Power and Purpose Nearly Twenty Years Later

Power and Purpose

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Power and Purpose

In the recent interview with Michael McFaul and Robert Person, we mention two different books written by Michael McFaul. It’s likely you have read his most recent book From Cold War to Hot Peace. But we also mention an older book called Power and Purpose. McFaul coauthored this book with James Goldgeier in 2003. It chronicles American relations with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Obviously, a lot has happened since the book was published. However, it still provides an excellent account of early Russo-US relations. Moreover, it provides a fascinating breakdown of different foreign policy approaches between different American administrations.

Power and Purpose begins with a comparison of the two major schools of foreign affairs. However, Goldgeier and McFaul describe the realist and liberal schools of international relations from an unconventional perspective. Indeed, both realists and liberals during this period wanted similar outcomes from a relationship with Russia. But realists focused on the external influences and behavior, while liberals focused on the internal dynamics of the country. Goldgeier and McFaul rename the two approaches “power balancers” and “regime transformers.” They use this framework to differentiate between the approaches of George H.W. Bush (Power Balancer) and Bill Clinton (Regime Transformer).

Of course, I was initially drawn to Power and Purpose to better understand the American foreign policy toward Russia during the pivotal years after the collapse of communism. The book certainly delivers on this account. It provides a close analysis of all the major events that defined the American-Russian relationship during these years. It also provides insights into the series of events that brought Putin to power. At the same time, it is surreal to read the account. The authors sense Russia has taken an authoritarian turn. But nobody at this time knew where Putin would lead Russia.

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