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Power and RestraintPower and Restraint

The Rise of the United States, 1898 - 1941

Jeffrey Meiser

Narrated by Capt. Kevin F. Spalding USNR-Ret

Available from Audible

Book published by Georgetown University Press

At the end of the nineteenth century, the United States emerged as an economic colossus in command of a new empire. Yet for the next forty years the United States eschewed the kind of aggressive grand strategy that had marked other rising imperial powers in favor of a policy of moderation.

In Power and Restraint, Jeffrey W. Meiser explores why the United States—counter to widely accepted wisdom in international relations theory—chose the course it did. Using thirty-four carefully researched historical cases, Meiser asserts that domestic political institutions and culture played a decisive role in preventing the mobilization of resources necessary to implement an expansionist grand strategy. These factors included traditional congressional opposition to executive branch ambitions, voter resistance to European-style imperialism, and the personal antipathy to expansionism felt by presidents like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. The web of resilient and redundant political restraints halted or limited expansionist ambitions and shaped the United States into an historical anomaly, a rising great power characterized by prudence and limited international ambitions.

Jeffrey Meiser is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Portland and an adjunct professor at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University.


“At a time when America is widely viewed as expansionist, this insightful and felicitously written book reminds us that American foreign policy is also significantly self-restrained. Across thirty-four meticulously-researched historical cases from 1898-1941, Meiser shows how domestic factors, such as divided institutions, competitive electoral politics, and anti-imperialist norms, limited and eventually eliminated expansionist aims, even as America rose to great power status in the world. His findings shed essential historical light on contemporary foreign policy debates about military intervention, regime change, nation-building, public tolerance of war, institutional gridlock, and partisan politics.”

—Henry Nau, professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University

“Jeffrey Meiser's Power and Restraint is an essential contribution to the evolving literature on the behavior of rising great powers. The book's value is found in its focus on 'under-expansion' by the United States between 1898 and 1941, an unconventional yet convincing interpretation that yields new insights into the likelihood of political-military expansion by rising powers. Meiser deftly integrates explanatory logic that cuts across theoretical camps—power distribution at the international system level, domestic institutional structure, and normative orientations—to produce compelling conclusions on the behavior of the United States as it joined the ranks of the great powers in the early twentieth century.”

—Scott A. Silverstone, United States Military Academy at West Point

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University Press Audiobooks