Walt, Stephen M (2018) The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of US Primacy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. xii + 385 pp.

​ISBN: 978-0-374-28003-1

Jørgen Jensehaugen

Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Read more about this book: us.macmillan.com

​The foreign policy grand strategy of the last three US presidents – Clinton, Bush and Obama – has been ‘liberal hegemony’. Liberal hegemony has been created and sustained by a unified foreign policy elite, known as ‘the blob’. These are the two premises of Stephen M Walt’s critique of current US foreign policy. He claims that foreign policy is not formed by the ‘best and brightest’, but rather by the suffocating consensus created in a milieu composed of think-tanks, pundits, journalists, bureaucrats and politicians. Walt decries the good intentions that underly liberal hegemony as not being in the US's best interest; instead, US foreign policy should be shaped according to the grand strategy of ‘offshore balancing’. While Walt clearly makes some very relevant points in this grand critique, the problem is that it is too grand. There is little space for nuance as ‘the blob’ is all-encompassing, meaning that Walt sees virtually no difference between John Bolton and Ben Rhodes. At times he fails to recognize the resulting inconsistencies. For instance, at one point he writes that he misses the realists of old, such as Henry Kissinger, then only six pages later Kissinger is a central representative of liberal hegemony. Unfortunately, what could have been the most valuable contribution of the book, namely the prescription of how to fix US foreign policy, that is through offshore balancing, is left to a final chapter. Far more is needed in order to convince the reader of what a radical reformation of US foreign policy would look like in practice.