What Good Is Grand Strategy?

What Good Is Grand Strategy?: Power and Purpose in American Statecraft from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush

Hal Brands
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    What Good Is Grand Strategy?
    Book Description:

    Grand strategy is one of the most widely used and abused concepts in the foreign policy lexicon. In this important book, Hal Brands explains why grand strategy is a concept that is so alluring-and so elusive-to those who make American statecraft. He explores what grand strategy is, why it is so essential, and why it is so hard to get right amid the turbulence of global affairs and the chaos of domestic politics. At a time when "grand strategy" is very much in vogue, Brands critically appraises just how feasible that endeavor really is.

    Brands takes a historical approach to this subject, examining how four presidential administrations, from that of Harry S. Truman to that of George W. Bush, sought to "do" grand strategy at key inflection points in the history of modern U.S. foreign policy. As examples ranging from the early Cold War to the Reagan years to the War on Terror demonstrate, grand strategy can be an immensely rewarding undertaking-but also one that is full of potential pitfalls on the long road between conception and implementation. Brands concludes by offering valuable suggestions for how American leaders might approach the challenges of grand strategy in the years to come.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7028-8
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations and Acronyms
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: The Meaning and Challenge of Grand Strategy
    (pp. 1-16)

    Grand strategy is the highest form of statecraft, but it can also be the most perplexing. Reduced to its essence, grand strategy is the intellectual architecture that lends structure to foreign policy; it is the logic that helps states navigate a complex and dangerous world. For precisely this reason, however, the making of grand strategy is invariably a daunting task. Devising a coherent, purposeful approach to international politics is hard enough, given the limits of human wisdom and the chaotic nature of global affairs. Implementing it can be harder still. Good grand strategy may be essential to effective statecraft, but...

  6. Chapter 1 The Golden Age Revisited: The Truman Administration and the Evolution of Containment
    (pp. 17-58)

    The Truman years are often thought of as the golden age of American grand strategy, a time when farseeing officials laid down lasting policies for containing Soviet power and stabilizing the global order. Dean Acheson famously titled his account of these yearsPresent at the Creation,while Clark Clifford, another of Truman’s advisers, later opined that “we saved Europe and we saved the world.”¹ Since the end of the Cold War, pundits and policy makers have similarly described the Truman era as a time of unmatched grand strategic vision and innovation, and invoked it as a model for present-day foreign...

  7. Chapter 2 Travails of the Heroic Statesmen: Grand Strategy in the Nixon-Kissinger Years
    (pp. 59-101)

    If the Truman administration is generally credited with constructing the Cold War order, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger had the misfortune of governing as that order was coming undone. Containment was in crisis in the late 1960s. The Vietnam War had exposed the limits of America’s power and the depth of its internal divisions, while the international system as a whole was shifting away from the postwar atmosphere of U.S. hegemony. Simply plodding along with inherited orthodoxies was no longer an option; Washington would need truly innovative policies if it were to preserve global stability in an era of relative...

  8. Chapter 3 Was There a Reagan Grand Strategy? American Statecraft in the Late Cold War
    (pp. 102-143)

    Few of Kissinger’s critics were more outspoken than Ronald Reagan, the former California governor who emerged as a leading GOP figure following Nixon’s resignation in 1974. During the 1976 Republican primaries, Reagan had attacked détente as an abdication of America’s moral heritage and a dangerously naïve approach to the Cold War. He maintained this position after Jimmy Carter took office in 1977. In radio addresses and other public commentaries, Reagan warned that the United States was falling perilously behind in the strategic arms race, and that the Soviets were exploiting détente to gain advantage in the Third World. He argued...

  9. Chapter 4 The Dangers of Being Grand: George W. Bush and the Post-9/11 Era
    (pp. 144-189)

    Reagan’s legacy loomed large for his successors, George W. Bush not least among them. During his run for the White House, the Texas governor invoked Reagan in reverential tones. The fortieth president, he declared, was

    a hero in the American story. A story in which a single individual can shape history. A story in which evil is real, but courage and decency triumph. We live in the nation President Reagan restored, and the world he helped to save. A world of nations reunited and tyrants humbled. A world of prisoners released and exiles come home. And today there is a...

  10. Conclusion: Grappling with Grand Strategy
    (pp. 190-206)

    Grand strategy is an essentially optimistic undertaking. It rests on the idea that states can combine vision and rationality with power; it holds that leaders can salvage order from chaos and impose their own meaning on events. This is what Henry Kissinger meant when he wrote about rescuing “an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance.”¹ As Kissinger understood, grand strategy involves more than matching means and ends, or overcoming one enemy or another. At its core, grand strategy is about asserting a degree of control and coherence in one’s dealings with a very unruly world.

    For precisely this...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 207-260)
  12. Index
    (pp. 261-274)