In New Book, CFR President Emeritus Les Gelb Explains “How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy”

March 11, 2009

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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.

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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, Gelbahou 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.

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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.”

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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.”

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“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.

Advance Praise for Power Rules:

“If you care about America’s standing in the world—why it has declined, and how to restore it—this book is essential reading. Les Gelb, one of America’s distinguished practitioner-observers of foreign policy, brilliantly explains how a series of administrations weakened our nation’s security, and shows how we can reverse this trend. He skillfully points out how the U.S. failed to use its own strengths to achieve its stated goals, and offers the basic power rules with which the U.S. can—and must—restore its proper leadership role in the world. Power Rules is an indispensable book for the new era."
Richard C. Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan & Pakistan, U.S. Department of State

“Leslie Gelb has as much experience in foreign policy as anyone alive. Unlike most writers in this field, he isn’t afraid to use plain language and say what he means. He relishes hard truths. And he doesn’t mind making powerful enemies. All these are prerequisites to writing a modern Prince--which is what Gelb has done. I don’t agree with all of it, but I greatly admire this handbook on the uses of American power in a complex age."
George Packer, staff writer, New Yorker

“Les Gelb tells it like it is: making U.S. foreign policy and using American power are common sense, not rocket science. Our leaders forget this truth at our peril. Incisive and thoroughly compelling, Power Rules is rich in colorful stories as well as in sound advice for our president and our people.”
Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser

Power Rules provides a much-needed antidote to the ideological fevers that have ravaged American statecraft in recent years. Leslie Gelb’s reflections on power, its effective use, and its limitations are shrewd, trenchant, and refreshingly devoid of either cant or partisanship."
Andrew Bacevich, professor of international relations and history, Boston University

“For years, Les Gelb’s friends have been learning about foreign policy by way of his wisecracks and anecdotes. In Power Rules, he shares a lifetime’s worth of wit and wisdom with the rest of the class. The amazing thing about this shrewd updating of The Prince is not just the insight Gelb brings to the topic of America’s exercise of power in the post-Cold War, post-Bush world, but how entertaining he makes the whole subject. 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."
Jacob Weisberg, editor, Slate magazine

To order, visit: www.cfr.org/power_rules

Leslie H. Gelb is currently president emeritus of CFR, having served as president of the organization from 1993-2003. Previously, Gelb was at the New York Times from 1973 to 1993 where he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. He was an assistant secretary of state in the Carter administration, serving as director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, where he received the highest state department award: the Distinguished Honor Award. Gelb was director of policy planning and arms control for International Security Affairs at the Department of Defense from 1967 to 1969, where he also directed the Pentagon Papers Project. While at the defense department, he won the Pentagon’s highest award: the Distinguished Service Award.

Gelb is the author of Anglo-American Relations, 1945-1950: Toward a Theory of Alliances. He is also co-author of The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked, which won him the American Political Science Association’s Woodrow Wilson Award; Our Own Worst Enemy: The Unmaking of American Foreign Policy, and Claiming the Heavens (Star Wars).

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.

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