These are turbulent times for the United States. Amidst Russia starting the largest land war in Europe since World War II, China’s revanchism buttressed by massive nuclear and conventional modernization, and challenges from increasingly-capable actors like Iran and North Korea, the United States is sorely in need of an effective strategy to preserve the world order it has so painstakingly built and maintained over the past 80 years. The endpoint of American foreign policy is clear: we win, they lose. Yet, the roadmap to getting there remains a serious matter of debate. Matthew Kroenig and Dan Negrea, not ones to shy away from a challenge, offer organizing principles for a better U.S. foreign policy in their aptly-titled book, We Win, They Lose: Republican Foreign Policy & the New Cold War. 

In seeking to build a strategy with the greatest chance of success in the contemporary threat environment, the authors analyze the foreign and defense policies of several past administrations, Republican and Democrat. Synthesizing these into a forward-looking approach, the authors offer an outline of a Republican foreign policy inspired by what worked well under Reagan and Trump. The authors support their case with sound analysis examining why progressive foreign policy approaches lead America to more peril, not less, providing practical illustrations from Biden’s tenure.  These cautionary lessons include lacking a coherent strategy and consistency in statements and actions in countering China’s belligerence; the abysmal execution of the withdrawal from Afghanistan; failure to sustain pressure on Iran; choosing not to secure U.S. energy independence; and botching efforts to deter Russia in Ukraine.  

In doing so, Kroenig and Negrea show that the Republicans are much less divided on foreign and defense issues than would seem so at first glance. Nevertheless, one can hardly shake the perception that serious divisions within the party do exist, and that implementing a consensus in practice will be difficult.  Furthermore, if one can be achieved, little support can be expected from the Democratic Party with a very different concept of what best serves U.S. foreign and defense policy interests. 

The book starts, however, with the more foundational question of why the United States needs a foreign policy at all. The authors go on to outline the broad areas where there has a been bipartisan consensus, such as the need to defend the U.S. homeland; preventing a hostile power from dominating and important geopolitical region; maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East; stopping proliferation of nuclear weapons; countering anti-American terrorist groups globally; securing the global commons; advancing a free and fair global economic system; and making the world safer for democracy.  

Regarding the areas of divergence between the parties, Kroenig and Negrea are incisive, asking what outcomes the distinct approaches produced in the past.  “When America is strong, its adversaries will not mess with it. But a weak America invites aggression,” the authors remind us. Republicans generally know America is worth fighting for, that the United States must have the tools to prevail in the fight, and that these tools must be used correctly. In this, they differ from many Democrats, who see the exercise of U.S. power as the source of the problem, rather than a part of a solution. This worldview holds that voluntarily restraining the United States could show goodwill and make the world safer through our example. 

Against this background, the authors discuss what is wrong with U.S. foreign and defense policy, particularly the myopathies of Biden’s foreign policy worldview. The authors analyze the connections between the Biden Administration’s suboptimal policies and the negative consequences for the United States and its allies. The authors’ clear critique of the failures of the Biden Administration is particularly welcome given the hesitancy of the foreign policy establishment to criticize Democratic presidents, something Negrea and Kroenig have no qualms about. 

Kroenig and Negrea propose an alternative foreign policy inspired by Reagan’s “peace through strength” mantra as well as the sounder parts of Trump’s defense and foreign policy. Some may argue that the authors are too generous in overlooking the more problematic aspects of Trump’s foreign policy. Yet, not every Trump Administration’s decision was wrong and acknowledging as much is a necessary step in building the best strategies to counter contemporary challenges to U.S. interests. The alternative is to be distracted by polemics regarding the consequences of Trump’s behavior while our adversaries continue to gain ground. In this task, they succeed.  

The book examines various instruments of state power from economics to American exceptionalism, a welcome addition lacking in the usual treatments of defense and foreign policy. The authors discuss theories of victory with respect to each of the most serious U.S. challengers: China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, as well as how to successfully address energy and climate challenges, and — an issue of particular importance to the Republican base — border security and immigration. 

The book is a useful primer for those interested in the betterment of U.S. foreign policy, but it also demonstrates that, contra perceptions of total discord within the Republican Party and society in general, there are points of consensus upon which future administrations can build. More importantly, Kroenig and Negrea lay out foreign and defense policy approaches that are most likely to keep America and its allies safe well into the future.