- STAFF PICKS
- GIFTS + GIFT CARDS
- SELL BOOKS
- FIND A STORE
Ships in 1 to 3 days
This title in other editions
Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obamaby Stephen Sestanovich
Synopses & Reviews
From a writer with long and high-level experience in the U.S. government, a startling and provocative assessment of America’s global dominance. Maximalist puts the history of our foreign policy in an unexpected new light, while drawing fresh, compelling lessons for the present and future.
When the United States has succeeded in the world, Stephen Sestanovich argues, it has done so not by staying the course but by having to change it—usually amid deep controversy and uncertainty. For decades, the United States has been a power like no other. Yet presidents and policy makers worry that they—and, even more, their predecessors—haven’t gotten things right. Other nations, they say to themselves, contribute little to meeting common challenges. International institutions work badly. An effective foreign policy costs too much. Public support is shaky. Even the greatest successes often didn’t feel that way at the time.
Sestanovich explores the dramatic results of American global primacy built on these anxious foundations, recounting cycles of overcommitment and underperformance, highs of achievement and confidence followed by lows of doubt. We may think there was a time when America’s international role reflected bipartisan unity, policy continuity, and a unique ability to work with others, but Maximalist tells a different story—one of divided administrations and divisive decision making, of clashes with friends and allies, of regular attempts to set a new direction. Doing too much has always been followed by doing too little, and vice versa.
Maximalist unearths the backroom stories and personalities that bring American foreign policy to life. Who knew how hard Lyndon Johnson fought to stay out of the war in Vietnam—or how often Henry Kissinger ridiculed the idea of visiting China? Who remembers that George Bush Sr. found Ronald Reagan’s diplomacy too passive—or that Bush Jr. considered Bill Clinton’s too active? Leaders and scoundrels alike emerge from this retelling in sharper focus than ever before. Sestanovich finds lessons in the past that anticipate and clarify our chaotic present.
"A Clinton-era diplomat, Reagan administration official, and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Sestanovich is well placed to assess the course of American foreign policy since WWII. He does so in lively prose with the understanding of a practitioner as well as an academic. While his trenchant narrative of America's changing posture toward the world can carry itself, Sestanovich hangs it on a framework that it doesn't require. The U.S., he argues, has oscillated over the past half-century between all-in 'maximalism' and more restrained 'retrenchment' approaches to international affairs, the use of its power, and the strength of its military forces. It's difficult to argue with that characterization, though it doesn't add much to what Sestanovich authoritatively relates. It's a line of thought that echoes the long-running tension between realism and idealism in American foreign policy — a classic, probably unresolvable academic and official debate. Also, Sestanovich's confusing restraint in assessing what he calls retrenchment makes changes in policy seem more fundamental than they were. With that said, this is a valuable survey of America's international policies since 1945, and anyone would benefit from and enjoy reading it." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From a writer with long and high-level experience in the U.S. government, a lively, provocative, and eminently readable reexamination of American foreign policy, capturing not only its extraordinary achievements but the diplomatic missteps, intellectual confusion, and political discord from which they usually emerge.
American foreign policy since World War II has long been seen primarily as a story of strong and successful alliances, domestic consensus, and continuity from one administration to the next. Why then have so many presidents--even those most admired today--left office condemned for their foreign policy record? In his fresh and compelling history of America's rise to dominance, Stephen Sestanovich makes clear that U.S. diplomacy has always stirred controversy, both at home and abroad. He shows how successive administrations have struggled to find new solutions, alternating between bold "maximalist" strategies and retrenchment efforts to downsize America's role. Almost all our presidents--and all their most important decisions, from defeat in Vietnam through victory in the Cold War to today's new challenges--emerge from this vivid retelling in a sharp and unexpected light.
Stephen Sestanovich served as U.S. ambassador-at-large to the former Soviet Union during the Clinton administration, as a senior staff member at the National Security Council and the State Department during the Reagan administration, and as senior legislative assistant to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He is currently the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of International Diplomacy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and the George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
About the Author
What Our Readers Are Saying
History and Social Science » Politics » General