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REVIEW: Don’t Wait For the Next War: A Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership

Don’t Wait for the Next War: A Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership

Wesley K. Clark, Public Affairs, 2014, 250 pp

A few weeks ago,  I was sitting in Barnes&Noble, reading a few magazines while checking my e-mails.  A few days prior I had sent a LinkedIn invite to General (ret.) Wesley Clark, the author of Don’t Wait for the Next War: A Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership.

General Clark not only responded to that e-mail, but also sent a short note:

Dear Ryan, My book is out.  I’ve been working on it for five years, or, maybe, my whole life.  It’s an effort to frame the challenges we face, and offer a way forward, at least, to give us a chance.

Our great nation, mankind’s best hope for human dignity and freedom, adrift without a compelling strategy or narrative.  In Asia, Europe and the Mideast today our vision for the world is challenged.  And there are long term, corrosive threats like cyber security, financial system stability, and climate change.  We cannot just react to every crisis.  We must have a strategy.  That’s why I wrote the book.

I hope you’ll read it.  Don’t Wait for the Next War.

It’s time for our nation to come together again.  None of us likes the awful divisive politics, the vacuous news cycles, or the sense that the country is somehow losing its global leadership.  I wrote the book to try to help us see the big picture, and pull together for our common good.  And for what we represent for mankind.

Please spread the word.




That day I read the book in one sitting.

Don’t Wait for the Next War provides a well-written, non-partisan analysis of the critical challenges that our nation faces and a road map of how we can move forward and maintain our global leadership.


The book starts out with Wesley Clark briefly reflecting on his thirty-eight years of service to the United States Army and conversations that he had with various individuals after leaving the military from countries around the world who had also looked to America for assistance – in pursuit of freedom.

In 1992, the United States was the only superpower.  A little more than twenty years later, in 2013, the United States was in its twelfth year of combat in Iraq with 40,000 casualties, including over 6,000 dead.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, however, we have spent more than $1 trillion with little to show for it: there is no peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons, Russia is at war with Ukraine, ISIS has emerged as a global threat, and our economy is in disarray.

That is one reason why Clark persuasively argues that we lack and need a clear national Strategy.  In the past, threats to our national security or a military campaign unified the American public.

Whereas now, we need to rethink our role and not only get our house in order, but also turn existing global challenges into opportunities to maintain our global leadership.

Our Five Challenges

Wesley Clark identifies five challenges: terrorism, cybersecurity, the U.S. financial system, China, and climate change.  What’s more, he concisely and brilliantly explains how all of these are interrelated.

Clark explains how we need to pull back from the current inflection point and reverse course.  The starting point is obviously energy independence given that we spend $200 billion to $300 billion each year importing petroleum, which takes at least that much away from our economy each year.

Clark explores increasing oil production, shale production, biofuels, natural gas, gas-to-liquids, coal-to-liquids, exporting LNG, and less expensive electric power.

Diplomacy Tools

Next, Clark explains that new tools are needed for effective diplomacy and global leadership.  We have a great deal of tools available: diplomats, economic assistance and development programs, legal and ethical frameworks for foreign policy, and, most importantly, the most powerful military in the world.

The post-Cold War environment has continued to evolve and we must do the same.  Small countries are rapidly growing and changing.  Barriers to trade are all but non-existent for most countries.  International capital flows are at unprecedented levels.  And people are holding their government more accountable for improving their quality of life.

The growth of economic interdependence within the global economy calls for a rethinking of the basket of tools that we use to advance American interests.

Sanctions often bounce back on those that impose them, economic dependencies have created vulnerabilities for countries such as Ukraine, and entrepreneurial talent in many countries is not developed.

A sovereign wealth fund (similar to what Norway and Kazakhstan have done) and a broadening of our economic focus are a few of Clark’s suggestions, which even Clark admits are not without controversy.

Even though Clark also acknowledges that our relative power may be in decline, Clark’s national strategy could provide us with the opportunity to reverse that trend and at least give us a chance.

Don’t Wait for the Next War is written by a man whose intellectual firepower and irreproachable military service is widely known.  Yet Clark remains humble and reluctant to offer many military solutions to any of the challenges that he identified.

Middle East, China, and Latin America

Still, the book is not without a few flaws.  First, there was little discussion about Israel and not much insight into what a pragmatic Middle East Policy might look like.  Second, China’s ability to rise to super-power status seems more controversial than the book suggests.  China’s growth is slowing and some have even predicted China’s collapse.  And although China has a large population, its growth is neither balanced nor sustainable (lacks consumption), per capita GDP is still very low, it is dependent on exports, etc.  Clark also does not present his view on China’s strategy with Japan.  Third, although Clark focuses on what he is knowledgeable about, the book ignores Latin America.

All factors considered, though, the book is a must read for anyone who wants to read an insightful and thought-provoking analysis of our geopolitical landscape, historical trends, future challenges, and potential solutions.  Reading this book allows you to hold Wesley Clark’s mind in your hands.

Featured image from Shutterstock

Ryan Peckyno

Ryan graduated from West Point (BS) and Penn State, Main Campus (MBA). He worked for P&G, Lockheed Martin, the United States Army, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Motley Fool, Pinnacle Consulting, and various nonprofits.

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