The Lost Generation in American Foreign Policy

How American Influence Has Declined, and What Can Be Done About It

by James Dobbins, Gabrielle Tarini, Ali Wyne

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The authors trace the decline of U.S. international influence over the past two decades, explore reasons for this decline, and suggest ways in which it might be reversed. They conclude that post–Cold War unipolarity bred hubris that, when provoked by the attacks of September 11, 2001, resulted in overreach and consequent setbacks. These, in turn, led to geopolitical retrenchment. The 2008 Great Recession fed U.S. disenchantment with international economic policies that produced national and global growth but failed to raise living standards for many Americans. To regain the willing collaboration of international partners, U.S. leaders will need to once again align American interests with those of the rest of the world, practice competent statecraft, adopt prudent policies, pursue realistically achievable objectives, and demonstrate continuity of policy across successive administrations.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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