In This Review

America's Inadvertent Empire
America's Inadvertent Empire
By William E. Odom and Robert Dujarric
Yale University Press, 2004, 304 pp

How durable is U.S. power? The authors of this thoughtful, well-researched study offer mostly optimistic answers. Looking at sources of power ranging from military strength to academic institutions and scientific accomplishments, Odom and Dujarric conclude that the current position of the United States could last for decades -- if not longer. Their basic argument is that the United States is strong because it has a depth and breadth of liberal practices and institutions that other societies cannot match -- and that because liberal institutions generally reflect long-term cultural habits and trends, they will not soon catch up. This case is a sort of synthesis between Francis Fukuyama's end of history and Samuel Huntington's clash of civilizations: liberal values lead to success, but not everyone can get there.

The most important warning the authors offer is that, because of poor leadership (they point to examples in both the Clinton and Bush administrations), the United States could adopt bad policies that cause others to band together against its power. This claim seems a little inconsistent; surely a society as well ordered as the liberal one they describe would do a reasonably decent job of choosing national leaders. In any case, the authors leave themselves a realistic if inelegant escape hatch: Bush's unilateral, confrontational policies are dangerous and poorly conceived -- unless they turn out well.