(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Walter Russell Mead has written widely on United States foreign policy, and his Special Providence, published in 2002, received the Lionel Gelber Award as the year's best study of international relations. In Power, Terror, Peace, and War, Mead continues his discussion and analysis of American policy in the light of the Iraq war, initially waged against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Unlike some writers on foreign affairs, Mead approaches U.S. foreign relations from a historical perspective, believing that ignoring the historical dimension of current affairs can lead to wrong-headed policies and serious misadventures.

Like most commentators, Mead agrees that September 11, 2001, was a watershed date in American history but says that, in retrospect, the terrorist attacks of that day were not entirely unexpected. He claims that the years from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to September 11, 2001, were lost years for American foreign policy, and during the post-Cold War years, events abroad were creating challenges to American security and world primacy that culminated with the attacks on the Pentagon and New York City's World Trade Center.

At the core of Mead's analysis is what he calls the “American project,” which he defines as the quest to assure American security domestically while establishing a world order made up of democratic states tied together by common values and economic prosperity. The American project is not a recent development. The United States has had global concerns stretching back to the founding of the republic. However, the nineteenth century was Britain's century, and it was only after the sun set on Britain's empire that the United States was forced to become the “gyroscope” of world stability, a position enhanced as the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the post-Cold War world, the United States, according to Mead, must play the role on a global scale that Rome and China had historically played on a regional basis.

The use of power is central to the American project, according to the author, and to ignore the realities of power will lead to failure on a global basis. One type of power is “hard power,” or military power. In the early twenty-first century the United States dominates the world with its military capacity, even though, as evidenced in Iraq, there are limits to even America's resources. To prevent the Middle East, with its oil resources, from becoming a “theocratic terror camp,” Mead strongly supports the George W. Bush administration's use of military force against Afghanistan's Taliban and al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden.

There is also so-called sticky power, or economic power. Mead argues that sticky power can potentially prevent the use of military power. The current economic relationships between the United States and China, he believes, will militate against the use of military force over such contentious issues as the future of Taiwan. China, the emerging superpower, is less likely to rely upon military force if it is entangled in the sticky power of economic interrelationships. In addition to hard power—military and economic—there is what Mead calls sweet power, which is the attractiveness of American culture and values in much of the rest of the world. The example of pop culture, with its movies and music, is an obvious example, but so is the United States’ stated commitment to human rights.

As the sole superpower at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the United States is the world's hegemonic power, and hard, sticky, and sweet power together account for America's paramount position and will likely do so in the future. Mead argues that the United States has an obligation to use its several powers, not least in the Middle East. In his opinion, American involvement, past and present, does not so much seek to gain access to oil to fuel American cars but rather to temper the impact of Middle Eastern oil resources on the world as a whole.

Mead also compares and contrasts what he calls the “Fordist” economic and social system that dominated much of the twentieth century with the “millennial capitalism” of the early twenty-first century. Fordism was a reaction to laissez-faire capitalism of the nineteenth century and was a result of the Progressive and New Deal movements. A relationship of bureaucracies of business and labor administered by powerful government agencies as honest brokers and with numerous social welfare programs, Fordism proved its worth, not least in the Cold War. However, Mead argues, capitalism is an economic system that...

(The entire section is 1880 words.)