The book is framed by two concepts. The first is the idea that the United States is an unintended empire of vast power, deeply interlocked with the affairs of most of the world. It is not a question of whether Americans want this empire; it is impossible to let go. The question is what to do with it. Like a child you did not expect and may not have welcomed, it is still your responsibility.
The second concept is what I call the Machiavellian Presidency. I consider three presidents exemplary: Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan. Each possessed a deep moral core. Each fully understood the uses of power, lying and violating the Constitution and human rights to achieve the respective moral necessities of the abolition of slavery, the destruction of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and the destruction of the Soviet Union. When we recall that Roosevelt allied with Stalin to defeat Hitler, we capture the Machiavellian President.
This book is very USA-centric but then if you are the only superpower left standing, then you are allowed to gloat. It shows a perspective that USA is a reluctant empire and by implication, the President of the United States, an emperor. Friedman gives an insightful critique of the US foereign policy and influences around the world and the backlash of this on the United States itself, including a question on how a constitutional republic can act like an empire.
Leadership in times of crisis is not easy as shown in his examples of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan. Friedman seems to feel that these presidents are justified to lie to Congress and the people and to violate the Constitutions as long as it serves their purposes. Friedman is utilitarian in his ethics and with this he justified the actions of these “Machiavellian ” presidents. And he seems to imply that subsequent presidents should do the same.
This is one of many possible futures but the danger is there of giving too much power to one man or one nation. We must remember the maxim, ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’