Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama

Stephen Sestanovich. Knopf, $28.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-307-26817-4
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. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 10/14/2013
Release date: 02/11/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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