, Volume 93, Number 5

Peter Dombrowski and Simon Reich

In the featured article from the September issue, Peter Dombrowski and Simon Reich examine the possibility of developing a US grand strategy for the twenty-first century. Scholars and pundits are already speculating whether President Trump has developed a ‘doctrine’ or, more expansively, a ‘grand strategy’. But, stepping back from Washington’s and the media’s news cycle, it is worth noting that such deliberation about the Trump presidency is unexceptional. What is overlooked in these raging debates is a prior question: can Donald Trump—or any other American president—implement a grand strategy in the twenty-first century?

Six months into the Trump presidency, scholars and pundits are already speculating whether the president has developed a ‘doctrine’ or, more expansively, a ‘grand strategy’. No doubt, unfolding events—in Asia, the Middle East and possibly Europe—will sustain this debate about Trump’s strategy in the months and, possibly years, to come. It will be prompted by disparate events that stretch from directing vocal threats to the North Koreans regarding their nuclear program to demands that NATO members increase their defence budgets. But, stepping back from Washington’s and the media’s news cycle, it is worth noting that such deliberation about the Trump presidency is unexceptional. Grand strategy debates are always fashionable. What is overlooked in these raging debates is a prior question: can Donald Trump—or any other American president—implement a grand strategy in the twenty-first century? Our answer is no, they can’t. Despite the professed differences among US presidential administrations, each in fact responded to them in markedly similar ways. In fact, we argue, Americans may debate a variety of grand strategies. But a combination of systemic international challenges and bureaucratic tussling between civilian and military leaders ensures that any presidential administration simultaneously implements a variety of calibrated strategies (ranging from liberal institutionalism to restraint and even neo-isolationism), depending on the circumstances.

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