American Power after the Berlin Wall by Thomas Henriksen illuminates America’s worldwide role in post–Iron Curtain period

Friday, September 21, 2007
Thomas H. Henriksen
Thomas H. Henriksen

American Power after the Berlin Wall by Thomas Henriksen, a Hoover Institution senior fellow, examines for the first time, in a single volume, U.S. foreign policy from 1989 to the present through the prism of America’s interventions around the world.

The book, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in October, summarizes how the Soviet Union’s disintegration transformed America’s global position, clearing the way for it to project military power and diplomatic influence in the world’s far corners to preserve stability and security. The volume discusses Washington’s incursions and conflicts in Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The convulsions in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and East Timor are also addressed. It also describes the growth of terrorism before and after America responded to al-Qaeda in the global war on terror.

This unique work, in a single volume, chronicles and illuminates America’s worldwide role in the post–Iron Curtain period.

Rather than peace and normalcy, the post–Berlin Wall era ushered in one of the most tumultuous periods in history, according to Henriksen. An almost dizzying array of crises afflicted the international landscape. Rogue states, “failed” nations, terrorist attacks, humanitarian tragedies, insurgencies, and wars plagued global politics. America greeted this upheaval with regime change, military force, armed occupations, nation-building enterprises, humanitarian relief operations, and the imposition of democracy as it strove for a stable world friendly to U.S. interests. When the costs of military action looked too high, Washington fell back on diplomacy, containment, and deterrence to confront nuclear-arming North Korea and Iran.

To secure its ends, Henriksen writes, Washington dispatched its diplomats and soldiers, sent relief ships and rescue helicopters, and deployed air fleets and warships to foster a Pax Mundi as the United Nations fell prey to great power rivalries and dysfunction. Regime-change measures occurred about once every three years, and “stabilization and reconstruction” operations took place every 18 to 24 months.

Henriksen also explores several other themes. Well before it became apparent that the United States had too few troops in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraqi invasion, Washington also lacked sufficient forces in the Panama intervention, in Somalia in the Black Hawk Down incident, and in the Kosovo bombing. He details why U.S.-backed democracy transfers or restorations went reasonably well in Nicaragua, Panama, Haiti, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and even Bosnia but faced virulent resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan. He tracks America’s path from reluctant nation-builder to exuberant state-constructor. He scrutinizes the shift from a stability-first policy of underwriting autocracies to an occupation-imposed democracy doctrine in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Because transplanted democracy failed to “dry up the terrorist swamps,” he calls for the formulation of a new grand strategy to confront terrorism and suggests some of its elements.