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Emergent Strategy and Grand Strategy

, 248 pages
October 2017



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Emergent Strategy and Grand Strategy

How American Presidents Succeed in Foreign Policy

Is following a coherent grand strategy the key to achieving successful outcomes in American foreign policy? For many experts in academia and Washington, the answer is yes. Policymakers usually face criticism when they take incremental actions based on short-term considerations. But could such actions actually converge into a successful emergent strategy over time?

Ionut Popescu conclusively shows that in some cases, an emergent learning model leads to better overall strategic performance than a long-term strategic plan or framework. Popescu argues that it is time to rethink the origins of some of the most important successes and failures of America’s tenure as a global superpower after World War II. Presenting empirical data culled from archival research and interviews with higher-ups, Popescu covers eight US presidential administrations, ranging from Truman to Obama, to demonstrate that senior policymakers should be skeptical of the idea that formulating and implementing a long-term grand strategy is the road to a successful foreign policy legacy.

Instead, the book asserts, leaders should prioritize learning from the almost unavoidable mistakes they will make early in their careers and adapting their plans to unanticipated events and changes in the international environment. Emergent Strategy and Grand Strategy thus offers both scholars and practitioners of foreign policy an original theoretical framework to explain strategic success.

Ionut Popescu is an assistant professor of political science at Texas State University.

"An extremely ambitious book that makes a strong and novel theory argument on an enduringly important topic."

"In this all-too-rare product that blends theory and historical practice, Popescu structures a compelling case for emergent learning coupling rigorous planning with equally flexible execution in the face of our pervasive inability to forecast the future. Well researched and highly readable, this book is recommended for students and practitioners alike.   "

"In this book, Popescu examines the foreign policy of numerous presidents since the 1940s and concludes that short-term flexibility, adaptation, and improvisation are more important to strategic success than is long-term planning. Drawing on business literature together with broad archival research, his work on emergent strategies is at the cutting edge of realistic historical and current analysis of how American grand strategy is actually made. Clearly written, thoroughly researched, highly relevant, and quite convincing."

"This well-written book is highly recommended."

"Popescu's analysis raises a number of interesting points, particularly regarding the limitations of grand strategy planning in the Cold War."

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