U.S. Presidents and Foreign Policy Mistakes

U.S. Presidents and Foreign Policy Mistakes

U.S. Presidents and Foreign Policy Mistakes

U.S. Presidents and Foreign Policy Mistakes

Synopsis

Mistakes, in the form of bad decisions, are a common feature of every presidential administration, and their consequences run the gamut from unnecessary military spending, to missed opportunities for foreign policy advantage, to needless bloodshed. This book analyzes a range of presidential decisions made in the realm of US foreign policy - with a special focus on national security - over the past half century in order to create a roadmap of the decision process and a guide to better foreign policy decision-making in the increasingly complex context of 21st century international relations.

Mistakes are analyzed in two general categories - ones of omission and ones of commission within the context of perceived threats and opportunities. Within this framework, the authors discuss how past scholarship has addressed these questions and argue that this research has not explicitly identified a vantage point around which the answers to these questions revolve. They propose game theory models of complex adaptive systems for minimizing bad decisions and apply them to test cases in the Middle East and Asia.

Excerpt

In this book, we undertake a critical examination of U.S. foreign policy by focusing on foreign policy mistakes made by U.S. presidents in the exercise of power. Our goals are to understand how mistakes occur and how to avoid or fix them. These goals have led us inevitably to consider why mistakes happen, a task that can be approached on a case-by-case basis or within the framework of a general theory of mistakes. Our approach is the latter one, which has led us to incorporate into our analysis insights from several theories of action and interaction in the academic literature on foreign policy and international relations. However, we envision our audience as broader than the academic community, extending into the ranks of both ordinary citizens and political leaders. It is tough to write for all three of these audiences, which bring different perspectives and degrees of interest to bear on our topic. Since the main thrust of our analysis is to provide both a map and a compass for avoiding foreign policy mistakes, therefore, we think it is appropriate here to provide similar guidance to the readers of this book who may want to find their way to some parts of our analysis and avoid other areas.

Parts I, II, and III of the book address questions that ordinary citizens and students are likely to raise about foreign policy mistakes: What are they? How many kinds are there? How do you tell one kind from another? What causes them? What are some examples of each kind of mistake in the history of U.S. foreign policy over the last 100 years or so up to the present? We answer these questions with a relatively simple classification scheme for distinguishing different kinds of foreign policy mistakes, based on ordinary usage of the word “mistake,” which differentiates between mistakes of omission and commission. We take this distinction and use it to identify mistakes regarding how to recognize and exercise social power in world politics. Then we show how various episodes in U.S. diplomatic and military history illustrate these different kinds of mistakes.

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