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Überpower: The Imperial Temptation of America

  • Josef Joffe

Josef Joffe is the Marc and Anita Abramowitz Fellow in International Relations at the Hoover Institution and is publisher-editor of the German weekly Die Zeit.

Joffe's areas of interest include U.S. foreign policy, international security policy, European-American relations, Europe and Germany, and the Middle East.

His essays and reviews have appeared in a wide number of publications including the New York Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, Commentary, New York Times Magazine, New Republic, Weekly Standard, and the Prospect. Additionally, his scholarly work has appeared in many books and in journals such as Foreign Affairs, the National Interest, International Security, and Foreign Policy as well as in professional journals in Germany, Britain, and France.

Joffe is currently an adjunct professor of political science at Stanford, where he was the Payne Distinguished Lecturer in 1999-2000. He also is a distinguished fellow of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford. In 1990-91, he taught at Harvard, where he is also an associate of the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. He was a visiting lecturer in 2002 at Dartmouth College and in 1998 at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a professorial lecturer at Johns Hopkins (School of Advanced International Studies) in 1982-1984. He has taught at the University of Munich and the Salzburg Seminar.

His most recent book is Überpower: The Imperial Temptation in American Foreign Policy.

Reared in Berlin, Joffe obtained his Ph.D. degree in government from Harvard.


Event Synopsis:

Professor Joffe opens his talk with two movie quotes, "With great power comes great responsibility" from Spiderman, and "If you build it, they will come" from Field of Dreams. Both quotes, he explains, relate to the idea of modern American hegemony. The United States must concern itself with policies and institutions that promote its own interests and those of others, and by doing so will attract international support and cooperation as it did in the "golden age" of American-led institutions such as NATO. This era ended with the fall of the Soviet Union, following which the United States has seen its legitimacy decline lower than ever, even while accumulating unprecedented military power. The void left by the Soviet Union has unbalanced the global power structure and caused other countries to turn against the aggressive policies of the new single hegemon, the United States, in situations like the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush.  Professor Joffe describes the role that America's "imperial temptation" played in its invasion of Iraq, causing a further decline in America’s global legitimacy, a crumbling of international support, and an unwitting boon to Ahmadinejad's regime in Iran, which Joffe considers to be the real threat and which essentially had its "dirty work" of removing Saddam Hussein from power done for it by the United States. Joffe urges the U.S. to think strategically about how collaboration with other countries can help rebuild mutually beneficial institutions and bolster U.S. legitimacy, rather than approaching its role in the world ideologically, treating other nations with contempt and turning them against the U.S.


A discussion session included such questions as: What has the role of American exceptionalism played in the events of the last decade? Was the outcome of the most recent Iraq war inevitable, or was it a result of bad policies and poor handling by the U.S. government? How can a country go so wrong as the US has (in pursuing the "wrong war, in the wrong country, at wrong time" as Joffe describes)? To what extent has the de-legitimization of the US been caused by its policy toward Israel? What should the U.S. approach now be toward Iran?