Politics and Strategy: Partisan Ambition and American Statecraft

Politics and Strategy: Partisan Ambition and American Statecraft

Politics and Strategy: Partisan Ambition and American Statecraft

Politics and Strategy: Partisan Ambition and American Statecraft


Why do some national leaders pursue ambitious grand strategies and adventuresome foreign policies while others do not? When do leaders boldly confront foreign threats and when are they less assertive? Politics and Strategy shows that grand strategies are Janus-faced: their formulation has as much to do with a leader's ability to govern at home as it does with maintaining the nation's security abroad. Drawing on the American political experience, Peter Trubowitz reveals how variations in domestic party politics and international power have led presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama to pursue strategies that differ widely in international ambition and cost. He considers why some presidents overreach in foreign affairs while others fail to do enough.

Trubowitz pushes the understanding of grand strategy beyond traditional approaches that stress only international forces or domestic interests. He provides insights into how past leaders responded to cross-pressures between geopolitics and party politics, and how similar issues continue to bedevil American statecraft today. He suggests that the trade-offs shaping American leaders' foreign policy choices are not unique--analogous trade-offs confront Chinese and Russian leaders as well.

Combining innovative theory and historical analysis, Politics and Strategy answers classic questions of statecraft and offers new ideas for thinking about grand strategies and the leaders who make them.


In the Spring of 1795, President George Washington faced an agonizing political choice. His special envoy to England, Chief Justice John Jay, had returned from London with a draft of a treaty that strongly favored the British. Revolutionary France’s bid for empire in Europe had fanned tensions in Anglo-American relations, and Washington hoped to avert war. He sent Jay to London hoping to reassure London about American intentions and to head off the possibility of a conflict with Britain. But Jay came back with a treaty that was so pro-British that the president was viciously attacked by his partisan foes for a near treasonous deal with the former colonial power. Having delayed action on the treaty for some months, as long as diplomacy would allow, the president now had to decide whether to send it to the Senate for ratification. George Washington faced a strategic dilemma. If he threw his support behind Jay’s treaty, the president risked destroying his fragile government from within, through paroxysms of partisan rage. If Washington shelved the treaty to quiet his political detractors, however, there would likely be war with England, which had the potential to destroy the nation from the outside. Geopolitics and domestic politics were two faces of the same coin: the president could not respond to one threat without weighing its impact on the other.

Washington’s dilemma was especially acute, but his strategic conundrum was as old as statecraft itself. Political leaders have always had to deal with cross-pressures and trade-offs between geopolitics and domestic politics. This is because leaders face conflicting institutional incentives. One set of incentives is generated by the executive’s role as statesman in world politics. the other is generated by the leader’s role as chief of a ruling coalition or party on the home front. the tension inherent in this dual role is present in regimes of all types but is especially intense in democracies such as the United States. in democracies, where a leader’s hold on power depends on popular support, leaders must respond to shifting geopolitical pressures while simultaneously competing to secure the political backing of not only partisans but also a decisive slice of the national electorate.

This book is about how leaders manage these conflicting institutional incentives at the broadest level of foreign policy—the level known as . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.