Saturday, July 3, 2010

Matlock on Superpower Illusions

I just finished Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray—And How to Return to Reality by Jack Matlock (2010, 368 p.). Ambassador Matlock served a number of years in the U.S. Foreign Service, including a stint as ambassador the Soviet Union at the time of Gorbachev, Reagan, and the end of the Cold War. Matlock has written almost two books here: one on the history of the Cold War, or rather, the end of the Cold War, which he emphasizes occurred before the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The second part of the book addresses the foolish hubris reflected in U.S. policy that followed the end of the Cold War and Soviet Union. Matlock makes clear that we did not "win" the Cold War; it stopped by mutual agreement. Matlock has almost unstinting praise for Ronald Reagan and the attitude he took toward Gorbachev and change in Soviet leadership that Gorbachev represented. Unfortunately, so Matlock thinks, we took our supposed victory too far in extending NATO into former Warsaw Pact nations and thereby threatening Russia. We also have gotten ourselves into some very difficult situations since then. Matlock has plenty to say that is critical of Clinton administration attitudes and actions, although his harshest criticisms go toward the George W. Bush administration.

After Matlock retired from the Foreign Service he has taught, including a stint at Princeton in the George Kennan chair, and I certainly get the impression from this book that Matlock merited such a prestigious honor (or at least I think that it should a very prestigious honor!). I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the perspectives of a person who has represented the U.S. in the front lines of diplomatic engagement and who has learned a great deal from his experiences. An excellent book.

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