Inspired by Machiavelli's classic The Prince, CFR President Emeritus Leslie H. Gelb offers guidelines to the U.S. president in a new book on how to think about and use American power effectively in today's tumultuous world—all drawn from Gelb's four decades of access and influence in government, think tanks, and journalism.
In Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy, Gelb argues that American leaders have failed to recognize three key power realities. First, the world is not flat; it is highly pyramidal in power. Second, power is neither soft (persuasion and values) nor hard (military force), but psychological pressure based on the skilled use of carrots and sticks. Third, Gelb asserts, the world has not entered the post-American era; rather, the United States remains the sole global leader, but without the power to dominate.
From this, he develops his central operating principle for international power: mutual indispensability. The United States remains the indispensable leader in solving major world problems, but needs equally indispensable partners (the other major powers). "Fail alone, succeed together," he concludes.
One reviewer in the National Interest magazine says Gelb has "enough gravitas to sink a battleship," and labels the book his "magnum opus."
Publishers Weekly gave the book an unusual start and made it "Pick of the Week." Its "starred" review said that "Gelb's bulleted rules and clear advice to President Obama distill his moderate strategic thinking on the future of America… It is a vision of a pragmatic but responsible global U.S. presence that eschews partisan politics and should find favor in the coming political clime."
Gelb clears a new path for thinking about today's military power ("the storm") and today's economic power ("the tide"). Military power now is mainly for deterrence and punishment, and should not be used to conquer nations, promote democracy, or do nation-building. He shows the complexities of using economic power and explains that it works slowly and requires great patience by American leaders. He packages military and economic power with diplomatic power in "power coalitions," to make power work.
Gelb advises the president that, "America's leadership power is based primarily on our capacity to galvanize coalitions to solve or manage major world problems." He says that the key is helping others solve their problems: "if we do, they will follow; if we don't, they wont."
"This book is a must-read not just for President Obama, but for anyone who wants to understand how the new administration can improve its odds of strategic success," urges Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate magazine.