America’s Original Sin
Slavery and the Legacy of White Supremacy
The Rise of Illiberal Hegemony
Trump’s Surprising Grand Strategy
The China Reckoning
How Beijing Defied American Expectations
Autocracy With Chinese Characteristics
Beijing's Behind-the-Scenes Reforms
The End of the Democratic Century
Autocracy's Global Ascendance
Perception and Misperception on the Korean Peninsula
How Unwanted Wars Begin
The Myth of the Liberal Order
From Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom
When China Rules the Web
Technology in Service of the State
The New Arab Order
Power and Violence in Today's Middle East
Lessons From a Failed State
Has a New Cold War Really Begun?
Why the Term Shouldn't Apply to Today's Great-Power Tensions
The United States' Perpetual War in Afghanistan
Why Long Wars No Longer Generate a Backlash at Home
Reeducation Returns to China
Will the Repression in Xinjiang Influence Beijing's Social Credit System?
How Artificial Intelligence Will Reshape the Global Order
The Coming Competition Between Digital Authoritarianism and Liberal Democracy
The Remarkable Scale of Turkey's "Global Purge"
How It Became a Threat to the Rule of Law Everywhere
The Pentagon's Transparency Problem
Why Accurate Troop Levels Are So Hard to Find
Stop Obsessing About China
Why Beijing Will Not Imperil U.S. Hegemony
Is Trump a Normal Foreign-Policy President?
What We Know After One Year
How Sharp Power Threatens Soft Power
The Right and Wrong Ways to Respond to Authoritarian Influence
Is Going It Alone the Best Way Forward for Europe?
Why Strategic Autonomy Should Be the Continent’s Goal
For scholars studying the effects of presidential leadership on U.S. foreign policy, Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 has offered quite the test. What does it mean for the United States to elect a leader with no experience in government, little knowledge of foreign policy, and an explicit disdain for expertise?
After a year in office, Trump has confirmed a lot of what we knew about how leaders matter: he has held firm to the few beliefs he brought with him to office, demonstrated the importance of substantive knowledge (or lack thereof) for decision-making, and shown why advisers cannot substitute for experienced leadership. In other ways, he has proven a surprise, principally by failing to appoint people who could help him get what he wants. And as the world faces at least another three years of Trump, there are few reasons to think his behavior will change in the future.
GREAT MAN THEORY
International relations scholars long believed that leaders do not matter much—states will act how they act, regardless of who is at the helm. The political scientist Kenneth Waltz, for instance, has argued that the constraints of the international system, not individuals or domestic politics, determine the actions of states.
More recently, however, that view has begun to change. Long before Trump’s election, scholars had assembled a wealth of new evidence about how individual leaders influence their countries’ behavior. One major finding is that leaders’ background experiences and beliefs—formed long before they arrive in office—shape how they make decisions, from taking in and processing information to deliberating with advisers and, ultimately, deciding on a course of action. What we see when leaders enter office is essentially what we’ll get, at least for the first few years.
Three insights from this body of scholarship stand out in particular. First, leaders’ beliefs are “sticky,” meaning that they are formed before leaders enter office and tend not to change much over time. As former U.S.
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