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date: 24 February 2020

US Grand Strategy

Summary and Keywords

In its most general sense, grand strategy can be defined as the overarching vision that shapes a state’s foreign policy and approach to national security. Like any strategy, it requires the coherent articulation of the state’s ends and means, which necessitates prioritizing vital interests, identifying key threats and opportunities, and (within certain limits) adapting to circumstances. What makes it truly “grand” is that it encompasses both wartime and peacetime, harnesses immediate realities to long-term objectives, and requires the coordination of all instruments of power (military, economic, etc.). Although American leaders have practiced grand strategic thinking since the early days of the Republic, the concept of grand strategy itself only started to emerge during World War I due to the expansion and diversification of the state’s resources and prerogatives, the advent of industrial warfare, and the growing role of populations in domestic politics and international conflicts. Moreover, it was only during World War II that it detached itself from military strategy and gained real currency among decision-makers. The contours, desirability, and very feasibility of grand strategy have inspired lively debates. However, many scholars and leaders consider it a worthy (albeit complex) endeavor that can reduce the risk of resource-squandering, signal intentions to both allies and enemies, facilitate adjustments to international upheavals, and establish a baseline for accountability. America’s grand strategy evolved from relative isolationism to full-blown liberal internationalism after 1945. Yet its conceptualization and implementation are inherently contentious processes because of political/bureaucratic infighting and recurrent dilemmas such as the uncertain geographic delimitation of US interests, the clash of ideals and Realpolitik, and the tension between unilateralism and multilateralism. The end of the Cold War, the 9/11 attacks, China’s rise, and other challenges have further compounded those lines of fracture.

Keywords: strategy, foreign policy, hegemony, Cold War, containment, great powers

Steady Accretion of Continental Power, 1789–1865

America’s grand strategy from 1789 to 1865 rested on four complementary axes: slow accumulation of state power, avoidance of any entanglement in European wars, territorial expansion, and, almost to the end of this time period, postponement of any major decision on the highly sensitive question of slavery.1 For all its ambitions, the United States started as a tiny group of former colonies hampered by its weak government and administration, lack of national cohesion, limited resources, poor transportation infrastructures, and exposure to the European powers’ imperial ambitions.

The main priority of George Washington, the country’s first president, was to build a central state. While the latter existed on paper, its concrete reinforcement was an absolute prerequisite to lay the economic and military foundations that would propel America’s greatness. Second, while he did not reject commercial and diplomatic relations per se, Washington, as he explained in his famous Farewell Address (1796), aimed to “steer clear of permanent alliances” and to minimize any “political connection” with other countries. This approach stemmed from a profound belief in America’s intrinsic superiority over tyrannical and corrupt European regimes. But it also resulted from a pragmatic need to avert wars that the young Republic could not afford, and to protect it from foreign interferences.

Despite tumultuous domestic politics and multiple geopolitical uncertainties, the United States’ grand strategy remained remarkably stable in the following decades. President Thomas Jefferson strengthened the state’s domestic prerogatives, abstained from any alliances with foreign powers, and purchased Louisiana from France (1803), which doubled the country’s territory and secured the Mississippi River. Triggered (among other causes) by British provocations and by the “War Hawks” of Congress, who hoped to annex Canada, the War of 1812 marked another threshold in the assertion of US power and identity.2 The military campaign itself was a disaster but the conflict helped extinguish Indian tribes that threatened America’s westward expansion. Most importantly, surviving the war allowed the United States to earn Britain’s respect and that of the rest of the world. Last but not least, the conflict bolstered national unity and a popular consensus on the need to reinforce the state against future perils.3

Using a combination of purchases, diplomacy, and conquests, the United States swiftly consolidated its security, prosperity, and continental influence. Its acquisition of Florida and its boundary agreement with Spain regarding the Oregon country (1819) portended a momentous thrust upon the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, respectively. On a different note, the Monroe Doctrine (1823) signaled that Washington would no longer tolerate European colonial interferences in the western hemisphere. Although its implementation remained dependent on the British Navy for many decades, the doctrine de facto inaugurated a long period of US ideological dominance over Latin America. These moves were driven by a mix of assertiveness and defensive concerns. Thanks to its geographic isolation, the United States benefited from a relative sense of security for most of the 19th century. Its leaders already envisioned the rise of an “empire of liberty” that would emerge as a unique force for good in the world, which required “seiz[ing] the vastness of America and transform[ing] it in [their] image,” even if that meant the extermination of Indian tribes.4 Yet given the contrast between the country’s immense territory and the limits of its population and state resources, they also sought expansion to pre-empt potential threats, as articulated by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (1817–1825).5 More broadly, till the end of the 19th century, US security remained dependent on the role that the British Navy played in the Atlantic (protecting free trade and minimizing continental European powers’ influence).6

Andrew Jackson’s presidency reflected the deep resistance to state power that still pervaded ample segments of America’s population. Jackson put on hold the naval buildup initiated by his predecessors and restricted the government’s economic prerogatives. He supported the Indian Removal Act (1830), which cleared space within the United States itself, but declined to enlarge the national territory further. His successors resumed the accretion of state power and advanced new territorial ambitions. Yet continental expansion remained constrained by the British presence in Canada and by a widespread domestic racism which precluded the liberation of populations of color. Most importantly, any new absorption of territory was bound to alter the delicate balance between slave states in the South and abolitionist ones in the North, thereby weakening the Union itself. While such concerns had inclined previous leaders toward caution, President James K. Polk crossed the Rubicon in December 1845 by annexing the Republic of Texas—under the pretext that European rivals would have attacked it sooner or later.7 Exacerbated by the northern states’ economic take-off, the foundational dispute over slavery made the fragmentation of the Union all but inevitable.

The outbreak of the Civil War (1861–1865) cast a long shadow over the Republic’s very existence. However, exploiting the Union’s superior economic and demographic potential, President Abraham Lincoln pursued a deft strategy that both saved the country and ended slavery. First, eager to buoy political support, the president waited for the Confederates to declare hostilities. Second, while maneuvering to ensure that European powers would not intervene, he ordered a series of continental offensives and a maritime blockade to asphyxiate the enemy’s economy and break its resolve. Third, his Emancipation Proclamation (1863) boosted the Union’s army and markedly aggravated the social dislocation of the South. All along, Lincoln adroitly navigated a volatile domestic political context to keep a free hand over the war’s conduct.8 Thanks to his vision, the United States survived a mortal threat, buttressed its unity, restored its prestige abroad, and unlocked new potentialities.

Reckoning with International Sources of Instability, 1865–1945

Notwithstanding the death toll (620,000 to 750,000) and destruction suffered during the Civil War, the United States quickly regained its momentum, making the most of its vast territory, immense natural resources, thriving demography, stunning technological progress, and effective transportation network. The US emergence as a mighty industrial nation did not initially compromise its determination to keep European politics and the rest of the world at bay. But the economic depression of the mid-1890s led some corporate industries to press the government to open new markets abroad. More and more Americans came to believe that such outlets were indispensable to the Republic’s economic prosperity and to the survival of its political values. Combined with growing self-confidence and ideological zeal, these dynamics translated into a string of military interventions in the western hemisphere (most notably the 1898 Spanish–American War), and the “Open Door” policy in China. According to W. A. Williams, leader of the “revisionist” school of US foreign policy, the “specter of chaos and revolution” caused by the crisis of the 1890s became the fundamental driver of America’s expansionism abroad. The symbiosis between expansion, democracy, and prosperity that national leaders pursued from then onward would eventually usher in the emergence of a truly global empire.9

However, the country’s rising ambitions did not prevent the same fundamental grand strategic questions from surfacing again and again in the following decades. To what extent did Washington need to engage the rest of the world? Should it bend European political dynamics or shun them altogether? Should it actively promote liberty abroad or only set an inspiring example at home? What was the main threat to the country: an unstable balance of power, the loss of foreign markets, or the undemocratic nature of most foreign regimes?10

The exuberant Theodore Roosevelt, first major presidential figure of the 20th century, is often remembered as a quintessential realist for his uninhibited promotion of US national interests. Roosevelt buttressed America’s economic potential by fighting the excesses of capitalism at home, and built a first-rank blue-water navy to defend its interests abroad. Inaugurating a new pattern of extra-regional diplomacy, he personally mediated the peace negotiations that followed the 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War and the Moroccan Crisis of 1911, which pitted France against Germany. In both cases, the president sought to project Washington’s prestige abroad. But his chief preoccupation was the preservation of the precarious balance of power between the great nations, an imperative that he believed could no longer be ignored.

The next major American president, Woodrow Wilson, is often (and sometimes excessively) presented as Roosevelt’s antithesis. Overcoming his initial reluctance, the cerebral and “disciplined” Wilson ended up endorsing a growing involvement in European affairs and a truly idealist grand strategy.11 During the early years of World War I, he provided invaluable assistance (raw materials, etc.) to the Triple Entente (Britain, France, Russia). But Germany’s increased aggressiveness, the destructive consequences that would have followed Berlin’s control over the European continent, and the opportunity to reshape the international system incited the US president to directly enter the war in April 1917.12 Once victory was in sight, Wilson tried to create an order that would defend self-determination, institutionalize collective security via the League of Nations, and nurture liberal ideals in general. The president’s vision was disavowed by the American Congress and people. Nonetheless, over the long term, it convinced many “that the US ha[d] both a moral obligation and an important national interest in spreading [its] democratic and social values globally, creating a peaceful international community that accept[ed] the rule of law.”13

During the following years, Washington attempted to assist in the reconciliation and financial recovery of European states (reparations, etc.). However, its international engagement receded to an extent because of the trauma of World War I, the apparent stability of the European continent, and declining foreign trade flows.14 The Wall Street crash of October 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression accentuated this inward turn. But they also paved the way for the ascent of a new leader, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who understood that the United States would have to face its dependency on international stability. The president estimated that rekindling the US economy would necessitate not only ambitious domestic social programs and public investments but also the active promotion of liberal economic principles abroad.15 Above all, Roosevelt effectively prepared the United States for World War II. When the latter broke out in September 1939, he declared neutrality, knowing that neither Congress nor the country’s population or economic system were ready for battle. Nevertheless, he consolidated the security of the Western Atlantic, accelerated the revival of domestic industry, provided vital assistance to Britain and her allies (Lend–Lease Act of March 1941), and tried to constrain the enemy’s progression via diplomatic and economic coercion, until the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. In view of the policies conducted in the run-up to Japan’s attack, such as convoy protection against German submarines or the oil embargo against Tokyo, debates remain as to whether Roosevelt was forced into, inadvertently drifted towards, or deliberately provoked war.16

The president’s grand strategy benefited from the enormous untapped potential that underpinned the US economy. But he perfectly optimized national mobilization, built strong relationships with allied powers, and brilliantly led the war effort itself. Washington granted priority to Nazi Germany (although this decision did not immediately translate into operational terms). It decided to seek the enemy’s unconditional surrender to buttress cohesion with Britain and the Soviets and ensure that future leaders in Berlin and Tokyo would not claim that victory was within reach.17 America emerged from the conflict as the savior of the free world, in a position of unprecedented economic and military dominance. Still, victory could not have been achieved without Britain (bases, intelligence, etc.) and, most importantly, the Soviet Union, which fought the bulk of Germany’s troops all along. Despite growing mistrust, Roosevelt kept engaging Moscow via a mixture of pressure and inducements until his death in April 1945. This relative goodwill may have allowed Stalin to push his advantage in Eastern Europe and impeded Washington’s preparation for the contest that loomed on the horizon. But it would have been difficult to conduct a radically different policy given the US dependency on Moscow’s war contribution, the Red Army’s swift advances toward Berlin in early 1945, and Roosevelt’s desire to build a stable international order (United Nations, Bretton–Woods system, etc.) that would avoid the tragic mistakes committed in the aftermath of World War I.

The “Golden Age” of US Grand Strategy, 1945–1989

The onset of the Cold War precipitated a redefinition of America’s grand strategy. Combined with Washington’s unprecedented power potential, the Soviet Union’s emergence as a global ideological and geopolitical rival led US leaders to adopt new ways of engaging the world, including a massive overseas military presence, rising multilateralism, and alliance commitments straddling the globe.

Washington’s decision-makers embraced the concept of “containment” in 1946. According to the latter’s mastermind, George Kennan, the Soviet Union, inspired by its virulent universalist ideology, would keep opposing the United States, but the internal contradictions of its economic and political model condemned it to unravel sooner or later. Therefore, the best available course was a “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment” that concentrated on Eurasian “strongpoints.”18 Notwithstanding multiple modifications, including a drift toward a global and militarized approach that sharply departed from Kennan’s initial vision, containment remained the cornerstone of US Cold War grand strategy. Yet, as underlined by the “revisionist” school, Washington, driven by liberal instincts, concerns about its allies’ viability, and its ambition to dominate pivotal Eurasian regions, also conducted aggressive operations to weaken the Soviets in Central and Eastern Europe, shrink Russia’s territory, and destabilize the Kremlin.19

More broadly, in line with W. A. Williams’s “Open Door” thesis, some scholars have emphasized the post-WWI emergence and post-WWII consolidation of an informal American empire that entailed a global network of bases and alliances but relied primarily on free trade, US–led international organizations, and the spread of liberal political standards. Although Washington’s domination was less brutal than that of other great powers in the past, it still qualified as an “empire” due to its capacity “to shape the lives of the native population in such a way that it mold[ed domestic] politics.” Numerous experts argued that this empire “has frequently done evil in the name of good.”20 However, other prominent scholars portrayed US grand strategy as a mutually advantageous hegemony that allowed the international system to stabilize and prosper.21

The Truman Doctrine (March 1947) committed to preserving the free world from Soviet aggressions, which, above all, necessitated shoring up Western Europe and Japan. But implementation was difficult. First, Washington did not initially have sufficient means, and neither Congress nor the American people were ready to tolerate major expenditures. The Truman administration tried to circumvent these obstacles by hyping up the threat, postponing any costly rearmament, and creating more effective institutions such as the Department of Defense and the National Security Council. Second, the extent of Washington’s strategic perimeter was inherently ambiguous since Europe and Japan depended on lines of communication, natural resources, and base infrastructures located in other regions (for example the Middle East). Third, although Truman’s vision inspired bold ventures such as the Marshall Plan and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), these policies inevitably involved complex trade-offs and second-order consequences. For instance, critical debates arose about the conditions under which the United States would deploy troops or resort to nuclear weapons. The Marshall Plan itself stirred tensions among local allies and elicited dangerous Soviet countermeasures.22 Further, Truman’s vision remained vulnerable to external and domestic shocks. Setbacks such as Moscow’s first atomic test (August 1949) and the loss of China (October 1949) unleashed McCarthyism at home. Most important, the onset of the Korean War (June 1950) led the White House to trade “strongpoint” for “perimeter” containment and to endorse NSC-68, a major review arguing that any defeat anywhere in the world would put America in jeopardy, and therefore advocating for global commitments and a colossal military buildup.23

President Dwight Eisenhower upheld the tenets of US Cold War grand strategy but endeavored to circumscribe the resources utilized to address the communist threat because he worried that superfluous budgets could compromise Washington’s prosperity and political system. Solutions included a more explicit reliance on nuclear deterrence (doctrine of “asymmetrical response”), more burden-sharing with allies, and relatively cheap “psychological operations” (from propaganda to coups). Ike also sought “peaceful coexistence” with Moscow but tensions remained high. He and his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles tended to see the communist bloc as a relentless monolithic force, which fueled alarmist assessments and increased risks of overreaction.24 Further, the obsession of the White House with the concept of credibility, epitomized by Eisenhower’s “domino theory,” led to a fateful security commitment to South Vietnam.

President John F. Kennedy modified the contours of America’s grand strategy. According to him, the doctrine of “asymmetrical response” exposed the United States to unpalatable alternatives in case of Soviet provocations: either doing nothing or using the atomic bomb. Instead, Kennedy favored a doctrine of symmetrical but flexible response. More broadly, the Democratic president, who had denounced Ike’s toleration of an alleged “missile gap,” opted for a strategic buildup. His leadership proved vital during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet his grand strategy also suffered notable shortcomings. Like Eisenhower, Kennedy saw any setback abroad as a major menace to America’s power and credibility. This thinking led him to step up Washington’s commitment to South Vietnam’s stability, which would soon become the greatest blunder in US history, one that literally sank the Johnson administration.25

President Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger came to the White House in January 1969 with drastic reorientations in mind to address the failing Vietnam War, soaring domestic turmoil, and a more multipolar world exemplified by the Soviets’ military buildup, Western Europe and Japan’s economic reemergence, and (since 1964) a nuclear-armed China. The two men toned down the ideological zeal that had characterized America’s foreign policy, reduced its security commitments (Nixon Doctrine of July 1969), and abandoned the direct international convertibility of the US dollar to gold (July 1971), which had penalized the US economy. The policy of detente aimed to socialize the Soviet Union into a modus vivendi based on a shared interest in stability. Applying the concept of “linkage,” Washington would recognize Moscow as an equal in the nuclear realm (SALT agreements) and offer inducements (trade, etc.) in exchange for the Kremlin’s moderation in other domains. In parallel, the White House secretly pursued an opening with China (1971–1972). This breakthrough was designed to make Moscow and Beijing compete with each other for Washington’s favors, and could potentially facilitate an exit from the Vietnam quagmire. With regards to the latter, Nixon opted for a Vietnamization process and growing diplomatic overtures toward Hanoi. But he also ordered large-scale bombardments to signal his determination to protect Saigon.

This ambitious agenda temporarily increased America’s room for maneuver, and the opening to China would have a critical impact in later stages of the Cold War. However, Nixon and Kissinger’s grand strategy faced a highly volatile international environment and their approach, which required an unprecedented concentration of power in the White House, was unsustainable. Detente quickly started to unravel. The Soviets could not always control their allies. Above all, perceiving the march of history to be in their favor, they tried to push their advantage in the Third World (which Washington also indulged in at times). Meanwhile, the potential of US–China relations remained curtailed by ideological, strategic, and political obstacles on both sides. America’s Vietnam War came to an end. But the Paris Peace Accords (January 1973) left Saigon extremely vulnerable to new communist offensives, which would ultimately prevail in April 1975. Additionally, the oil crisis that followed the Yom Kippur War (October 1973) took the White House by surprise and revealed a new dependency on Middle Eastern energy resources. Domestic difficulties compounded those turbulences. Detente was under attack from both the supporters of retrenchment and those of a hawkish containment. The White House’s secrecy and occasionally cynical policies led entire segments of the Nixon administration to obstruct or weaken some of its initiatives, and Congress to reassert its foreign policy prerogatives. Most important, the Watergate scandal forced the president to resign in August 1974 after a long agony that durably affected the prestige of the executive.26

Jimmy Carter did not develop much interest in grand strategy during his years in the White House. Moreover, his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and his Secretary of State Cyrus Vance clashed on almost every single foreign policy issue. Besides, the president had to handle a difficult post-Vietnam/Watergate malaise and a growing economic slump at home. Ahead of his time, Carter tried to transcend the Cold War by concentrating on North–South issues (poverty, hunger, etc.) and human rights. But these ambitions failed to coalesce into a coherent grand strategy. Worse, Iran’s Islamic Revolution (January 1979) and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (December 1979) tore apart the president’s idealist vision. Indeed, these developments led to a much more bellicose stance toward the Soviets and to the proclamation of the Carter Doctrine, which inaugurated a much more direct US involvement in the Middle East. These efforts were far-reaching but did not suffice to regain the Americans’ confidence.

By contrast, Ronald Reagan’s grand strategy exceeded all expectations. The Republican president recognized the challenge posed by Moscow’s military buildup but he believed that the Soviet system was doomed and that a more assertive American stance could induce change. This conviction led him to exert growing pressure via a “rollback” of the Kremlin’s progress in the Third World, rhetorical attacks against the “evil empire,” support to dissidents throughout the communist bloc, and a considerable increase in the US military budget (Strategic Defense Initiative, B-1 bomber, MX missile, etc.). This aggressive posture heightened the risk of war. But the president’s subsequent turn toward relative accommodation helped create a favorable dynamic once Mikhail Gorbachev took over the Kremlin in 1985.

Although the young Soviet leader knew the profound flaws of the communist system, Reagan’s policies encouraged his drive for reforms.27 The United States maintained the pressure on human rights, the economy, and defense programs, and stepped up its rollback in the Third World, including growing support to the Afghan mujahideen and Pakistan’s army. Yet Reagan kept offering appealing incentives (technology, trade, etc.) for change and left Gorbachev sufficient room to make adjustments without losing face beyond repair. This method yielded important gains such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (1987) and played a large—albeit secondary—role in bringing about the end of the Cold War itself. Nevertheless, Reagan’s measures came at severe costs in the form of skyrocketing national debt, questionable alliances, the acceleration of nuclear proliferation, and the rise of Islamic extremism. Some experts even claimed that his military buildup delayed the end of the Cold War by emboldening the hawks who opposed Gorbachev in Moscow.28

US Grand Strategy in Disarray? 1989–. . .

The end of the Cold War inaugurated a period of relative disorientation for America’s grand strategy. Washington strived to maintain its primacy and spread its ideology. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived US leaders of an essential sense of purpose and factor of unity, while the ensuing profusion of less acute challenges (instability in the former communist bloc, environment, nuclear proliferation, China, ethnic strife, etc.) made the identification of vital interests and key threats more difficult.

The George H. W. Bush administration managed the unraveling of the Soviet bloc rather effectively. Although initially skeptical of Gorbachev’s sincerity, the White House adroitly corrected course as it witnessed the disintegration of the communist superpower. Bush also aptly backed Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s push for Germany’s reunification (October 1990). Moreover, the Republican president undertook a highly successful campaign against Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War of 1990–1991, which marked the apex of America’s military might and multilateral leadership. Yet, in many ways, Washington merely responded to events. Despite frequent invocations of a “new world order” based on justice and human rights, Bush Sr. did not truly advance a coherent vision for the future.

Assuming power in 1993, President William J. Clinton championed the “enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies.” His administration endeavored to address non-traditional security threats and to intervene in civil wars and other human rights disasters.29 It consistently attempted to “link economic security formally with national security” by emphasizing the threats and opportunities associated with globalization. After 1998, it also placed a growing focus on “forward homeland defense” against terrorism, drug trafficking, and nuclear proliferation.30 Additionally, it regenerated domestic economic growth and demonstrated a renewed commitment to NATO, the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), the WTO (World Trade Organization), and other international bodies.

To an extent, Clinton’s vision remained inchoate. The White House was beset by multiple obstacles at home, including economic recession (in the early years), a more isolationist national mood, the rise of a hostile Congress, bureaucratic divisions, and so forth. The president himself, a novice in foreign policy, preferred to follow his instincts rather than articulate any grand design, and always privileged domestic politics. The concept of “enlargement” did not translate into a coherent set of policies: what were the key threats to US national security and the most crucial regions of the globe? What if the spread of democracy to new areas were to prove destabilizing? What would enlargement mean for America’s military planning?31 Besides, despite successful (albeit belated and limited) interventions in the Balkans (1995, 1999), the Clinton administration rarely backed up its international agenda with appropriate means and/or resolve, as illustrated by its disastrous “Black Hawk Down” intervention in Somalia (1993), its apathy during the Rwandan genocide (1994), and its insufficient counter-terrorism efforts against al-Qaeda.32

Yet ambiguities and limitations did not prevent US grand strategy under Bush and Clinton from building upon major Cold War policies, most notably the pursuit of military primacy, the worldwide expansion of national economic interests, and support to American-led international organizations. Notwithstanding a drawdown of 200,000 troops, Washington maintained the bulk of its presence in key parts of Eurasia.33 The US pursued the “dual containment” of Iraq and Iran. Its push to expand NATO to some former Communist states (1999) increased its domination over Europe, curtailed Moscow’s sphere of influence (severely antagonizing some Russian leaders), and augmented America’s clout in oil- and gas-rich Central Asia. In parallel, free trade progressed across the world, US multinationals accessed new markets, Washington erected a new global financial architecture, and it exploited regional crises to further extend its neoliberal standards.34

The 9/11 attacks caused a significant grand strategic reorientation symbolized by the launch of a global war on terror. The National Security Strategy of September 2002, which codified the “Bush Doctrine,” elevated terrorists to the same threat level as hostile states, acknowledging that Islamist movements could one day lay their hands on nuclear weapons. Combined with Washington’s hegemonic agenda, this assessment called for drastic measures. America now openly aimed to make its forces “strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, [its] power.” It also endorsed unilateralism and the concept of preemptive war, which echoed old practices but proved highly controversial nonetheless.35 Finally, seeking to alter the very threat environment in which its enemies had prospered, the United States supported an immensely ambitious democratization agenda.

The war on terror initially proceeded smoothly. The rapid overthrow of the Afghan Taliban (December 2001) marked a first step, but the invasion of Iraq was the real objective (March 2003). The campaign was primarily justified by Saddam Hussein’s alleged (but inexistent) weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda. However, it served the broader goal of setting an example for those who dared to defy the United States, and of demonstrating the transformative potential of American ideals and modernity across the greater Middle East.36 As such, the post-9/11 era displayed an unprecedented and highly controversial US militarism.37

Yet this grand strategy rested on delusional ambitions, a deadly flaw in no small part rooted in the Bush administration’s decision-making style: insufficient knowledge of local realities, ideological zeal, arrogance, and rejection of dissenting views. The United States overestimated the impact of its military superiority, neglected other instruments of power, failed to prepare credible post-war strategies, and overestimated the extent to which locals would welcome its presence and agenda, as well as its own allies’ assistance. As a result, expectations quickly collided with reality. The Bush administration claimed important achievements such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, major free trade agreements, and the dismantlement of Libya’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction) program. Most importantly, it forged a strategic partnership with India and initiated a reorientation of American assets toward China. Nevertheless, its overall performance was badly tarnished by the flaws of the war on terror. The dramatic degradation of Iraq’s security situation, which the surge of 2007–2008 only partially attenuated, created a magnet for would-be terrorists and prevented the United States from tackling al-Qaeda’s spread in other countries. Authoritarian allies were comforted in their rejection of America’s democratization impulses. Moreover, Washington’s rhetorical outbursts against the “Axis of Evil” (2002) only made Iran and North Korea more determined to retain and even develop their nuclear potential.38 The Afghan campaign suffered from the priority given to Iraq but many of its objectives (stabilization, democratization, reconstruction) were arguably unrealistic in the first place. The war on terror indirectly facilitated China’s rise. Finally, the combination of skyrocketing expenditures and drastic tax cuts jeopardized US finances, a crunch aggravated by the onset of the financial crisis in 2007.

President Barack Obama’s grand strategy was largely conditioned by his predecessor’s. The Democratic president and his advisers acknowledged the emergence of a more multipolar world. In a context of fast-degrading fiscal solvency and relative decline of US (and Western) economies, they leaned toward less grandiose policies that reckoned with the limits of Washington’s power. President Obama adopted a “more restrained, economical, and precise approach” to the use of force, as symbolized by the growing use of drones and Special Ops.39 He steered away from nation-building, as exemplified by the limit immediately imposed on the duration of the Afghan surge and by the withdrawal from Iraq (2011). Eager to restore the country’s prestige and to share burdens, he also committed (within certain limits) to multilateralism. In parallel, he attempted to engage enemies, including Russia, Cuba, and Iran, which translated into the nuclear deal of 2015. Most importantly, President Obama accelerated the reorientation of America’s grand strategic posture toward China. Although he hoped to capitalize on areas of convergence, he recognized the increasingly competitive nature of the bilateral relationship. Announced in 2011, the “pivot” (from the Middle East) to Asia allowed a steady consolidation of Washington’s regional military presence and local alliances (Philippines, Vietnam, etc.).40 In parallel, the United States supported the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), designed to tighten economic ties with Europe and the Asia-Pacific so as to constrain Beijing. Last, the Obama administration succeeded in rekindling America’s economy.

However, the results of the president’s grand strategy were mixed. Admittedly, the setbacks encountered partly resulted from a severe economic recession and growing political gridlock in Washington. But the problems were deeper. First, the continuation of the global war on terror did not yield any groundbreaking results despite the successful raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan (May 2011). Second, many saw weakness in President Obama’s commitment to engaging China, Russia, and Iran despite their provocations. Third, the pivot to Asia was curtailed by renewed instability in the Middle East following the outbreak of the Arab Spring and Syrian war (2011), and the Islamic State’s breakthrough (2014). Such patterns demonstrated the inherent loss of leverage resulting from the drawdowns and disengagements that Obama had wished for. But many experts contended that his reluctance to use force hurt US credibility, aggravated the Iraqi and Syrian humanitarian crises, facilitated the rise of ISIS, allowed Russia’s resurgence in the Middle East, and failed to tame a rising China.41

For all the controversies that erupted after January 2017, President Donald Trump’s grand strategy has displayed some continuities with the past, many of which stemmed from bureaucratic, legislative, political, or legal constraints. Trump endorsed the war on terror (especially the anti-ISIS campaign) and a new surge in Afghanistan. He and his team recognized the return of great power geopolitics. Washington continued to fund NATO’s defense programs against Russia—despite the president’s ambiguity vis-à-vis Moscow. Most important, the Trump administration designated China as a “strategic competitor,” fiercely denounced its Belt and Road Initiative, and launched a new “Indo-Pacific” strategy against Beijing. More broadly, the preservation of military primacy still lays at the core of the US agenda.

Yet President Trump has turned against some of the most fundamental foundations of America’s post-WWII hegemony, including free trade, human rights, multilateralism (TPP, TTIP), and ironclad support to allies. His initial brinkmanship vis-à-vis North Korea and his rising pressure on Iran have appeared dangerous to many. A few experts argued that some of his positions and critiques of the “establishment” might build upon good instincts. However, his erratic stances, raucous style, and repeated attacks against the underpinnings of US grand strategy generate concerns. Admittedly, Washington’s dedication to these principles always remained far from perfect. Moreover, they may have led to serious mistakes—if not worse—in the past. But, applied in the long term, and combined with the country’s relative economic decline, current policies could aggravate domestic divisions, dishearten allies, embolden enemies, weaken international norms, and profoundly erode America’s world leadership.

Discussion of the Literature

The literature on US grand strategy intersects the fields of history and political science. It has grown dramatically since the end of the Cold War. But it remains divided in multiple chronological, thematic, and methodological clusters, let alone conceptual and structural disagreements.

For a broad historical perspective, the best references include works by Kennedy (1987, 1991), particularly interested in power transitions, Murray, Sinnreich (2014), and Lacey (2011), whose edited volumes explore the connections between strategy and grand strategy, Milevski (2016), and Martel (2015), who traces the evolution of America’s grand strategy since the country’s foundation.42 The seminal studies of Washington’s containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War were written by Gaddis (2005) and by Leffler, who focuses on the Truman administration (1993).43 More recently, Brands has made major contributions on the evolution of US grand strategy from 1945 to the Trump administration (2014, 2016, 2018).44 Hemmer (2015) highlights the most recurrent questions that American leaders have had to grapple with since World War II.45 In a different vein, powerful insights can be gleaned from more theoretical works such as Keohane and Nye’s study of “complex interdependence” (2001), Gilpin’s seminal analysis of power transitions (1981), and Mearsheimer’s presentation of offensive realism (2014).46

The first seminal debate that can be found in the literature relates to the concept of grand strategy itself. Indeed, scholars such as McDougall (2010), Edelstein and Krebs (2015), and Popescu (2017) have expressed various shades of skepticism as to its very existence. According to them, the inherent complexity of statecraft (bureaucracies, psychological biases, domestic politics, etc.), the ever-shifting international landscape, and an array of other factors make such an exercise sub-optimal, if not delusional or dangerous. These experts point out the merits of a more humble and ad hoc form of decision-making.47 Somewhat in the same vein, Reich and Dombrowski (2018) contend that, since the end of the Cold War, bureaucracies and operational demands have shaped the evolution of US foreign policy just as much as the executive office has, resulting in the concomitant pursuit of “calibrated strategies” perpetuated across administrations.48 However, disagreements and ambiguities persist even among the experts who plainly accept the existence and value of grand strategy. As Silove shows (2017), the literature suffers from an often unconscious conflation of three terminological paths endowed with distinct analytical implications: “grand plans” (“a deliberate, detailed plan devised by individuals”), “grand principles” (“an organizing principle that is consciously held and used by individuals to guide their decisions”), and “grand behavior” (a “pattern in state behavior”).49 Delving into these conceptual considerations, Friedman Lissner (2018) argues that grand strategy can be apprehended either as a “variable,” a “process,” or a “blueprint.”50

The second seminal debate has to do with the formation and ultimate ends of US grand strategy. Prominent scholars such as Posen (2014) and Mearsheimer (2014) underline the effects of the international structure, considering states as rational actors driven by an overarching quest for security.51 Another current stresses the influence of culture, history, domestic politics, and political economy. For instance, Kissinger (1995) probes the American leaders’ desire to steer away from European practices, Mead (2002) examines the impact of competing historical traditions (Hamiltonians, Jeffersonians, Jacksonians, and Wilsonians), and Narizny (2007) explores the role of political parties and interest groups.52 Neoclassical realist studies strike a middle ground. For instance, Dueck (2006) estimates that structural parameters define the range of options available but cultural, historical, and domestic political factors determine the selection of a specific grand strategy within those boundaries.53 Taliaferro (2012) examines how Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the Japan threat to overcome domestic obstacles and ensure that America would enter the war against Germany.54 Building on the “Open Door” literature, Layne (2006) claims that concerns about the survival of the country’s economic and political model led US leaders to aggressively pursue “extra-regional hegemony.”55 Going further, de Graaff and van Apeldoorn (2016) investigate the intellectual influence of corporate networks on America’s political leaders.56 By contrast, Smith (2012), Ikenberry (2011), and Miller (2016) underscore the role of democratic values and international institutions.57 Finally, Gavin (2015) moves the discussion to a new stage by asserting that nuclear nonproliferation drove Washington’s post-1945 grand strategy just as much as containment and the liberal agenda did.58

The third seminal debate concerns the merits of America’s past grand strategy and the best course to chart for the future. The dominant paradigm, articulated (albeit from different standpoints and with distinct arguments) in the important works of Ikenberry, Kagan (2012), Brands, and Brooks and Wohlforth (2016), contends that the United States must maintain its “deep engagement” to lead the international community, protect the post-WWII liberal order, and push national interests. This perspective relies on several key assumptions: the nature of foreign regimes (i.e., whether they are democratic or authoritarian) can have dangerous implications; faraway crises can hurt Washington’s interests; but US military primacy, credible security commitments, a global network of allies, and the promotion of liberal principles can stem international disruptions. These studies assume that America has the capacity to maintain its hegemony in the long term, as recently argued by Beckley (2018).59 However, multiple disagreements remain. Some scholars, such as Nye, emphasize the use of “soft power” and “smart power” (2011), while others, such as Cohen (2018), favor a more muscular approach. Disagreements also persist on the respective merits of unilateralism versus multilateralism.60

Other experts advocate for a more modest American leadership. This approach, whose intellectual roots go back to the Vietnam era, featured early supporters such as Tucker (1972).61 It relies on a common assumption that America is in decline, and that, as stressed by Bacevich (2002, 2008) or Galen Carpenter (2008), this decline largely results from the delusional and/or self-interested militarism and ideological zeal of the country’s elites.62 This current, sometimes designated as “retrenchment,” is divided into two main schools of thought: offshore balancing and restraint.

Layne (2006), Mearsheimer, and Walt (2016) are the most prominent supporters of “offshore balancing.” According to them, US grand strategy has often (especially in the post-Cold War era) proved counter-productive, inciting allies to free-ride, incentivizing enemies to respond assertively, and provoking disasters such as the 2003 Iraq War. In their opinion, national security threats are constrained by the deep-seated features of the international system, including states’ propensity to seek a regional balance of power, the mitigating impact of geographic distance, and the fact that defense often prevails over offense in the military sphere. More recently, these scholars have all published rebuttals of “liberal hegemony” and the elites who ceaselessly pursue it (2017, 2018). In the end, proponents of offshore balancing want the United States to refrain from costly military buildups, disproportionate overseas presence, undue concerns for credibility, and reckless wars. However, some of them stress that America must be ready to intervene in key regions of Eurasia in case of imminent threat to the balance of power (such as the one that China could potentially present soon).63

Posen (2014, 2003), Gholz, Press, Sapolsky (1997), Hall, and Friedman (2018) are the main proponents of “restraint,” another leading school on US grand strategy. These scholars, who share many similarities with offshore balancers, argue that the “liberal hegemony” pursued since the end of the Cold War (and especially after 9/11) squandered resources and caused enormous blunders. For them, America’s national security does not necessitate extensive activism abroad. Further, the post-1945 decline in inter-state wars does not emanate from US policies, as liberals believe, but from the fear of nuclear catastrophe, rising trade interdependence, more assertive national identities, and changes in the structure of domestic economies. Although their prescriptions vary, the supporters of restraint are usually more reticent about foreign interventionism than “mainstream” offshore balancers. Some advocate for a very stark reduction of America’s military posture and budget.64

Finally, Art (2004), another prominent scholar, advocates for “selective engagement.” The latter can be apprehended as a middle ground between “liberal hegemony” and its adversaries. It calls for a strong commitment to the stability and prosperity of key regions such as Europe and East Asia to prevent the emergence of a hostile hegemon. This objective requires a forward defense posture and a robust alliance system. However, eager to prevent large-scale conflagrations and open-ended commitments, Art recommends greater moderation in the pursuit of US ideals and a more careful evaluation of available alternatives before any decision to use military force.65

Primary Sources

Several sets of primary sources can help decipher the logic and characteristics of US grand strategy, especially for the post-WWII era. The seminal documents consistently flagged in the literature should be the reader’s first priority. For instance, understanding the mindset of Washington’s decision-making circles and the basic imperatives and trade-offs that they faced during the Cold War requires a careful reading of George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” (1946), the NSC 20/4 report (1948), the NSC-68 review (1950), and the Reagan administration’s NSDD-75 (1983). More broadly, National Security Council reports, Joint Chiefs of Staff memoranda, National Security Decision Memoranda, and National Security Decision Directives can help capture and contextualize the fundamental features of America’s grand strategy.

To consult key documents, the FRUS (Foreign Relations of the United States) series of the website managed by the Office of the Historian of the State Department constitutes the best starting point. It offers a clear overview of government documents organized by administrations along regional and thematic folders, including some on general foreign policy orientations. Moreover, the website of the Federation of American Scientists grants access to all the presidential directives and executive orders created since the Truman administration. If this trove of documents is still insufficient, one should consider an online search on the website of the corresponding presidential libraries, and probably an on-site visit as well, knowing that the legal declassification “frontier” currently runs up to the early 1990s.

For more recent years, readers should consult the National Security Strategies that the Goldwater–Nichols Defense Reorganization Act (1986) required US executive leaders to produce to describe America’s vital interests, main threats, and key objectives. The writing of these documents is a long and complex endeavor distorted by bureaucratic rivalries and domestic political calculations, which explains why their language can occasionally be vague or contradictory. Regardless, they constitute an invaluable point of departure to understand the executive’s vision of the international system and of the United States’ role in the world. The National Military Strategies regularly published by the Joint Chiefs of Staff can also prove useful. Finally, a careful review of speeches, statements, and public documents should help refine one’s understanding of a specific administration’s vision.

In the end, however, it is important to keep in mind that grand strategies can exist via the mere presence of “organizing principles” or “patterns of behavior” (see the section “Discussion of the Literature”). Additionally, even to the extent that government documents can capture their essence, one must acknowledge the gap that inevitably separates the document in question (which usually covers a large thematic and geographic scope) from the policies that filter through the statecraft process. This built-in divergence between conceptualization and implementation can result from the distinct ways in which various leaders understood this document, competing institutional agendas within the government and administration, the stormy winds of American domestic politics, or the simple fact that some grand strategies cannot easily be translated into coherent and workable policies. However, this gap also derives from the daily stream of events that affect the state’s geopolitical environment and calculations, which no human mind could ever hope to fully grasp, let alone anticipate or control. In sum, any analysis of grand strategy must acknowledge that the latter, for all its virtues, is destined to remain an arduous and imperfect work in progress.

Further Reading

Art, Robert J. A Grand Strategy for America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Bacevich, Andrew J. American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Brands, Hal. What Good is Grand Strategy? Power and Purpose in American Statecraft. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Brands, Hal. American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2018.Find this resource:

Brooks, Stephen G., G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth. “Don’t Come Home, America: the Case against Retrenchment.” International Security 37, no. 3 (2012–2013): 7–51.Find this resource:

Dueck, Colin. Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Gaddis, John L. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Reappraisal of American National Security Policy During the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Gavin, Francis J. “Strategies of Inhibition: U.S. Grand Strategy, the Nuclear Revolution, and Nonproliferation.” International Security 40, no. 1 (2015): 9–46.Find this resource:

Ikenberry, G. John. Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Kennedy, Paul M. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. New York: Random House, 1987.Find this resource:

Kennedy, Paul M. Grand Strategies in War and Peace. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.Find this resource:

Layne, Christopher. The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Martel, William C. Grand Strategy in Theory and Practice: The Need for an Effective American Foreign Policy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Mead, Walter Russell. Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.Find this resource:

Mearsheimer, John J. The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2018.Find this resource:

Posen, Barry. Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Silove, Nina. “Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy.’” Security Studies 27, no. 1 (2018): 27–57.Find this resource:


(2.) Jasper M. Trautsch, “The Causes of the War of 1812: 200 Years of Debate,” Journal of Military History 77 (Jan. 2013), 275–278.

(3.) Martel, Grand Strategy in Theory and Practice, 185.

(4.) Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 10; Walter T. K. Nugent, Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008); and Anders Stephanson, Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995).

(5.) John L. Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 16; on John Quincy Adams, see Charles N. Edel, Nation Builder: John Quincy Adams and the Grand Strategy of the Republic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

(6.) C. Vann Woodward, “The Age of Reinterpretation,” American Historical Review 66, no. 1 (1960), 2.

(7.) Martel, Grand Strategy in Theory and Practice, 195–196.

(8.) Martel, Grand Strategy in Theory and Practice, 202–206; and Wayne Hsieh, “The Strategy of Lincoln and Grant,” in Successful Strategies: Triumphing in War and Peace, ed. Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 189–191.

(9.) William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (New York: Norton, 1988), 28–32.

(10.) Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience, 41–42; for a critical analysis of America’s exceptionalism, isolationism, and expansionism, see Walter A. McDougall, Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World since 1776 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

(11.) John Milton Cooper Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1983), XII–XIV.

(12.) David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 254–261; and Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916–1931 (London and New York: Allen Lane, 2014), 15–16 and 65–67.

(15.) Bastiaan van Apeldoorn and Naná de Graaff, American Grand Strategy and Corporate Elite Networks: The Open Door since the End of the Cold War (Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2016), 41.

(16.) Peter R. Mansoor, “U.S. Grand Strategy in the Second World War,” in Successful Strategies: Triumphing in War and Peace, ed. Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 317–328; Waldo H. Heinrichs, Threshold of War: Franklin Delano Roosevelt & American Entry into World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); and Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, “Strategy of Innocence or Provocation? The Roosevelt Administration’s Road to World War II,” in The Challenge of Grand Strategy: The Great Powers and the Broken Balance between the World Wars, ed. Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, Norrin M. Ripsman, and Steven E. Lobell (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 193–223.

(17.) Mansoor, “U.S. Grand Strategy in the Second World War,” 341.

(18.) X, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Foreign Affairs 25, no. 4 (July 1947): 575.

(19.) Gregory Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin: America’s Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947–1956 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), 15–46, 177–189; Melvyn P. Leffler, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 34–36; and Walter LaFeber, America, Russia and the Cold War, 1945–2000 (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 32–78.

(20.) Richard M. Immerman, Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 12, 6; Westad, Global Cold War.

(21.) G. John Ikenberry, “America’s Liberal Grand Strategy: Democracy and National Security in the Post-War Era,” in American Democracy Promotion: Impulses, Strategies and Impacts, ed. Michael Cox and G. John Ikenberry (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 108; and Robert Kagan, The World America Made (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).

(24.) Gaddis, Strategies of Containment, 204.

(25.) On the path to war, see Fredrik Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); and Fredrik Logevall, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam (New York: Random House, 2012).

(26.) Brands, What Good is Grand Strategy, 59–101.

(27.) Brands, What Good is Grand Strategy, 124–129.

(28.) Christopher M. Hemmer, American Pendulum: Recurring Debates in U.S. Grand Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015), 103.

(30.) James D. Boys, Clinton’s Grand Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy in a Post-Cold War World (London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 266, 271–272.

(31.) Jeremi Suri, “American Grand Strategy From the Cold War’s End to 9/11,” Orbis 53, no. 4 (2009): 625.

(32.) Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders, 138–143.

(33.) Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders, 114.

(34.) Van Apeldoorn and de Graaff, American Grand Strategy and Corporate Elite Networks, 119–121.

(35.) Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience, 30–31.

(36.) Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience, 80–92; on the intellectual trajectory of the Bush administration’s leaders, see Jim Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (New York: Viking, 2004).

(38.) Brands, What Good is Grand Strategy, 185.

(40.) Jeffrey A. Bader, Obama and China’s Rise: An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2012), especially 69–82; and Kurt M. Campbell, The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia (New York: Twelve, 2016).

(41.) Brands, American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump, 74–75.

(42.) Kennedy, Rise and Fall of the Great Powers; Paul M. Kennedy (ed.), Grand Strategies in War and Peace (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991); Williamson Murray, Richard Hart Sinnreich, and James Lacey (ed.), The Shaping of Grand Strategy (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich (ed.), Successful Strategies: Triumphing in War and Peace from Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Lukas Milevski, The Evolution of Modern Grand Strategic Thought (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2016); and Martel, Grand Strategy in Theory and Practice.

(43.) Gaddis, Strategies of Containment; Leffler, A Preponderance of Power.

(44.) Brands, What Good is Grand Strategy?; Hal Brands, Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post-Cold War Order (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016); Brands, American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump; for Bill Clinton, see Boys, Clinton’s Grand Strategy.

(45.) Hemmer, American Pendulum.

(46.) Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Power and Interdependence (New York: Longman, 2001); Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981); and John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014).

(47.) Walter A. McDougall, “Can the United States Do Grand Strategy?” Foreign Policy Research Institute, April 13, 2010; David Edelstein and Ronald Krebs, “Delusions of Grand Strategy: The Problem with Washington’s Planning Obsession,” Foreign Affairs 94, no. 6 (2015): 109–116; and Ionut C. Popescu, Emergent Strategy and Grand Strategy: How American Presidents Succeed in Foreign Policy (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017).

(48.) Simon Reich and Pete Dombrowski, The End of Grand Strategy: U.S. Maritime Operations in the Twenty-First Century (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017).

(50.) Rebecca Friedman Lissner, “What is Grand Strategy? Sweeping a Conceptual Minefield,” Texas National Security Review 2, no. 1 (2018): 52–73.

(51.) Barry Posen, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014); and John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014).

(52.) Henry A. Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994); Mead, Special Providence; and Kevin A. Narizny, The Political Economy of Grand Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007).

(53.) Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders.

(54.) Taliaferro, “Strategy of Innocence or Provocation?”

(56.) Van Apeldoorn and de Graaff, American Grand Strategy and Corporate Elite Networks.

(57.) Tony Smith, America’s Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012); G. John Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011); and Paul D. Miller, American Power & Liberal Order: A Conservative Internationalist Grand Strategy (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2016).

(59.) On the enduring nature of US hegemony, see Michael Beckley, Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018).

(60.) Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan; Robert Kagan, The World America Made (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2012); Brands, Making the Unipolar Moment; Brands, American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump; Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, America Abroad: The United States’ Global Role in the 21st Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016); Joseph S. Nye, The Future of Power (New York: Pacific Affairs, 2011); and Eliot A. Cohen, The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Limits of Military Force (New York: Basic Books, 2016).

(61.) Robert W. Tucker, A New Isolationism: Threat or Promise? (New York: Universe Books, 1972).

(62.) Andrew J. Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008); Ted Galen Carpenter, Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America (Washington, DC: CATO Institute, 2008); and Christopher A. Preble, The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009).

(63.) John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, “The Case for Offshore Balancing: A Superior U.S. Grand Strategy,” Foreign Affairs 95, no. 4 (2016): 70–83; Layne, The Peace of Illusions; Christopher Layne, “The U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment and Grand Strategy: How American Elites Obstruct Strategic Adjustment,” International Politics 54, no. 3 (2017): 260–275; John J. Mearsheimer, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2018); and Stephen M. Walt, The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2018).

(64.) Posen, Restraint; Barry Posen, “Command of the Commons: The Military Foundations of US Hegemony,” International Security 28, no. 1 (2003): 5–46; Eugene Gholz, Darryl G. Press, and Harvey M. Sapolsky, “Come Home, America: The Strategy of Restraint in the Face of Temptation,” International Security 21, no. 4 (2017): 5–48; and A. Trevor Hall and Benjamin H. Friedman (eds.), US Grand Strategy in the 21st Century: The Case for Restraint (Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2018).