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The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might

A discussion with Author, Nancy Soderberg, and response by David Aaron.

More about The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might by Nancy Soderberg

"For eight years, Nancy Soderberg served with distinction and creativity at the highest levels of American government. She is uniquely positioned to explain how the world works in this new era-and when it's in danger of breaking down."
-Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State

Are there limits to American power? The neoconservative brain trust behind the Bush administration's foreign policy doesn't seem to recognize any. For the first time, we have people in power who believe that as the world's reigning superpower, America can do what it wants, when it wants, without regard to allies, costs, or results. But as events in Iraq are proving, America may be powerful, but it is not all-powerful.

In practice, no country could ever be strong enough to solve problems like Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq through purely military means. In the future, America's power will constantly be called up to help failed and failing states, and it is becoming clear that the complex mess of Somalia has replaced the proxy war of Vietnam as the model for what future military conflicts will look like: a failed state, a power vacuum, armed factions, and enough chaos to panic an entire region. Using vivid examples from her years in the White House and at the United Nations, Nancy Soderberg demonstrates why military force is not always effective, why allies and consensus-building are crucial, and how the current administration's faulty world view has adversely affected policies toward Israel, Iraq, North Korea, Haiti, Africa, and Al-Qaeda. Powerful, provocative, and persuasive, this timely book demonstrates that the future of America's security depends on overcoming the superpower myth.

More about Nancy Soderberg

Working in foreign policy on a national level for 20 years, Nancy Soderberg was one of President Bill Clinton's highest-ranking advisors during his two terms in office. Among her accomplishments was working on issues in Northern Ireland and negotiating a peace treaty with the IRA (Irish Republican Army) there. After Clinton left office, Soderberg was hired as a vice president of International Crisis Group, which filed reports on hot spots around the world.

Soderberg graduated from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor's degree in French and economics. After graduation, she worked at the Bank of New England in Boston as a budget analyst. She later earned her Master of Science in foreign service from Georgetown University in 1984. Her studies focused on political risk analysis and international economics.

After earning master's degree, Soderberg worked for Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy for seven years as his foreign affairs advisor. She also was foreign policy advisor in two unsuccessful campaigns for president: Walter Mondale in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988. When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, Soderberg was his foreign policy director. When Clinton won the presidency, she served as his Deputy Director of the Presidential Transition for National Security.

In 1993, Soderberg took another position among Clinton's advisors. She was his number three advisor as the staff director for the National Security Council. By 1994-95, much of Soderberg's attention was focused on getting a cease fire in Northern Ireland as chair of a presidential committee on Northern Ireland. The country had long been plagued by a guerilla war between the IRA and other factions in the country.

In 1997, Soderberg was appointed by Clinton to be the U.S. Representative for Special Political Affairs at the United Nations. This was the third-highest position in the American group there, and made her a representative to the United Nations' Security Council. She helped develop U.S. foreign policy, which was put in to play there. Among the issues she addressed were how peacekeepers were used.

When George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, Soderberg was replaced at the United Nations. She was then hired as a vice president of the International Crisis Group in 2001. This organization issued quick reports on areas of the world where conflict and unrest could be found, such as the re-building of Afghanistan and the war in Iraq in 2003. Soderberg's expertise made her an important addition to the organization.

More about David Aaron

Ambassador David Aaron is Director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy at the RAND Corporation where he also coordinates counter-terrorism and homeland security research. He has served in both the government and the private sector. A graduate of Occidental College and Princeton University, he then entered the Foreign Service, where he held a variety of posts, which included the U.S. Delegation to NATO and to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks with the Soviet Union. After leaving the Foreign Service, he continued in government in several positions, including the National Security Council staff where he was responsible for arms control and strategic doctrine. Subsequently, he became a Task Force Director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, and then Deputy National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter. In the latter capacity, he chaired sub-Cabinet committees dealing with Arms Control and with Intelligence. He also served as a confidential presidential emissary to Europe, where he negotiated the deployment of Medium Range missiles, to the Middle East where he helped prepare for the Camp David negotiations, as well as to Africa, Latin America, and China.

Upon leaving government, Amb. Aaron became Vice President for Mergers and Acquisitions at Oppenheimer & Co. and Vice Chairman of the board of Oppenheimer International.

During the Clinton administration, he served as Ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, where he negotiated the international anti-bribery convention. At the same time, he was appointed Special White House Envoy for Cryptography, to develop international guidelines for encryption technology in trade and communications. Subsequently, Amb. Aaron was appointed Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade where he negotiated the US/EU privacy accord.

After leaving government in 2000, he became Senior International Advisor to the law firm Dorsey LLP until his appointment as a Senior Fellow at RAND. He is the author of three novels published in ten languages and two PBS documentaries including Lessons of the 1991 Gulf War.

Burkle Center for International Relations