In This Review

U.S. Policy Toward Africa: Eight Decades of Realpolitik
U.S. Policy Toward Africa: Eight Decades of Realpolitik
By Herman J. Cohen
Lynne Rienner, 2020, 280 pp

Cohen is a retired U.S. diplomat who devoted most of his career in the State Department and the White House to Africa. His comprehensive political history of U.S.-African relations carefully chronicles American policy on the continent across successive presidencies, from the administration of Franklin Roosevelt to that of Donald Trump. Cohen emphasizes the continuities across both Democratic and Republican governments and defends most policy actions in terms of the U.S. national interest. The book does a commendable job of explaining a complicated succession of diplomatic initiatives in reaction to events on the continent. Readers will be struck by how the single-minded attention to the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union shaped U.S. policy, to the exclusion of salient domestic and regional politics. That emphasis helps explain the sense of policy drift in the second half of the book, when the post–Cold War era leaves U.S. decision-makers without an overarching framework for policy toward African countries.