America in Retreat

America in Retreat

The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder

Written by:

Additional Formats
  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781591846628
  • 288 Pages
  • Sentinel
  • Adult


“A world in which the leading liberal-democratic nation does not assume its role as world policeman will become a world in which dictatorships contend, or unite, to fill the breach. Americans seeking a return to an isolationist garden of Eden—alone and undisturbed in the world, knowing neither good nor evil—will soon find themselves living within shooting range of global pandemonium.”—From the Introduction

In a brilliant book that will elevate foreign policy in the national conversation, Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist Bret Stephens makes a powerful case for American intervention abroad.

In December 2011 the last American soldier left Iraq. “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq,” boasted President Obama. He was proved devastatingly wrong less than three years later as jihadists seized the Iraqi city of Mosul. The event cast another dark shadow over the future of global order—a shadow, which, Bret Stephens argues, we ignore at our peril.

America in Retreat identifies a profound crisis on the global horizon. As Americans seek to withdraw from the world to tend to domestic problems, America’s adversaries spy opportunity. Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to restore the glory of the czarist empire go effectively unchecked, as do China’s attempts to expand its maritime claims in the South China Sea, as do Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear capabilities. Civil war in Syria displaces millions throughout the Middle East while turbocharging the forces of radical Islam. Long-time allies such as Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, doubting the credibility of American security guarantees, are tempted to freelance their foreign policy, irrespective of U.S. interests.

Deploying his characteristic stylistic flair and intellectual prowess, Stephens argues for American reengagement abroad. He explains how military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan was the right course of action, foolishly executed. He traces the intellectual continuity between anti-interventionist statesmen such as Henry Wallace and Robert Taft in the late 1940s and Barack Obama and Rand Paul today. And he makes an unapologetic case for Pax Americana, “a world in which English is the default language of business, diplomacy, tourism, and technology; in which markets are global, capital is mobile, and trade is increasingly free; in which values of openness and tolerance are, when not the norm, often the aspiration.”

In a terrifying chapter imagining the world of 2019, Stephens shows what could lie in store if Americans continue on their current course. Yet we are not doomed to this future. Stephens makes a passionate rejoinder to those who argue that America is in decline, a process that is often beyond the reach of political cures. Instead, we are in retreat—the result of faulty, but reversible, policy choices. By embracing its historic responsibility as the world’s policeman, America can safeguard not only greater peace in the world but also greater prosperity at home.

At once lively and sobering, America in Retreat offers trenchant analysis of the gravest threat to global order, from a rising star of political commentary. 


“An exceptionally intelligent, well-written book filled with interesting data and analysis that’s well worth reading—and I don’t even agree with most of it. Stephens [is] fast becoming the most influential conservative writer on foreign policy. So read it to your delight, or to hone your best arguments against it.”
—Fareed Zakaria, Fareed Zakaria GPS
“An important book for your well-being.”
—Bill O’Reilly, The O’Reilly Factor

“This book is the Wall Street Journal columnist at his best: substantive, historically informed, and with the kind of cutting style that helped him earn his Pulitzer Prize two years ago.”
—The Weekly Standard

“Bret Stephens has written not just a good book on American foreign policy. He has written an important book….Anyone even minimally conversant with human nature and history — and Mr. Stephens is far more than that — understands exactly the dangers that are caused by an American Retreat and the lethal global disorder it makes inevitable.”
—The American Spectator

“With a command of American history, a mastery of big foreign policy ideas, and a supple grasp of the conundrums of current events, Stephens shows that the dichotomy between domestic and international responsibilities is facile. For the world’s sole superpower, international affairs inevitably impinge on our economy and our security. Defending our principles abroad advances our interests at home.”
PETER BERKOWITZ, RealClearPolitics

“Given the U.S.’s recently renewed commitments in the Middle East, Stephens’s clear, convincing apologia for American power will make especially timely reading for American foreign policy’s skeptics and opponents.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“A provocative, carefully reasoned argument, anathema to politicians as disparate as Barack Obama and Rand Paul.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Although you can read the 288 pages of this well-researched, well-written, and passionately argued book over a weekend, its message will stay with you for years . . . . [Stephens] argues—with impeccable logic, a dizzying array of well-sourced quotations, and reliable statistics—that if the United States continues to retreat from its position as the world’s policeman, disaster will strike both the world and the United States sooner rather than later.”
ANDREW ROBERTS, Commentary magazine

“Wise counsel for a constructive, tough-minded, and sensible foreign policy. Read and learn.”

GEORGE SHULTZ, U.S. Secretary of State, 1982–1989

“At a time when the president of the United States explicitly renounces the role of ‘global policeman’ and a remarkable proportion of Americans—conservatives and liberals alike—seem irresistibly drawn to isolationism in all but name, Bret Stephens has written a shrewd, sharp, and shamelessly unfashionable defense of American power as a force for good in the world. He makes it clear why now, even more than in the past, the supposed benefits of Uncle Sam’s retreat will swiftly be eclipsed by the very real costs of advancing terrorism and authoritarianism.”

NIALL FERGUSON, Laurence A. Tisch Professor, Harvard University; author of The Great Degeneration and Civilization

“Bret Stephens has produced a powerful and exceptionally literate rebuttal of America’s neoisolationists and a practical prescription for America’s reemergence as the world’s essential good cop, maintaining global order without seeking to remake the world in our own image. Americans ignore his message at their own peril.”

KAREN ELLIOTT HOUSE, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, editor, and publisher; author of On Saudi Arabia

“Bret Stephens takes on the urgent question of America’s role in the world at a time of crises and upheavals. Writing trenchantly, he argues that the United States is drifting into a dangerous ‘retreat doctrine.’ The result will be global disorder from which the United States will not escape. While engaging seriously with the arguments of those with whom he disagrees, Stephens also depicts a frighteningly realistic scenario of such disorder just five years hence. America in Retreat will stir vigorous debate—and stimulate sober thought.”

DANIEL YERGIN, author of The Quest and the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Prize

“Bret Stephens has the guts to make the case—and make it brilliantly—for why Americans need America to be the world’s policeman (or at least the world’s police chief when we can get allies to join our force). This book is worth buying even if you read only chapter 9 in which Stephens foresees the chilling disorder in the world if America does not reassert its global leadership. That should be effective shock treatment for the isolationists in both parties as we think about the world we want to leave our children and grandchildren.”

JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN, U.S. senator from Connecticut, 1989–2013