In This Review

Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama
Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama
By Stephen Sestanovich
416 pp, Knopf, 2014

In this analytic tour de force, Sestanovich provides a comprehensive view of the past 70 years of U.S. foreign policy and offers a useful and often original look at the strategies of the last 12 American presidents. Sestanovich’s big idea is that since World War II, U.S. policy has oscillated between the poles of “maximalist” engagement, on the one hand, and retrenchment, on the other. Sestanovich refrains from demonizing either end of the spectrum. In his view, maximalists, such as U.S. Presidents Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and George W. Bush, were not simply hubristic overreachers, and presidents who tried to retrench, such as Dwight Eisenhower and Barack Obama, should not be seen as appeasers or defeatists. Any grand thesis that aims to cover so many cases will sometimes seem a little formulaic. But Sestanovich succeeds at making a strong case without pushing his argument further than the facts allow. This book will reward both the specialist and the novice; anyone interested in the past or the future of U.S. policy and power would benefit from its insights.