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In Pursuit of the Grand Idea

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Technical Report,01 Jun 2013,22 May 2014

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US Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth United States

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The Truman Doctrine and containment policy formed the foundation of most American national security activities and decisions throughout the Cold War. Since the end of the Cold War, many national security experts, analysts, and students believe the United States has failed to find the same success identifying its interests and articulating the ideas, policies, and strategies necessary to achieve or defend them. They suggest the United States is without direction and unable to exploit its superiority across all domains of power. Through a comparison of the Harry S. Truman 1945-1953, George H.W. Bush 1989-1993, and William J. Clinton 1993-2001 presidencies, this paper explores national security policymaking with a focus on the diversity of ideas within each period and the actors, in and out of government, who introduced and advocated those ideas. The author identifies challenges that inhibit pursuit of grand strategy and policymaking in the United States and reviews how Truman benefited from conditions not present in the Bush and Clinton eras. The author concludes with recommended reforms to both organizations and procedures that, combined with stronger leadership and greater nonpartisanship, might improve the United States ability to find a new grand idea.

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