Surprise, Security, and the American Experience

In This Review

Surprise, Security, and the American Experience

By John Lewis Gaddis
Harvard University Press, 2004
160 pp. $18.95
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This book is a persuasive account of the Bush administration's grand strategy and demonstrates the power of strategic analysis drawn from the American national experience. Most accounts of grand strategy draw on the abstractions of political science or the history of the post-Westphalian state system in Europe. Gaddis' focus on U.S. foreign policy and history gives him powerful tools that he exploits to the fullest, elucidating the similarities between the strategies of John Quincy Adams and Franklin Roosevelt, which have shaped the evolution of U.S. power, and contrasting both with the emerging grand strategy of the Bush administration. Vulnerability is the key to all three strategies, Gaddis argues. The 1814 burning of Washington, D.C., by British forces, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and al Qaeda's attacks on September 11 jolted Americans to reexamine their place in the world and, in each case, to expand their security frontiers and embrace a more ambitious foreign policy to deal with new threats. A strategy, Gaddis notes, may be grand without being successful, and he asks some tough questions about the validity of the assumptions on which the Bush strategy rests. How the United States can win international support (or at least consent) for a vigorous foreign policy in response to new and nontraditional threats is the question that troubles him most. He hints that a return to the principles of "federalism" may provide the answer. Perhaps. In any case, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience is a substantive accomplishment and a valuable contribution to the most important debates of our time.