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Miller’s ‘American Power and Liberal Order’: Toward conservative smart power

The future of American foreign policy, and of the existing international order, is the topic of Paul D. Miller’s book, "American Power and Liberal Order: A Conservative Internationalist Grand Strategy."



By SSG Brian Christopher Darling, New Jersey Army National Guard
Best Defense guest reviewer

As U.S. foreign policy transitions from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, a great deal of thought is being given to the way forward regarding the role of the United States in the international community. The future of American foreign policy, and of the existing international order, is the topic of Paul D. Miller’s book, American Power and Liberal Order: A Conservative Internationalist Grand Strategy.

Miller’s vast knowledge of national security, intelligence, and diplomacy — he’s a former CIA analyst who later was the National Security Council’s director for Pakistan and Afghanistan and now is a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin — makes for an exhaustive discussion of international relations theory. He provides unique insight into how America can continue in its leadership role.

Miller divides his volume into three major sections. First, he provides a summary of America’s history of expeditionary diplomacy, beginning in the 18th century and concluding with the U.S. role in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. He argues that there’s been an American grand strategy since the birth of the republic, and it remains the same: “Defend the homeland from attack, maintain a favorable balance of power among the great powers, champion liberalism, punish non-state actors, and invest in good governance and allied capabilities abroad” (page 18). The author also provides a discussion of the concepts of political Realism and Liberalism in international relations, and compares and contrasts the two and their applicability to the current international order.

The second section delves into the subtleties of realism and liberal internationalism. Miller argues that a grand strategy guided by the principles of conservative internationalism is the way forward for U.S. foreign policy, addressing recent failures of American grand strategy as he does so. He gives equally scathing commentary on U.S. intervention in Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He concludes that stability operations and coordination with international liberal organizations and nongovernmental organizations are necessary in order to maintain the current balance of power.

Miller supports the idea of expanding the role of civilian support of stability operations; subject matter experts are needed where military personnel are ill-equipped to accomplish foreign policy goals. He also supports increasing foreign aid to those countries that can be swayed to act in accordance with the interests of the United States, and withholding aid from countries that fail to support American foreign policy goals and from countries that simply don’t need it — Israel among them. The author suggests keeping the Federal Bureau of Investigation out of the intelligence community, creating a separate agency to deal with domestic intelligence gathering, and streamlining the deputy’s committee of the National Security Council.

Some of Miller’s ideas are excellent. I firmly believe that the United States needs to cut funding to those countries that act against our interests with one hand while holding out the other to receive a foreign aid check. I also agree with Miller’s assertion of the importance of training the military in the proper execution of stability operations; the next time the armed forces are called to stabilize a country after a regime change, there should be a plan on the shelf, ready to be implemented, for the conduct of stability operations after the conclusion of hostilities. These plans should be developed by assigned planners, rather than by agency principals or deputies.

American Power and Liberal Order offers hard, fair criticism of the foreign policies of both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. Miller’s experience as part as part of the national security community is evident in his writing, which is clear, concise, and accessible. The book is a must-have for anyone interested in foreign policy, especially stakeholders within the defense community and the State Department.

Staff Sgt. Darling has served in the United States Army in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Qatar. He has master’s degrees in liberal studies and public service leadership from Rutgers University and Thomas Edison State University, respectively. Darling is presently employed at Joint Force Headquarters, New Jersey National Guard, where he is a paralegal. He can be found on twitter @briancdarling and has written for NCO Journal. This review does not contain information of an official nature nor does it represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Photo credit: Amazon

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1