Hal Brands

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On November 9, 1989, a mob of jubilant Berliners dismantled the wall that had divided their city for nearly forty years; this act of destruction anticipated the momentous demolition of the European communist system. Within two years, the nations of the former Eastern Bloc toppled their authoritarian regimes, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist, fading quietly into the shadows of twentieth century history and memory. By the end of 1991, the United States and other Western nations celebrated the demise of their most feared enemy and reveled in the ideological vindication of capitalism and liberal democracy.

As author Hal Brands compellingly demonstrates, however, many American diplomats and politicians viewed the fall of the Soviet empire as a mixed blessing. For more than four decades, containment of communism provided the overriding goal of American foreign policy, allowing generations of political leaders to build domestic consensus on this steady, reliable foundation. From Berlin to Baghdad incisively dissects the numerous unsuccessful attempts to devise a new grand foreign policy strategy that could match the moral clarity and political efficacy of containment. Brands takes a fresh look at the key events and players in recent American history.

In the 1990s, George H. W. Bush envisioned the United States as the guardian of a “new world order,” and the Clinton administration sought the “enlargement” of America’s political and economic influence. However, both presidents eventually came to accept, albeit grudgingly, that America’s multifaceted roles, responsibilities, and objectives could not be reduced to a single fundamental principle. During the early years of the George W. Bush administration, it appeared that the tragedies of 9/11 and the subsequent “war on terror” would provide the organizing principle lacking in U.S. foreign policy since the containment of communism became an outdated notion. For a time, most Americans were united in support of Bush’s foreign policies and the military incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq.

As the swift invasions became grinding occupations, however, popular support for Bush’s policies waned, and the rubric of the war on terror lost much of its political and rhetorical cachet. From Berlin to Baghdad charts the often onerous course of recent American foreign policy, from the triumph of the fall of the Berlin Wall to the tragedies of 9/11 and beyond, analyzing the nation’s search for purpose in the face of the daunting complexities of the post–Cold War world.

"From Berlin to Baghdad is beautifully written, balanced, and based on nearly all available primary source documents bolstered by the relevant secondary literature."—Steven Metz, author of Armed Conflict in the 21st Century

"Surveys various attempts to devise a new grand strategy following communism’s collapse."—Publisher's Weekly

"Brands presents a nuanced and balanced analysis of the difficulties with developing American national security doctrine, and he sets the foundation for future study of how presidents in the post-9/11 world can grapple effectively with diverse U.S. interests in world affairs."—H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews

"Diplomatic historians will welcome this excellent new study of American foreign policy since the fall of the Berlin Wall."—J. Garry Clifford, Journal of American History

"[A]rgues that our alliances in Europe and Asia are anachronistic, a burden rather than an asset to the United States and doomed to fail... [From Berlin to Baghdad is] a sign that there is another intellectual and policy debate to be waged as we struggle to find the right answers to these questions."—International History Review

"Hal Brands has written an excellent overview of US foreign policy from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Iraq War. His study centers on the search for a coherent, overarching US strategy to replace the concept of containment that had dominated US doctrine throughout the Cold War."—Journal of American Studies

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






World politics, United States foreign relations, War on Terror


International Relations

From Berlin to Baghdad: America's Search for Purpose in the Post-Cold War World
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