Trump Doesn't Need a Grand Strategy

Why Planning Is Overrated

Trump at the White House, May 2018. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Of all the criticisms raised against the foreign policy of U.S. President Donald Trump, the most predictable is to deplore his lack of a grand strategy. For instance, Rebecca Friedman Lissner and Micah Zenko have criticized Trump’s “anti-strategic” foreign policy and inability to “develop and execute a purposive course of action over time.” Others concede that although Trump does indeed have a grand strategy, it is ill conceived and insufficient. Colin Kahl and Hal Brands write that Trump’s “America first” platform, though recognizably strategic, is “plagued by internal tensions and dilemmas that will make it difficult to achieve the president’s stated objectives.” 

These criticisms share a crucial assumption: that a grand strategy—a coherent, long-term plan for ordering national objectives and devising realistic methods to achieve them—is the key to a successful foreign policy. But as I argue in my new book, this assumption is

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