James Mann

James Mann is author-in-residence at Johns Hopkins’s School of Advanced International Studies. He is the author of Rise of the Vulcans (Viking) and The Obamians (Viking).

Recent Articles

On Realism, Old and New

With new threats to the peace, it’s more important than ever to be clear about America’s core national interests.

(Obama: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)/Reagan: Photo by: Martin Athenstaedt/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)
This article appears in the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Though few people realize it, it was Bill Clinton who first uttered the phrase on which U.S. foreign policy has remained so hopelessly fixated ever since. During his 1996 re-election campaign, striving to describe America’s role in the world, Clinton began to speak of this country as the “indispensable nation.” In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention that year, Clinton proclaimed, “We remain the world’s indispensable nation to advance prosperity, peace, and freedom and to keep our own children safe from the dangers of terror and weapons of mass destruction.” (Clinton himself apparently got this phrase from historian James Chace and adviser Sid Blumenthal.) The words stuck and became a regular catchphrase for his second-term secretary of state, Madeleine Albright—so much so that many people mistakenly attribute the words to Albright. “...

The Romney Foreign-Policy Agenda

The next president will face critical challenges, but Mitt Romney has offered no clear vision of America's role in the world. What can we learn from his team of advisers?

(Victor Juhasz)
Imagine for a moment: It is two weeks after Election Day and President-elect Mitt Romney holds a press conference to announce his foreign-policy team, the officials who will guide his administration’s relations with the rest of the world. “Team of rivals!” proclaims Romney. He says he has decided to fill the top jobs in foreign policy with his competitors for the Republican presidential nomination. For secretary of state: Rick Santorum. For secretary of defense: Newt Gingrich. For CIA director: Rick Perry. For national security adviser: Michele Bachmann … OK, that was just a scary joke. It’s not going to happen. But it does serve as a reminder that, after 30-plus Republican primaries and an unprecedented number of debates, voters have little idea of how Mitt Romney would deal with the world outside America’s borders, what his philosophy is, or whom he would name to high-level positions in his administration. The greatest uncertainty, though, is one...

America's China Fantasy

America has been operating with the wrong paradigm for China. Day after day, U.S. officials carry out policies based upon premises about China's future that are at best questionable and at worst downright false. The mistake lies in the very assumption that political change -- and with it, eventually, democracy -- is coming to China, that China's political system is destined for far-reaching liberalization. Yet the Bush administration hasn't thought much about what it might mean for the United States and the rest of the world to have a repressive one-party state in China three decades from now. For while China will certainly be a richer and more powerful country in 30 years, it could still be an autocracy of one form or another. Its leadership (the Communist Party, or whatever else it calls itself in the future) may not be willing to tolerate organized political opposition any more than it does today. That is a prospect with profound implications for the United States and the rest of...

Think Globally

The 2004 election results carry especially profound implications for the Democrats on foreign policy. John Kerry's defeat means that the party must develop both new voices and a broader vision of America's role in the world. It will not be sufficient to argue merely that the Republicans have bungled foreign policy. (If that message didn't work this time, amid the chaos of Iraq, will it ever?) Nor is it enough to claim that the Democrats have their own personnel with hands-on foreign-policy experience. How many presidential campaigns will the Democrats enter with the same old spokesmen, like Richard Holbrooke or Sandy Berger, arguing that if they were in office, they could manage things better than the Republicans? I agree with Alan Brinkley's assertion that the loss of the White House “is not the Democrats' most difficult challenge,” and that overall, the erosion in Congress is more serious. Yet the loss of the presidency counts more in foreign policy, because foreign...

Rules of Engagement

Arguing About War By Michael Walzer • Yale University Press • 225 pages • $25.00 The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror By Michael Ignatieff • Princeton University Press • 160 pages • $22.95 It is not easy to weave together the various shorthand critiques of the Bush administration into a single, coherent framework of ideas for the future. President Bush's intervention in Iraq has been a disaster -- but does that mean the United States should forswear unilateral military action in the future? What if there were another genocide like Rwanda, and what if the United Nations proved unwilling or unable to respond? Progressives can agree that John Ashcroft's Justice Department has set new records for violations of individual rights -- but what can a government do to combat the threat of terrorist attack, and what rules should apply? In two new books, Michael Walzer and Michael Ignatieff each attempt to set down the complex ethical principles that...