In This Review

The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power
The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power
By David E. Sanger
Harmony, 2009, 528 pp

Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, has written a brilliantly reported and researched account of the missteps and misfires in the Bush administration's war on terrorism and campaign against nuclear proliferation. The first four sections of the book, describing the Bush administration's efforts in Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan, should be required reading for anyone seeking an understanding of where the United States is and how it got there over the last eight years. The hair-raising section "The Three Vulnerabilities" -- describing continuing U.S. vulnerabilities to terrorism at the end of the Bush era -- deserves the widest possible audience. Sanger is less successful when he shifts from describing particular policy problems to addressing the larger issues of the United States' place in the world. By leaving India out of his picture of a rising Asia, Sanger probably overstates both the rise of Chinese power and the potential for U.S.-Chinese competition. And Sanger's criticisms of the Bush administration do not give enough weight to the failure of past administrations. The Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, the ominous combination in Pakistan of nuclear buildup and political decay -- these developments frustrated better presidents than George W. Bush. For 30 years, U.S. presidents watched helplessly as these problems grew. President Barack Obama is the latest in a long line of U.S. leaders attempting to cope with problems that become more urgent and less tractable with every passing year.