A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism by Jeffrey D. Sachs

Summary and takeaways from the book.

The book proposes a new American Foreign Policy for a post-exceptionalist era.

"the challenges of sustainable development (including global cooperation to head off dangerous human-induced climate change) should guide and define U.S. foreign policy in the coming generation".

ISBN: 978-0231188494
Published: March 24, 2020
Pages: 272
Available on: amazon

Jeffrey D. Sachs is an economics professor, bestselling author, innovative educator, and global leader in sustainable development.

The author has influence in policy making as well where he has advised governments. "Poland was the first country to install a noncommunist government, in 1989. I became economic adviser to the government that same year".

"In 1990 and 1991, I tried to help Gorbachev with a plan similar to Poland's".

"In the spring of 1991, I worked with Gorbachev’s economic adviser Grigory Yavlinsky and with colleagues at Harvard and MIT to prepare a “Grand Bargain,” in which the Soviet Union would receive significant funding ($30 billion per year) to restructure its economy, while undertaking political reforms and democratization".

"By September, Russian president Boris Yeltsin was reaching out to me and others to help mobilize urgent financial support from the West".

"This should be a time of confidence and rising well-being for Americans, yet instead it is a time of disarray, division, and unhappiness.

A large majority of Americans feel that the country is moving in the wrong direction—and they are correct

"In domestic politics, the United States is squandering its affluence... In foreign policy, the situation is no better, as the United States is rapidly losing its global influence".

"America no longer dominates geopolitics or the world economy. Its military can defend the United States against attack but cannot decisively determine the direction of geopolitics, or even local politics in places where it intervenes".

"As an exceptionalist foreign policy in a postexceptionalist era, it is likely to strengthen rather than weaken America’s main competitors, especially China.

Yet the most dangerous part of America First is that it could easily lead to war, even nuclear devastation. Foreign policy narcissism is extraordinarily perilous

"The exceptionalist mindset is especially dangerous today. America is part of a world with shared challenges needing shared solutions. In any event, America's power—economic, military, and technological—is far less 'exceptional' than Trump and other foreign policy leaders may believe".

"American aloofness and often outright hostility to diplomacy comes at an odd time".
"the challenges of sustainable development (including global cooperation to head off dangerous human-induced climate change) should guide and define U.S. foreign policy in the coming generation".

Three competing ideologies of foreign policy

"exceptionalists, argue that the United States should continue to aim for global dominance...".

"'realists', argues that the United States must accept a realistic balance of power rather than U.S. dominance. So far so good, in my view. Yet like the exceptionalists, the realists argue essentially for 'peace through strength'. They believe a new arms race is the necessary and inevitable price to pay to keep the balance of power and preserve U.S. security".

Author belongs to the group of Internationalists, who "argue that global cooperation between nations is not only feasible but also essential to avoid war and to sustain American and global prosperity. In their view, global cooperation would spare the world a costly and dangerous new arms race between the United States and the emerging powers, one that could easily spill over into open conflict. Moreover, global cooperation would enable the United States and the world to seize the opportunities opened by today’s technological revolution to boost economic growth while overcoming ills that include global warming, emerging diseases, and mass migration".
'exceptionalism' has been the American Foreign Policy for several decades.

American exceptionalism abroad

"American exceptionalism, I will argue throughout this book, is passé, a throwback to the years after World War II when the United States dominated the world economy and was far ahead of the rest of the world in military and civilian technology. Times are very different now.".

"American exceptionalism has reached a double dead end. It’s no longer feasible, because the United States is no longer the dominant power that the exceptionalists imagine, and so it no longer works for guiding effective foreign policy—and hasn’t for a while. Yes, the United States may have “won” the Cold War (in the exceptionalist telling), but it lost the Vietnam War and made a mess of wars and CIA adventurism in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and other places where exceptionalism crashed against on-the-ground realities".

Populism at home

"Policy of American exceptionalism abroad usually is accompanied by populism at home".

"Populism, in name, means an appeal to the average person, the 'common man and woman', against special interests. I have no problem, and indeed I have much sympathy, with this sentiment.

Where populists like Trump go wrong is that they stir their followers with simplistic diagnoses and promises that they cannot fulfill.

Then, to try to rescue themselves, they usually raid the treasury, with deficit spending to eke out more time in power. They typically fall from power when their promises of higher living standards fail to materialize, and the budget deficits produce high inflation or a solvency crisis

"The long history of the United States is of two white classes, a rich elite (one that originally included the slave-owning class) and a hardscrabble working class that takes solace in its social status remaining above that of even more desperate African Americans, Native Americans, and other minorities.

Rich whites have long sought the political allegiance of poor whites by promising to keep minority groups from rising too far, too fast in economic, social, and political terms.

The goal of the elites has been to forestall a class-based politics in which poor whites and poor minority groups actually join together to demand redistribution from the rich.

In this the rich have been remarkably cynical and remarkably successful.

(In a perverse way, the elites of both political parties have tended to favor distinctive brands of identity politics over class politics to divert attention from the massive inequalities of income and wealth in American society)

Directed technological change

"government funding and leadership supported key advances in science and technology that could thereafter be scaled up by government and private industry. Successes included the moonshot, the rapid development of computer science, the invention of the Internet, advances in exploration and development of hydrocarbons (including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking), advances in crop breeding, the sequencing of the human genome, and more recently, self-driving vehicles championed by DARPA".

This powerful approach to winning wars and transforming the economy is being ignored. "Directed technological change" helped win WW2 and is responsible for technological innovation that boosted the economy.

* * *

Policy is also a matter of imagination.

"In essence, the problem was one of imagination: thinking of Russia as a partner and even ally was just too hard for American leaders steeped in Cold War thinking".
The author explores "internationalist approach set out in these pages, I conclude with ten priorities for a New American Foreign Policy aimed at achieving true national security and well-being for the American people".
The author calls the new American Foreign Policy the "Age of Sustainable Development".

"Let us therefore enter the Age of Sustainable Development with hope, energy, and determination. This is a time for all countries, especially the major powers, to work cooperatively to raise well- being, protect the environment, end the remnants of extreme poverty, and guard against hatred, fear, and a senseless descent into violence".

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