Name of the book… and its coordinates?

Zachary C. Shirkey. 2020. American Dove: US Foreign Policy and the Failure of Force. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press).

What’s the argument?

In American Dove, I make a pragmatic case for a dovish foreign policy. Washington should avoid the use of force because military intervention is expensive and hardly ever works.

As an instrument of statecraft, force is incredibly risky. There’s no guarantee of success on the battlefield and, as conflicts such as Vietnam make clear, a state can accumulate military victories and still fail to achieve its policy goals. Moreover, force isn’t very useful when it comes to most U.S. foreign-policy goals; Washington can’t bomb its way to a better trade deal with the European Union. What U.S. reliance on force does is make it easier for other countries, such as Russia, to launch military interventions in countries like Syria, Ukraine, and Georgia.  

The United States should substitute deterrence and non-military tools for military intervention. Economic statecraft, international institutions, international law, and soft power are less costly and more likely to succeed. In the security realm, deterrence better upholds the U.S. security order than the use of force. If anything, U.S. military interventions have tended to undermine that order, whether by straining relations with allies or making it appear more threatening to other states. Likewise, Washington has had far more success in combatting international terrorism through mechanisms short of military intervention

Given overwhelming empirical evidence against the use of force, why do U.S. policy makers find it so seductive?  Biases towards action and the illusion of control conspire to convince policymakers that force works. 

If they want to succeed, then, doves need to properly frame their arguments. They should focus on matters of strategy and place less emphasis on the costs of military interventions than their futility. They must also show that dovish policies are consistent with national honor and American values.

Tell us why we should care.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I think there are lots of reasons to care about my book. Here I’ll offer two:

  • The so-called “forever wars” are apparently coming to an end, but if the last eighty years are any guide, it won’t be long before Washington rediscovers the lure of military force. My book provides good arguments to push back against that lure.
  • The strategic case against interventions is dominated by realist arguments, and usually paired with grand strategies of offshore balancing and strategic restraint. I don’t believe these approaches serve either U.S. or global interests. I offer a liberal internationalist case against military intervention, one that can provide an alternative to the moral arguments neoconservatives and liberal hawks so readily turn to. 

Why should we believe your argument?

I consistently link the greater effectiveness of dovish foreign policy tools back to the central goal of defending the liberal international order. This setup highlights dovish tools’ immediate tactical effectiveness and their long run strategic successes.

Why’d you decide to write it in the first place?

I’d been growing increasingly frustrated by U.S. foreign policy debates, and particularly with the dominance of realist arguments – at least in academia – against military intervention. I wanted to make the case for dovish internationalist policies that focused on upholding the liberal international order.

What would you most like to change, and why?

The book was essentially finished by late 2019, but, as is typical in academic publishing, it didn’t come out until November 2020. I wish it contained at least a nod to the sort of choices Biden faces. The planned withdrawal in Afghanistan, attempts to reenter the Iranian nuclear enrichment deal, and the administration’s initial reluctance to send troops to Haiti suggest that the Biden administration is open to more dovish policies. Whether Biden will embrace dovish policies long-term, however, remains unclear. Key members of his foreign policy team, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have a history of advocating for more hawkish policies. 

The +1: how difficult was it to get the book published?

I had informal conversations with several university presses to determine which ones would be interested in the book. I strongly recommend these sorts of informal conversations to anyone looking to publish a book. At every stage of the process, I’ve been very pleased with the University of Michigan Press.

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Zachary C. Shirkey (PhD, Columbia 2006) is Professor of Political Science at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. His research focuses on war and intervention, US foreign policy, and state-building.

Posted on 22 July, 2021