I reviewed Hal Brands’s intriguing Making the Unipolar Moment for Political Science Quarterly. The review has been published as part of the fall issue, and it is available online for free. Brands’s account of U.S. grand strategy in the late Cold War is well worth the read, though ultimately I think he understates the contradictions within U.S. policies and overstates their role in determining the course of events elsewhere in the world. Brands has a knack for sweeping, synthetic history and writes in a way that engaged academic and non-academic audiences alike.
My review: “In 1991, the United States bestrode the world as a victorious Gulliver, seemingly more loved than feared. The unprecedented power of the “unipolar moment” makes it easy to forget the pessimism that dominated U.S. punditry two decades earlier. In a sweeping, three-decade account, Hal Brands argues that U.S. foreign policy rebounded from post-Vietnam “malaise” by taking advantage of three underlying favorable trends: gradual Soviet weakening, incipient globalization, and the growth of pro–human rights civil society. U.S. policymakers did not directly create these forces, but their statecraft turned them to U.S. advantage. In Brands’s telling, President Jimmy Carter recognized these trends but lacked coherent policies to take advantage of them. In contrast, President Ronald Reagan is heralded for an effective mix of bellicose rhetoric, military spending, and aggressive responses to perceived Soviet gains in the “Third World” during his first term, followed by a relaxation of tensions on his terms in his second. Brands shows President George H.W. Bush as an expert manager whose reactions to fast-moving events were united by consistent beliefs.”