Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts American Grand Strategy from the Cold War’s End to 9/11

American Grand Strategy from the Cold War’s End to 9/11

  • Jeremi Suri
  • October 1, 2009
  • Center for the Study of America and the West


Grand strategy is about making sense of complexity; it is the wisdom to make power serve useful purposes. After the end of the Cold War, American policymakers sought to create a new grand strategy for the United States, but they failed in this endeavor. They failed because of difficult domestic and international circumstances. They also failed because of conceptual limitations. This article traces the efforts at strategy formulation in the administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and it analyzes their shortcomings. Bush had process without purpose; Clinton had purpose without process. The article encourages readers to think about how future strategists might improve upon this legacy with clearer and more disciplined attention to priorities, capabilities, and trade-offs. Making grand strategy in a democracy is not easy, but it is necessary. The absence of effective grand strategy in the 1990s contributed to the crises of the early twenty-first century.

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