book, The End of Alliance, published over 30 years ago, Steel consigns NATO to the dustbin of history. Though one must concede that these obituaries appear more and more plausible, Steel makes no attempt to confront the peculiar obstacles that the European Union, with Germany inevitably in the vanguard, would face in maintaining order in Europe without the pacifying presence of American power.