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What’s Wrong with Transformational Leadership?

CAMBRIDGE – This year’s presidential campaign in the United States has been marked by calls from Barack Obama’s would-be Republican challengers for a radical transformation of American foreign policy. Campaigns are always more extreme than the eventual reality, but countries should be wary of calls for transformational change. Things do not always work out as intended.

Foreign policy played almost no role in the 2000 US presidential election. In 2001, George W. Bush started his first term with little interest in foreign policy, but adopted transformational objectives after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Like Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman before him, Bush turned to the rhetoric of democracy to rally his followers in a time of crisis.