Avoiding Trivia: The Role of Strategic Planning in American Foreign Policy

In This Review

Avoiding Trivia: The Role of Strategic Planning in American Foreign Policy
Edited by Daniel W. Drezner
Brookings Institution Press, 2009
230 pp. $24.95
Purchase

There is a widespread belief that since the end of the Cold War, the United States has not done strategic planning very well. It is also true that the study of strategic planning itself has been neglected. This small gem of a book brings together academic experts and government veterans to reflect on how the United States, in the words of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, should "look ahead . . . to see the emerging form of things to come and outline what should be done to meet or anticipate them." One set of chapters looks at the shifting international environment in which strategic planners must now operate. David Gordon and Daniel Twining identify increasingly diffuse challenges that will require new strategic thinking, and Jeffrey Legro sees the United States struggling to sustain an internationalist foreign policy. In chapters about the organization of planning, Bruce Jentleson and others believe that it will increasingly require the integration of ideas and experts from across the government. Aaron Friedberg argues that the White House itself needs to take charge of policy planning, perhaps by creating a cell inside the National Security Council. There are also skeptics who question whether planning can really be perfected. Stephen Krasner makes the useful point that planning is often ignored or disconnected from the actual conduct of foreign policy. But occasionally, "windows" open up, and leaders unexpectedly seek out new policy thinking. These are the moments that planners live for.