May 16, 2016

Extending American Power

Strategies to Expand U.S. Engagement in a Competitive World Order

Foreword by Robert Kagan and James P. Rubin

Over the past year, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) brought together an extraordinary group of scholars, practitioners, and journalists to consider how a new administration should respond to the complex challenges confronting the United States and the established international order.

With a mandate to examine the degree to which the United States can and should play a leadership role internationally, and with an eye toward policymaking in a new administration, the “Extending American Power” (EAP) working group met formally over a series of six working dinners.

At the first session, University of Virginia Professor Melvyn Leffler, a diplomatic historian, and Columbia University Professor Stephen Sestanovich analyzed the recurring swings from retrenchment to activism and back again that has marked the U.S. approach to international leadership since the end of World War II. In addition to a look back, the EAP series also examined: international economic policy, developments in Europe and Russia, the consequences of a rising China for U.S. policy toward East Asia, and U.S. defense policy. A full list of each session’s speakers, including administration officials and outside experts, is contained in the report’s appendix.

Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the presentations were of the highest caliber possible at each session. For instance, the discussion of the Iran agreement and the conflicts raging across the Greater Middle East began with reflections from Dennis Ross, special envoy to the region for three presidents; Elliot Abrams, Deputy National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush; renowned Middle East scholar Dr. Vali Nasr; and Martin Indyk, a top diplomat to the region for more than twenty years.

As co-chairs of the series, we are particularly delighted that eight of our colleagues – Kurt Campbell, Eric Edelman, Michèle Flournoy, Richard Fontaine, Steve Hadley, Julianne Smith, James Steinberg, and Robert Zoellick – have agreed to endorse this report. We can only hope that the spirit of collegiality, determination, and bipartisanship they have demonstrated will carry forward into relations between Congress and the president after this November’s elections.

Finally, we are indebted to CNAS and its Chief Executive Officer, Michèle Flournoy; its Chair of the Board of Directors, Kurt Campbell; Program Director and Senior Fellow, Julianne Smith; and former Bacevich Fellow, Jacob Stokes for all their work and leadership over the past year.


The world order created in the aftermath of World War II has produced immense benefits for peoples across the planet. The past 70 years have seen an unprecedented growth in global prosperity, lifting billions out of poverty. Democratic government, once rare, has spread to over 100 nations. Above all, for 70 years there have been no cataclysmic wars among great powers of the kind that devastated Europe and Asia in the first half of the 20th century.

It is easy for Americans to take the benefits of this international order for granted without fully appreciating the critical leadership role the U.S. government has played in creating and sustaining this economic, political, and security system. American military power, the dynamism of the U.S. economy, and the great number of close alliances and friendships the United States enjoys with other powers and peoples have provided the critical architecture in which this liberal order has flourished.

American engagement in international affairs and worry more about American retrenchment. This view is especially strongly held in the three regions where the United States has carried the main burden of providing security since World War II: East Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. In all three, as well as in Latin America and Africa, American allies and partners seek more involvement by the United States not less.

The greatest challenge to the preservation of this order today may be here in the United States. The bipartisan consensus that has long supported America’s engagement with the world is under attack by detractors in both parties. Responsible political leaders need to explain to a new generation of Americans how important this world order is to their well-being and how vital America’s role is in sustaining it.

The full report is available online.

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  • Amb. Eric S. Edelman

  • James B. Steinberg

  • Julianne Smith

    Former Adjunct Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    Julianne (“Julie”) Smith is a contributing editor to Foreign Policy, where she coedits “Shadow Government.” She is also a senior advisor at WestExec Advisors, an adjunct senio...

  • Kurt Campbell

    Deputy Secretary of State, CNAS Co-Founder and former Board Chairman

    Kurt M. Campbell was confirmed by the Senate on February 6, 2024, and sworn in as the 22nd Deputy Secretary of State on February 12, 2024. Prior to assuming this position, Dep...

  • Michèle Flournoy

    Chair, CNAS Board of Directors, Co-founder and Managing Partner, WestExec Advisors

    Michèle Flournoy is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of WestExec Advisors, and former Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), w...

  • Richard Fontaine

    Chief Executive Officer

    Richard Fontaine is the Chief Executive Officer of CNAS. He served as President of CNAS from 2012–19 and as Senior Fellow from 2009–12. Prior to CNAS, he was foreign policy ad...

  • James P. Rubin

  • Stephen J. Hadley

  • Dr. Robert Kagan

  • Robert Zoellick