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Prisoners of Their Premises: How Unexamined Assumptions Lead to War and Other Policy Debacles, George C. Edwards III

Reviewed by Christopher Fettweis
 

The United States has a rather remarkable record of foreign policy blunder. Over the course of just one lifetime, Washington has managed to err big and small, committing mistakes in Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Korean peninsula, the Middle East and many other places. While it has hardly been an unbroken string of disaster, the foreign policy decisions of the United States could certainly have been better and are worthy of deep examination.

What accounts for these mistakes? Why do U.S. leaders make such seemingly stupid choices, over and over? And their blunders always seems to persist; why is it so difficult for policymakers to change course once it has become clear to everyone else that the path they have set the nation on is mistaken?

These questions and more are addressed by George C. Edwards in his new Prisoners of Their Premises. In it Edwards tells an important story, one that has been largely told before but that cannot be repeated enough. His message is simple, but it is one that leaders routinely ignore: Foreign policy decisions, even the most consequential, are driven more by the preexisting beliefs of those in charge rather than an evaluation of the material facts. The perceptions of policymakers, which may or may not reflect reality, account for their decisions.

This is not necessarily a new insight, but Edwards

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