Review by Amb. (ret.) Michael W. Cotter, Publisher, American Diplomacy
American Foreign Policy: Alliance Politics in a Century of War, 1914-2014 by James W. Peterson, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014 ISBN 978-1-62356-073-7, eISBN 978-1-6235-6488-9, Hardcover, 194 pp., $130.00 (hardcover), $35.61 (paperback, Amazon), $19.24 (Kindle).
Someday a book might be written that makes sense of U.S. foreign policy during the 100 years from 1914 to 2014, but, to paraphrase Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings, this is neither the day nor the book. The author is a professor of political science and department head at Valdosta State University in Georgia. His intention is either to propose a new or to expand upon an existing concept (it is not clear which) that uses three significant types of “distance” (gravitational, typological and attributional) to analyze how states form alliances to deal with crises. The case studies he uses for his analysis are the conflicts in which the U.S. has been involved from the First World War to the Arab Spring.
Professor Peterson introduces the conceptual framework midway through an extended introductory chapter, providing a brief outline of how it applies to those conflicts. He then provides more details on those conflicts in ten chapters, dividing them into four parts covering the two World Wars, the Cold War (Korea and Vietnam), post-Cold War conflicts with rogue states (Gulf War and the breakup of Yugoslavia), and challenges from terrorist power (Afghanistan, Iraq and the Arab Spring).
The exposition of the various conflicts is cursory at best and includes debatable conclusions. While in most of the individual chapters he ties the conflicts under discussion to the three types of “distance,” he doesn’t do so in all cases. And in the end there doesn’t appear to be any clear pattern among the various alliances using this analytical framework. Perhaps all would be clearer if treated in a longer textbook, which the price of the hardcover would seem to indicate this is, but with its mere 194 pages and paucity of references the book seems to be geared more for the lay reader.
In taking on the daunting task of seeking to develop a framework to encompass such disparate times and conflicts, Professor Peterson has not been helped by his publisher. The volume is replete with typographical errors and appears not to have undergone any serious editing. For instance, in the chapter on World War II he correctly notes that the attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in some 2,500 U.S. casualties, but discussing the 9/11 attacks in a later chapter he compares that loss of life to the “1,000” who died at Pearl Harbor. If this were an isolated example, it might be forgiven, but it is simply one of many such errors.