Max Americana

Do the presidents who are pushiest abroad get the most done?

Issue: March-April 2014

Stephen Sestanovich, Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 416 pp., $28.95.

IN Maximalist, Stephen Sestanovich, a former official in the Reagan and Clinton administrations and now a professor of international relations at Columbia, has written a history of American foreign policy since World War II. Many of the details are not original. Sestanovich relies for the most part on published histories and memoirs rather than on archival sources. But Sestanovich tells the story well and his interpretation of what the history means makes the book worth considering.

Following the lead of Arthur Schlesinger Sr., who divided American political history into cycles of liberalism and conservatism, Sestanovich divides the history of post–World War II foreign policy into periods of what he calls “maximalism” and periods of retrenchment. It’s an old demarcation—first voiced by Walter Lippmann and George Kennan after World War II in a debate over the extent to which the United States should attempt to counter Soviet Communism—but Sestanovich brings it up to date and by the book’s end tips his hand about which course he would prefer.

You must be a subscriber of The National Interest to access this article. If you are already a subscriber, please activate your online access. Not a subscriber? Become a subscriber today!