Perilous Partners

The Benefits and Pitfalls of America’s Alliances with Authoritarian Regimes

American leaders have cooperated with regimes around the world that are, to varying degrees, repressive or corrupt. Such cooperation is said to serve the national interest. But these partnerships also contravene the nation’s commitments to democratic governance, civil liberties, and free markets.

During the Cold War, policymakers were casual about sacrificing important values for less‐​than‐​compelling strategic rationales. Since the 9/11 attacks, similar ethical compromises have taken place, although policymakers now seem more selective than their Cold War–era counterparts. Americans want a foreign policy that pursues national interests while observing American values. How might that reconciliation of interest and morality be accomplished?

In Perilous Partners, authors Ted Galen Carpenter and Malou Innocent provide a strategy for resolving the ethical dilemmas between interests and values faced by Washington. They propose maintaining an arm’s-length relationship with authoritarian regimes, emphasizing that the United States must not operate internationally in ways that routinely pollute American values. It is a strategy based on ethical pragmatism, which is the best way to reconcile America’s strategic interests and its fundamental values. Perilous Partners creates a strategy for conducting an effective U.S. foreign policy without betraying fundamental American values.

Praise for the book

“Thoroughly researched and persuasively argued, Perilous Partners provides a damning indictment of U.S. support for tyrannical regimes over the past 70 years. As Carpenter and Innocent conclusively show, such support rarely advanced U.S. policy goals but consistently undermined America’s moral standing. Highly recommended for all serious students of American foreign policy.”
— Michael Klare, author of Blood and Oil

“The American penchant for moralizing when it comes to foreign policy has benefited the world little while earning for the United States a well‐​deserved reputation for hypocrisy. As Ted Galen Carpenter and Malou Innocent make clear in this very instructive book, morality does have a role in statecraft. But striking a balance between values and interests requires something more than glib posturing. Their concept of ethical pragmatism provides a way to find that balance. “
— Andrew J. Bacevich, professor emeritus of history and international relations, Boston University

“While Americans are still liked in most of the world, our government is often hated. Perilous Partners shows how U.S. interests are better served when we are a beacon rather than a policeman, something we don’t do well, especially in the Middle East. Instead, we just create new enemies. This book lays it all out clearly—from times past when America held the moral high ground, to now, when we have lost so much of it.”
—Jon Basil Utley, Publisher, The American Conservative

About the Authors

Ted Galen Carpenter is senior fellow for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He is the author and editor of numerous books on international affairs, including The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America; Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America; and Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea. Malou Innocent is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. She was a foreign policy analyst at Cato from 2007 to 2013. She is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and her primary research interests include Middle East and Persian Gulf security issues and U.S. foreign policy toward Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China.