Superpower Illusions


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How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray--And How to Return to Reality

Jack F. Matlock, Jr.

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A former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union demolishes central myths that have distorted America's recent foreign policy—including the idea that the United States destroyed Communism and defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War—and makes bold recommendations for the Obama administration.

Former U.S. ambassador to the USSR Jack F. Matlock refutes the enduring idea that the United States forced the collapse of the Soviet Union by applying military and economic pressure—with wide-ranging implications for U.S. foreign policy. Matlock argues that Gorbachev, not Reagan, undermined Communist Party rule in the Soviet Union and that the Cold War ended in a negotiated settlement that benefited both sides. He posits that the end of the Cold War diminished rather than enhanced American power; with the removal of the Soviet threat, allies were less willing to accept American protection and leadership that seemed increasingly to ignore their interests.

Matlock shows how, during the Clinton and particularly the Bush-Cheney administrations, the belief that the United States had defeated the Soviet Union led to a conviction that it did not need allies, international organizations, or diplomacy, but could dominate and change the world by using its military power unilaterally. The result is a weakened America that has compromised its ability to lead. Matlock makes a passionate plea for the United States under Obama to reenvision its foreign policy and gives examples of how the new administration can reorient the U.S. approach to critical issues, taking advantage of lessons we should have learned from our experience in ending the Cold War.

Jack F. Matlock, Jr. served thirty-five years in the American Foreign Service, from 1956 to 1991, and was U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union from March 1987 to August 1991. He has held academic posts since 1991, including that of George F. Kennan Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, 1996-2001. He lives in Princeton, NJ.

“A major contribution to our understanding of how American readings of the course of the Cold War . . . have influenced American foreign policy since 1993. Matlock shows in convincing detail why these readings are fundamentally wrong and, in a reasoned argumentative voice, dangerous for the national interests of the United States.”—Allen Lynch, University of Virginia


“This book is as close as we may come to understanding the distortions ideology played in misunderstanding the Cold War and in applying those distortions thereafter. This is an extraordinary work which should become a standard reference for practitioners, scholars, and concerned citizens for decades to come.”—Gary Hart, Former United States Senator (Ret.), Co-chair, Commission on U.S.-Russian Relations

“Jack Matlock held important positions in the years leading to the end of the Cold War. He has thought deeply about how to apply the lessons of that time to the challenges we have faced since then.”—George P. Shultz, Distinguished Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and former Secretary of State

"Avoiding partisanship and personal agenda, Matlock uses his experience as a seasoned diplomat to deliver a powerful critique of US foreign policy over the last 30 years. Superpower Illusions is at times scathing, always insightful, and long overdue."—Susan Eisenhower, author of Partners in Space: US-Russian Cooperation after the Cold War

“A well written, clearly reasoned and thoroughly informed tour of the past half century of American diplomacy—including the roots of its successes and failures—led by a superbly qualified participant. A brilliant book.”—Sidney Drell, Stanford University

"A truly remarkable book, both wise and provocative, telling a sad yet instructive story of how the United States failed to exploit a triumph in the Cold War to build a new international order reflecting U.S. interests and principles."— Dimitri Simes, President, The Nixon Center

"Few people had a better vantage point from which to observe the end of the Cold War than Ambassador Jack Matlock. . . . His biography alone makes this account of the end of the Cold War essential reading, but what makes it even more compelling is Matlock's thesis that America's latest foreign policy blunders can be traced all the way back to the end of the Cold War. . . . Since the myth of America's 'victory' over the Soviet Union in the Cold War remains an article of faith for many, it is especially valuable that one of its chief protagonists has now so painstakingly dismantled it."—Nicolai N. Petro, The Russian Review

“….a book that the foreign policy elites of the United States would do well to read.”—Tim Bird, International Affairs 87:5

"Matlock offers keen insights on how we should present and position our nation in the future."—Sean N. Kalic, Military Review
ISBN: 9780300171419
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
368 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4