Foreign policy is messy--and also incredibly interesting. Every day, decisionmakers must formulate and modify the US’s stance towards states like Russia, China, Germany, Iran, Syria, and Israel and tackle cross-cutting issues that touch on human rights, climate change, poverty, human insecurity, nuclear arms proliferation, and economic collapse. In Contemporary American Foreign Policy: Influences, Challenges, and Opportunities, authors Richard Mansbach (Iowa State University) and Kirsten Taylor (Berry College) examine modern foreign policy problems from a variety of angles, not just through the lens of a so-called “national interest.” In each chapter, they focus on today’s most pressing contemporary challenges, exploring their origins and backgrounds. They systematically shed light on the competing forces that influence them, outline the various policy options available to decisionmakers for addressing them, and explore the potential consequences of those policies. Throughout, they also look at foreign policy at all levels: international, society, government, “role”-specific, and individual.

Conclusion America, a Wary Hegemon

Conclusion: America, a Wary Hegemon

President Obama at the West Point Commencement in May 2014, emphasizing the role of America’s global leadership

Official White House Photo/Pete Souza

This text has described the trends characterizing American foreign policy in the past and present as well as future alternatives. Although President Obama campaigned as a liberal, he showed more concern for realist power and security mixed with a desire to spread liberal values. He shifted from the unilateralism of the Bush years to greater multilateralism in areas ranging from military security and the environment to concluding large-scale regional trade agreements with Asia and Europe.

Recognizing America’s declining economic and political status relative to other major states, Obama proved cautious in using force. He used new military ...

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