We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Difficult Transitions

Foreign Policy Troubles at the Outset of Presidential Power

Kurt M. Campbell and James B. Steinberg

Publication Year: 2008

New presidents have no honeymoon when it comes to foreign policy. Less than three months into his presidency, for example, John F. Kennedy authorized the disastrous effort to overthrow Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs. More recently, George W. Bush had been in office for less than eight months when he was faced with the attacks of September 11. How should an incoming president prepare for the foreign policy challenges that lie immediately ahead? That's the question Kurt Campbell and James Steinberg tackle in this compelling book. Drawing on their decades of government service —in the corridors of Capitol Hill, the intimate confines of the White House, the State Department, and the bare-knuckles Pentagon bureaucracy —Campbell and Steinberg identify the major foreign policy pitfalls that face a new presidential administration. They explain clearly and concisely what it takes to get foreign policy right from the start. The authors set the scene with a historical overview of presidential transitions and foreign policy including case studies of such prominent episodes as the "Black Hawk Down" tragedy in Somalia that shook the Clinton administration in its first year and the Bush administration's handling of the collision between a U.S. reconnaissance plane and a Chinese fighter jet in the spring of 2001. They pinpoint the leading causes of foreign policy fiascos, including the tendency to write off the policies of the outgoing administration and the failure to appreciate the differences between campaign promises and policy realities. Most important, they provide a road map to help the new administration steer clear of the land mines ahead. America's next president will confront critical foreign policy decisions from day one. Dif ficult Transitions provides essential guidance for getting those choices right.

Published by: Brookings Institution Press

Table of Contents

pdf iconDownload PDF (53.8 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more

Preface: Transition Memo: Hope, Hubris, Headaches, and Cardboard Boxes

pdf iconDownload PDF (72.4 KB)
pp. vii-xiv

Almost everyone who has served in Washington during a presidential transition—in any department or agency and at any level—has stories to tell of institutional disarray, personal aspirations, enormous optimism, and wrenching anxiety (often all in the course of the same day), ...

read more

1. Difficult Transitions: Presidential Transitions and Foreign Policy Perils

pdf iconDownload PDF (68.8 KB)
pp. 1-7

Perhaps the most harrowing—yet simultaneously hopeful—feature of the American system of government is the transfer of power from one president to the next, a period stretching from the quadrennial national election through the inaugural and into the first months of governance. ...

read more

2. Firsthand Practitioner Accounts: Present at the Transition

pdf iconDownload PDF (89.0 KB)
pp. 8-22

There is no better way to begin a study of the opportunities and risks surrounding presidential transitions than to listen to the participants themselves—the presidents and their advisers who experienced firsthand the exhilaration and the dread that come with a change of power. ...

read more

3. Transitions Today: Enduring Challenges and Accelerating Risks

pdf iconDownload PDF (98.6 KB)
pp. 23-40

From the early cold war–era, when new presidents and their advisers worried about being “tested” by their Soviet counterparts, to more recent concerns about whether a new national security team fully grasps the contemporary complexities of homeland security, presidential transitions have been a perilous time for new presidents ...

read more

4. Campaign Trials

pdf iconDownload PDF (105.7 KB)
pp. 41-61

Of all the problems that have plagued the early months of new presidencies, perhaps none are more persistent or potentially more dangerous than those that arise from commitments made or implied during the presidential campaign. From Eisenhower’s campaign pledge to roll back Soviet gains in Eastern Europe ...

read more

5. The Right Staff

pdf iconDownload PDF (116.8 KB)
pp. 62-86

In modern times, the preparatory period between the election and the inauguration has been dominated by three main challenges: people, process, and policy. During this time, the new president must begin choosing key personnel to staff the Cabinet agencies and the White House, decide how to organize the basic decisionmaking ...

read more

6. Structural Imperatives

pdf iconDownload PDF (91.5 KB)
pp. 87-102

The importance of selecting an effective team is closely connected to the second key challenge of the transition period, organizing the decisionmaking and policy implementation processes for national security issues. The central role played by a well-crafted structure has been evident since the early days of the cold war, ...

read more

7. Governing Realities

pdf iconDownload PDF (120.1 KB)
pp. 103-128

As if the challenges of choosing people and process were not enough for the crucial ten-to-eleven-week interim, the newly elected president must also make key decisions about the policy agenda for the new administration. There is considerable pressure to act quickly while the incoming president enjoys the tailwind of an electoral mandate. ...

read more

8. Twenty Recommendations: Getting Off to a Successful Start and Avoiding Transition Traps and Trip-ups

pdf iconDownload PDF (88.2 KB)
pp. 129-143

The history of presidential transitions is a highly cautionary tale replete with dangers and missteps that have bedeviled not just the novice, but even the wisest and most experienced of practitioners. Yet it is important to recall that transitions are also times of opportunity. ...

read more

9. Transition Verities: The 2008–09 Presidential Transfer

pdf iconDownload PDF (66.0 KB)
pp. 144-150

In late 2000, on one of the last of his dozens of trips to the island of Okinawa as a Department of Defense representative in negotiations over the future contours of the American military presence there, Kurt Campbell realized that he just was not going to get it done. ...

read more

Appendix Scholarly and Expert Perspectives: The Makings of Modern History

pdf iconDownload PDF (97.0 KB)
pp. 151-168

There is abundant scholarly literature on the past practices, constitutional procedures, and policy implications of presidential transitions, and this body of writing provides an essential context and foundation for the analysis and observations found in Difficult Transitions. ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (125.6 KB)
pp. 169-190


pdf iconDownload PDF (70.4 KB)
pp. 191-196


pdf iconDownload PDF (70.8 KB)
pp. 197-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780815701828
E-ISBN-10: 0815701829

Page Count: 204
Publication Year: 2008