America Between the Wars or the New James Bond?

by Kenneth Anderson

The day, a few weeks ago, when America Between the Wars arrived on my doorstop also saw the arrival of another book via Amazon … Sebastian Faulks-as-Ian Fleming, The Devil May Care. The serious policy-history tome or the new James Bond novel? What to do, what to do? I idly picked up America Between the Wars, assuming that within nanoseconds I would get bored and flip over to Bond – but no, I found myself quite entranced with this book of 1990s history. I finished it before ever returning to Bond.

I spent the 1990s mostly in international NGO work – Human Rights Watch, followed by the Open Society Institute/Soros Foundations, mostly. I spent a lot of time on the landmines ban campaign, the Balkans, reform in the former communist countries, and issues related to global civil society. I was living in New York and spending much time abroad. Washington DC was a mystery to me, and the policy world of the USG, I now see from this book, unfathomable for me, even though I spent much time arguing about it. I have a vastly better idea, after reading this book, why it was so hard to engage the USG on Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, all the human rights situations that were metastasizing in those years. But also why it was so difficult-to-impossible for people like Soros, in the early 1990s, to get the US government to engage on things like the Russian economy – anyone remember the “ruble overhang”?

In later posts I will get into some of the fascinating policy questions raised by this book about the 1990s and especially their implications today. How much is the 1990s misunderstood in today’s policy-making? But to start out with, I just want to note what an impressive descriptive work this book is – I finally have a unified grasp on the 1990s from the standpoint of American policy. It’s a weird feeling – to have been, as NGO worker, on the edges, frequently out in the field, of the policies being argued and debated in Washington, but to read this book and understand what it was like from the perspective of the Clinton administration. As history alone, America Between the Wars brings it all together – I think it will be a standard account of the 1990s for a long time.

Book Discussion with Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier

by Roger Alford

The Council on Foreign Relations and Opinio Juris are pleased to announce a book discussion with Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier on their recent book, America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11.

Here is a brief description of the book:

America Between the Wars shows that America did not change in one day. The tragedy of 9/11 and its aftermath had its origins twelve years earlier, when the world really did shift in ways that were incomprehensible at the time. Strangely, the date mirrors a much happier moment: it was November 9, 1989—11/9—when the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War was effectively over. During the last decade of the twentieth century, America and the West declared victory. Democracy and the free market had prevailed, and the United States emerged as the world’s triumphant superpower. The finger-on-the-button tension that had defined an earlier generation was over, and it seemed that long-lasting peace was at hand. The next twelve years passed in a haze of self congratulation and inward preoccupation—what some now mistakenly call a “holiday from history.” When that complacency about the world shattered on September 11, 2001, confused Americans asked themselves: How did we get here? America Between the Wars reveals the ways that debates about America’s role in the world framed the intense political struggles between Republicans and Democrats. It is an important inside story of a generation of leaders grappling with a decade of dramatic transformation. This book changes how we should think about the recent past, and uncovers important lessons for the future.

We are also pleased to welcome Matthew Waxman (Columbia) and Ken Anderson (American) as guest respondents. We look forward to an interesting discussion about American foreign policy during the critical years from November 9, 1989 to September 11, 2001.