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New Book Urges Americans to Re-Think the US Role in the World

Georgetown University professor of government and international affairs, Robert Lieber says the lessons of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks require Americans to fundamentally alter the way they think about force and America’s role in the world.

That is the thesis of his new book The American Era: Power and Strategy for the 21st Century. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Professor Lieber said that the combination of Islamic terrorism and weapons of mass destruction requires a robust defense policy that includes preemption. He noted that the United States has a unique role in disastrous or dangerous situations because, if it does not act, no other country will be able to act.

Regarding preemption, Professor Lieber said that, if America thinks it is about to be attacked as it was at Pearl Harbor, it should act first, especially if nuclear weapons might be involved. Mr. Lieber says that in 2003 the fear was that, if the United States did not act, Iraq would develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Although WMD were not found, he said Saddam Hussein had had massive programs of these kinds. Nonetheless, he said that, after the fall of Baghdad, American policy was seriously lacking in terms of preventing the current insurgency. But he added, there are some positive results – Saddam is gone, the Iraqis have adopted a new constitution, and they have voted in parliamentary elections for a permanent government.

Robert Lieber said there is no doubt that relations between Europe and the United States were severely damaged in the run up to the Iraq war. But most governments of both the EU and NATO member countries supported Washington, even though public opinion was divided and often critical. He noted that their long-term security interests, as in Afghanistan, have kept Europe and America together. And Europeans and Americans have common values and shared interests that outweigh those issues that divide them.

Professor Lieber said that China is the one country in the world that could emerge as a true competitor to the United States. He described US-Chinese relations as “pretty good” and practical – for example, the cooperation over North Korean nuclear proliferation. He noted that globalization and modernization have raised hundreds of millions of people in East Asia and South Asia out of poverty over the past generation. Because of its wealth, power, and visibility, the United States is the quintessential embodiment of globalization and modernity not only of its best, such as the freedom of expression, but also of its worst, such as the crudeness of some aspects of popular culture. According to Professor Lieber, some national leaders have directed the frustrations of their people outwardly toward the United States as a kind of scapegoat. But he also noted that good diplomacy is sometimes independent of policy and that the United States could do a better job in that arena.