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Center for America's Purpose



A resource for better understanding

“Thanks to my reading,” General James Mattis explains, “I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”

General Mattis is describing how a broad base of knowledge can help people think critically, solve problems and handle the unexpected. These qualities are especially important when it comes to foreign and defense policy. Yet for many Americans, there are gaps in understanding the history, context, means and ends of U.S. foreign and defense policy. Since its founding in 2014, the Sagamore Institute’s Center for America’s Purpose has worked to fill these gaps by applying the lessons of history to the challenges of today and by reminding the American people that the United States is a force for good in the world. Pathfinder is the Center’s newest tool in this effort to fill some of the gaps in our understanding of America’s purpose and role in the world—and to provide some light for the path ahead, to borrow the phrase used by General Mattis.

Sagamore Institute Senior Fellow Alan Dowd , who leads the Center for America’s Purpose, serves as curator of the Pathfinder collection. The product of insights from dozens of former diplomats, policymakers, retired military officers, foreign-policy practitioners, historians, political scientists, and scholars, Pathfinder resources are grouped under two broad “pathways”: The FOUNDATIONS & FUNDAMENTALS pathway shines light on some of the basics about America’s role in the world—the roots and origins, arguments and debates, tensions and contradictions that have forged U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy over the centuries. The CHALLENGES & THREATS pathway points the lamp toward some of the current trends and enduring tests in U.S. foreign and defense policy. Each pathway is broken down into subsections for ease of reference, and each includes a feature we call “stepping stones”—essays aimed at offering a little background about a particular topic.

Readers will notice that this collection of books, speeches, primary-source documents and essays doesn’t reflect an exclusively idealist or realist, liberal or conservative, isolationist or interventionist, nationalist or globalist stance on foreign and defense policy. Rather, Pathfinder represents a mix of those views—not unlike America itself.  

Foundations & Fundamentals

Building a Good Nation and a Great Power

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

Abraham Lincoln, The Last Best Hope, 1862

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863

Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship in a Democratic Republic, 1910

Theodore Roosevelt, In the Interest of Humanity, 1904

Martin Luther King, A Special Job for Mankind, 1965

Paul Kennedy, Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, 1987

Samuel Huntington, The U.S.—Decline or Renewal?, 1988

Ronald Reagan, Freedom Man, 1989

Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1992 edition

Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, 2001

Walter Russel Mead, Special Providence, 2001

John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security and the American Experience, 2004

Niall Ferguson, Colossus, 2004

William Odom & Robert Dujarric, America’s Inadvertent Empire, 2004

Michael Mandelbaum, David’s Friend Goliath, 2006

Josef Joffe, The Default Power, 2009

Stephen Ambrose & Douglas Brinkley, Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy since 1938, 2011

Robert Kagan, The World America Made, 2012

Henry Nau, Conservative Internationalism, 2013

Robert Kaplan, In Defense of Empire, 2014

Robert Kagan, Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire, 2014

Robert Kaplan, America Is Fated to Lead, 2014

Dick Cheney & Liz Cheney, Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America, 2015

Learning from War

George Washington, The Urgent Need for Men and Supplies, 1777

Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 1865

Ulysses S. Grant, The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, 1885

Theodore Roosevelt, Preparedness, 1897

William McKinley, Message Requesting a Declaration of War, 1898

Theodore Roosevelt, Preparedness without Militarism, 1914

Theodore Roosevelt, The Danger of Making Unwise Peace Treaties, 1914

Woodrow Wilson, War Address: A Fearful Thing, 1917

Franklin Roosevelt, The Great Arsenal of Democracy, 1940

Eleanor Roosevelt, The First Pearl Harbor Address, 1941

Franklin Roosevelt, War Address: A Day of Infamy, 1941

Winston Churchill, America’s Olympian Fortitude, 1941

Franklin Roosevelt, Fireside Chat: The Task We Face, 1942

Dwight Eisenhower, The Great Crusade, 1944

Franklin Roosevelt, D-Day Prayer, 1944

Pearl Harbor Commission Report, 1946

Winston Churchill, Sinews of Peace, 1946

George Kennan, The Long Telegram, 1946

Harry Truman, Free Peoples Look to Us, 1947

Hans Morgenthau, Politics among Nations, 1948

Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 1948

NSC 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security, 1950

Douglas MacArthur, No Substitute for Victory, 1951

George Kennan, American Diplomacy, 1951

T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and His Generals, 1952

Winston Churchill, Never Despair, 1955

John Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 1961

Douglas MacArthur, Duty, Honor, Country, 1962

Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August, 1962

Burke Davis, Marine: The Life of Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, 1964

DOD, The Pentagon Papers, 1967

Richard Nixon, Asia after Vietnam, 1967

David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest, 1972

James Webb, Fields of Fire, 1974

Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 1977

Ronald Reagan, The Boys of Point Du Hoc, 1984

Ronald Reagan, Tear Down This Wall, 1987

David Cannadine, Ed., The Speeches of Winston Churchill, 1989

Billy Mossman, Ebb and Flow, 1990

Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, 1992

Gerhard Weinberg, A World at Arms, 1994

Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy, 1994

H.R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty, 1997

Richard J. Stillman, General Patton’s Timeless Leadership Principles, 1998

Samuel Huntington, The Lonely Superpower, 1999

Robert Kaplan, Kissinger, Metternich and Realism, 1999

Derek Leebaert, The Fifty Year Wound, 2002

Robert Kaplan, Supremacy by Stealth, 2003

The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004

The Iraq WMD Commission Report, 2005

John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History, 2005

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals, 2005

Fouad Ajami, The Foreigner’s Gift, 2006

Annelise Anderson & Martin Anderson, Reagan’s Secret War, 2009

William Stueck, The Korean War at Sixty, 2011

Michael Lind, Why We Went to War in Vietnam, 2012

Robert Gates, Duty, 2014

A.J. Baime, The Arsenal of Democracy, 2014

Barack Obama, We Tell This Story, 2014

David Rothkopf, National Insecurity, 2014

Victor Davis Hanson, The Second World Wars, 2017

John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy, 2018

Barry Gewen, The Inevitability of Tragedy, 2020

Robert Kagan, A Superpower, Like It or Not, 2021

Hal Brands & Peter Feaver, The Myth of American Militarism, 2021

CRS, Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad

Waging Peace

Woodrow Wilson, The 14 Points, 1918

Henry Cabot Lodge, The 14 Reservations, 1919

Franklin Roosevelt, The Four Freedoms, 1941

Franklin Roosevelt & Winston Churchill, Atlantic Charter, 1941

George Marshall, The Responsibility of Victory, 1945 

George Marshall, What Must Be Done, 1947

Marshall Plan, 1948

Michael J. Hennelly, Leadership Lessons from General George C. Marshall, 2018

David Rolls, George Marshall: Defender of the Republic, 2019

North Atlantic Treaty, 1949

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History, 1952

Harry Truman, Farewell Address, 1953

Dwight Eisenhower, Our Foreign Policy, 1953

Dwight Eisenhower, A Chance for Peace, 1953

Dwight Eisenhower, The Battle for the Free World, 1959

Dwight Eisenhower, A Farewell Warning, 1961

John Kennedy, A Sea of Peace or a Theater of War, 1962

John Kennedy, Let Them Come to Berlin, 1963

Richard Nixon, A New Relationship with the People’s Republic of China, 1971

Richard Nixon, Peace in Asia and Peace in the World, 1972

The Helsinki Accords, 1975

Gerald Ford, To Promote Peace and Progress, 1975

Jimmy Carter, Human Rights and Foreign Policy, 1977

George H.W. Bush, The Cause of Freedom, 1990

Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, 1992

George H.W. Bush, We Must Give Them Hope, 1992

George Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 1995

George H.W. Bush & Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed, 1998

David Halberstam, War in a Time of Peace, 2001

Max Boot, Savage Wars of Peace, 2002

Robert Kaplan, Imperial Grunts, 2005

Richard Reeves, Daring Young Men, 2010

Robert Kagan, Nation-Building: Our National Pastime, 2011

William Inboden, Religious Freedom and National Security, 2012

Retired Flag Officers, The Need for Strategic Investments in Diplomacy and Development, 2017

Condoleezza Rice & Philip Zelikow, To Build a Better World, 2019

Challenges & Threats

Deterring Great Power War

Defending & Updating the Liberal International Order

Ronald Reagan, Fostering Democracy, 1982

Ronald Reagan, To Prevent, Not to Provoke, Wider Conflict, 1987

Ronald Reagan, Democracy’s Next Battle, 1992

Bill Clinton, A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, 1994

Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 1996

Bill Clinton, A Responsibility to Preserve Peace, Freedom and Stability, 1999

George W. Bush, Address to Congress after the 9/11 Attacks, 2001

Tony Blair, Address to Parliament after the 9/11 Attacks, 2001

George W. Bush, An Axis of Evil, 2002

Tony Blair, We Are Bound Together, 2003

John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security and the American Experience, 2004

Robert Kagan, The Return of History, 2008

Tony Blair, We Cannot Tolerate the Intolerable, 2009

Barack Obama, We Can Do Whatever We Set Our Mind To, 2011

Mark Helprin, Iran’s Mortal Threat, 2011

Tony Blair, Indifference Is Not Sensible Policy, 2014

James Mattis, Views on Global Challenge, 2015

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, The World Needs a Policeman, 2016

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, The Will to Lead, 2016

Daniel Fried, The Free World Is Still Worth Fighting For, 2017

Daniel Fried, The Free World, 2017

Robert Kagan, The Jungle Grows Back, 2018

Anna Mitchell & Larry Diamond, China’s Surveillance State Should Scare Everyone, 2018

Strengthening & Repurposing Alliances

Investing in Security

George Washington, Liberty and Military Capabilities, 1790

Les Aspin & Jack Kemp, How Much Defense Spending Is Enough?, 1976

Mike Mullen, National Security and National Debt, 2011

Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, James Baker, Madeleine Albright, et al., Addressing Our Debt, 2012

National Defense Strategy Commission, Providing for the Common Defense, 2018

American Enterprise Institute, Defense Budget Lessons, 2021

Mark Helprin, Defense Rests, 2021

Heritage Foundation, 2023 Index of Military Strength

Shaping the 21st Century

Henry Nau, Conservative Internationalism, 2013

Robert Kaplan, Why We Need Someone Like Ike in the Cyber Era, 2019

DIA, Challenges to Security in Space

Joe Biden, Why America Must Lead Again, 2020

Walter Russell Mead, The Century of Bioweapons, 2020

H.R. McMaster, Battlegrounds, 2020

Mike Pompeo, Time for Free Nations to Act, 2020