In This Review

America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder
America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder
By Bret Stephens
Sentinel, 2014, 288 pp

The Obama administration took office believing that its predecessor had squandered U.S. power and prestige through belligerent unilateralism and misguided interventions. Obama devoted himself to pulling back and trying to rebuild bridges. Critics argue that the reaction has been overdone and has caused more problems than it has solved. Stephens is one of the administration’s most intelligent and articulate critics, and his book gives its target no quarter. He makes a powerful case for the vices of isolationism and the virtues of a vigorous American global role, arguing that retreat can turn into rout and that disaster can follow on its heels. The dismal experience of Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. forces is a microcosm of what he fears could happen around the world more generally, and he rails against the increasing number of voices on both sides of the aisle that seem not to realize the danger or not to care. With Russian aggression in Ukraine, Chinese bellicosity in the East China and South China Seas, and the Middle East in turmoil, he has a point. Defenders of the administration will respond that it fully understands that point and that Stephens exaggerates the extent of the recent retreat and the direness of the global situation.