How Past Informs Present: an Interview with Stephen Sestanovich

Updated: Dec 4, 2018


Interview / I talk to Stephen Sestanovich, ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union and special adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, about his book Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama.


The current state of international affairs is disheartening and unpredictable. But, argues Stephen Sestanovich in his book Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama (Knopf, 2014), no matter how rosy the history of U.S. foreign policy may seem, our past was “just as confused and chaotic as the present.” Sestanovich, who worked in U.S. diplomacy

for many years, most notably as ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union and special adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright from 1997 to 2001, describes U.S. foreign policy as a constant back-and-forth between what he calls “maximalist” presidents seeking to increase the U.S. presence on the international stage and “retrench- ment” presidents seeking to scale it back. Neither approach is inherently good or bad, he argues. Each has had real successes, and yet “both are prone to error and require the correction of a new policy.” In fact, the ability to change course is precisely what has made U.S. foreign policy so successful. I met with Sestanovich in early September 2014, in his office at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, to discuss his book and his thoughts on U.S. foreign policy.


Read the interview in the Winter 2015 issue of Harriman Magazine.