Preface to

A Search for Strategic Wisdom:

Guiding the Twists and Turns of US National Security Strategy

Answering a Burning Question by Offering a Sense of the Whole

This  book is written in the hope that it can make an important, enduring  contribution to the literature on US national security affairs and to  the public understanding of this vital subject. It focuses on a single  burning issue: Does the United States regularly show strategic wisdom –  that is, good judgment – when it makes major, path-setting decisions  about its national security strategies for handling world affairs? This  question deserves to be raised and answered as accurately as possible,  not only because the United States often makes weighty decisions in this  arena but also because many of these decisions are controversial,  subject to intense debate about whether they are wise or unwise. Written  from a centrist perspective, this book seeks an insightful answer to  the wisdom question by conducting a historical, political-military  appraisal of how US national security strategy has unfolded over a long  period, from the days of presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow  Wilson to the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. For  each presidential administration and associated historical period, it  identifies the key national security strategy decisions that were made,  examines their consequences abroad, and appraises whether they were wise  or unwise.

Readers of this book can come away not only with a  sturdy analytical framework for evaluating the strategic wisdom issue  but also with a well-refined and badly needed sense of the whole. Using  the US search for strategic wisdom as its organizing concept, the book  offers a portrayal of how US national security strategies acted together  to form a composite picture from one historical period to the next and  across the key regions of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. To my  knowledge, no other book offers a treatment this deeply probing and far  reaching. In its pages, the book offers a clear, eyebrow-raising thesis.  Over the many decades stretching from World War II until today, the  United States has acted wisely about 70 percent of the times that it  decided how to handle emerging global challenges but unwisely on about  30 percent of these occasions. Building NATO in Europe is an example of a  wise decision; intervening in the Vietnam War is an example of an  unwise decision. If this judgment is correct, it suggests that although  the US government has a respectable track record abroad, it cannot  afford to take its capacity for wise conduct for granted in the years  ahead. Strategic wisdom is not a talent that comes naturally. It must be  carefully manufactured and nourished so that when it is needed, it will  be present.