Summary of The Big Stick

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8 Overall

8 Importance

8 Innovation

8 Style


America’s military misadventures in recent years have done little to change Eliot A. Cohen’s worldview. Cohen, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, believes American military might is a tool the nation must use against the globe’s dark forces. He concedes that the Iraq War was “a mistake,” a misstep that opened the door to valid criticism at home and abroad. Cohen’s nuanced view of the Bush wars makes it difficult to dismiss his tough talk as the work of an apologist for America’s disastrous foray into the Muslim world. Whether you agree with Cohen or not, he makes a compelling, well-reasoned argument that the world is a dangerous place and that American power, while not always deployed perfectly or applied precisely, remains critical to keeping the peace.

Cohen is well aware that by defending costly US adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s giving a postmortem pep talk for deeply unpopular foreign interventions. President Barack Obama succeeded Bush with a promise to extricate the US from its involvement in both nations. President Donald Trump won his 2016 election after bashing the Iraq war – although his repeated vow to “knock the hell out of ISIS” conforms with Cohen’s big-stick strategy. Trump’s victory and Cohen’s withering criticism of Trump’s character leave the author in an awkward position. Cohen mentions Trump only briefly in this overview. However, in a piece on soon after Trump’s inauguration, Cohen chided Trump’s early attempts at policy as “disastrous” and predicted that his presidency “will probably end in calamity.”

Cohen espouses aggressive US military intervention, yet he believes the new commander in chief of the US military is a power-hungry bully. This underscores that the big-stick theory is as confusing, complicated and troublesome as ever. American armed forces do occasionally save the world from tyranny, as they did seven decades ago. Since then, US interventions have routinely missed their mark, a reality Cohen acknowledges, but never quite reconciles. Cohen’s report will intrigue readers seeking a detailed reflection on US military might, its application and the policies governing its use.

In this book, you will learn

  • What five arguments encapsulate the opposition to American military intervention,
  • Why those five arguments don’t hold water and
  • Why America must remain ready to send troops overseas when necessary.

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