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Reading: Nancy Soderberg: Superpower Myth: the Use and Misuse of American Might: a Review

Updated on June 10, 2015
 William Jefferson Clinton - Presidential portrait. 42nd President of the United States (1993-2001), 2004
William Jefferson Clinton - Presidential portrait. 42nd President of the United States (1993-2001), 2004 | Source

Being just and effective is more important than getting one's way

Nancy Soderberg, Superpower Myth: the Use and Misuse of American Might, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005, p.p. 404


This is an in some ways masterly account of the foreign policy achievements of the Clinton Administration and what the author sees as the partial unravelling of those achievements by the subsequent Administration.

It is written with great clarity and readability by a former Ambassador-rank representative of the Clinton Administration to the UN. The writer gives accounts of various of the world's troublespots where — always seeking alliances also — the projection of American power contributed materially to defusing deep-seated ethnically-based conflicts.

These series of actions and initiatives should not necessarily be regarded as having brought resolutions to these varied and often violent conflicts, but rather their containment, in ways upon which local leaderships could build.

In the initial stages of intervention in Bosnia, Kosovo and Northern Ireland, and elsewhere, the Clinton Adminsitration undoubtedly aroused as much antagonism as it did enthusiasm. Albeit marked by deep hiatuses, the longer term decline in violence in various conflict areas, for which the Administration was not solely responsible in any case, did leave a very constructive legacy, according to the writer. It is also true that the behind the scenes preparations for the historic rapprochement between Israel's Rabin and Palestinian leader Arafat, over which President Clinton presided, were not initiated by the Administration.

It is also part of the author's argument that these conflict containment initiatives, effected through consensus building, are ultimately in the United States' long-term interests.

Nancy Soderberg points out that, unlike the foreign policies of various Administrations, this series of initiatives by President Clinton did not solidify into a often-quoted doctrine. (I suppose my own two Canadian cents' would be that it represented 'the projection of US power for conflict containment through consensus building': far too much of a mouthful!)

Post 2001

The writer goes on to detail how in the run up to — and in the wake of — 9/11, the focus of neoconservative members of the George W. Bush Administration was on régime change in Iraq, rather than on Al Qaeda. Tellingly, hours after the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld was talking about going after Saddam Hussein; for his part, in the immediate post-9/11 period Paul Wolfowitz was recorded as making claims of Iraqi culpability for the attacks, despite the absence of evidence.

Nancy Soderberg also points out that even the Bush Administration seemed belatedly to admit that its ambitious, high hopes for Iraqi society, which régime change was supposed to advance, had not gone according to plan. This she says occurred when the Administration, having spent the previous years marginalizing the UN and turning a deaf ear to advice from this forum, suddenly wanted the UN to become responsible for mending the results of the Administration's own actions in Iraq.

The book has an Introduction by former President Bill Clinton.

(Nancy Soderberg's more recent focus of activity in the Florida State Senate begs questions as to what it may be in Tallahassee that is so uniquely absorbing for someone who commands such a foreign policy grasp and who has such a distinguished resumé of involvement in foreign affairs.)

Note: I wish that, as a former editorial assistant, I had had the opportunity to proof-read this in many ways excellent book, because its various typographical mistakes do not do it justice.

August 30, 2013

MJFenn is an independent writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 3 years ago

      lion44: As a Canadian rather than an American I do recall that some of President Clinton's fiercest critics in the late 90s were critical of his Administration for having supposedly done too much in various conflict zones rather than too little; a 'too little' aspect of their criticism seemed to emerge after 9/11. Some of my hubpages discuss some aspects of different US Administrations, not with any partisan intentions — I'm not American, of course — but more from a historical or geographical perspective. Regarding Nancy Soderberg — whether one likes or thoroughly depreciates her contribution (I myself would probably agree with some of your criticisms) — she had a bird's eye perspective upon many far reaching events and with a decades-long background in foreign policy issues, her writings are arguably at least fair comment and for myself I found this book certainly a good read. Thank-you for your comment.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      While I can't argue with the incompetence of the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq, I'm always suspicious of former Clintonites trying to prop up the reputation of their boss. One could make the case that Clinton's lack of resolve in fighting terrorism (withdrawing from Somalia under less than favorable conditions; lack of response to the Cole bombing, and the first Twin Towers bombing) led to 9/11. Clinton wanted to be loved, not feared, and that's tough as an American President to pull off in the modern era. I'll get off my soapbox. But good review.