National Experience and Roots of Misperception
Being insulated by two immense oceans makes it hard for Americans to appreciate the concerns of more exposed countries. American democracy's rapid rise also fools many into thinking the same liberal system can flourish anywhere, and having populated a vast continent with relative ease impedes Americans' understanding of conflicts between different peoples over other lands. Paul R. Pillar ties the American public's misconceptions about foreign threats and behaviors to the nation's history and geography, arguing that American success in international relations is achieved often in spite of, rather than because of, the public's worldview.
Drawing a fascinating line from colonial events to America's handling of modern international terrorism, Pillar shows how presumption and misperception turned Finlandization into a dirty word in American policy circles, bolstered the "for us or against us" attitude that characterized the policies of the George W. Bush administration, and continue to obscure the reasons behind Iraq's close relationship with Iran. Fundamental misunderstandings have created a cycle in which threats are underestimated before an attack occurs and then are overestimated after they happen. By exposing this longstanding tradition of misperception, Pillar hopes the United States can develop policies that better address international realities rather than biased beliefs.
"A formidable and influential scholar offers a fresh and distinctive take on the idea that U.S. foreign policy is ultimately an expression of 'us' rather than 'them.'" — Andrew Bacevich, Boston University
"Paul R. Pillar is one of the few people who have the government experience and the scholarly accomplishments to be able to analyze how and why the United States so often builds its policies on badly flawed views of the world—and of itself. He shows that America is indeed exceptional, although not in the way that political leaders would have it." — Robert Jervis, author of Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War
"Why America Misunderstands the World confirms Pillar's status as one of the smartest and sanest writers on U.S. foreign policy. His forceful yet fair-minded analysis explains how good fortune made America very powerful but also left Americans ill-equipped to understand how politics work outside their borders. The result? Repeated foreign policy failures and a remarkable inability to learn from them. This book should be required reading for students seeking a career in the foreign policy establishment, and especially those who hope to occupy the Oval Office." — Stephen Walt, Harvard Kennedy School
"Recommended for the general reader who has an interest in international relations, particularly in regard to how the United States may, in fact, be perceived by other countries." — Library Journal
"Fine and courageous book." — New York Times Book Review
1. The American Prism
2. Behind the Ocean Moats
3. Abundance and Power
4. The Successful Society
5. Searching for Monsters to Destroy
6. Unending Misperception
Read an excerpt from "The American Prism," the first chapter of Why America Misunderstands the World: