The Gladys M. Kammerer Award is given annually for the best book published during the previous calendar year in the field of U.S. national policy.
Sailing the Water’s Edge: The Domestic Politics of American Foreign Policy, Helen V. Milner and Dustin Tingley’s path-breaking new book, provides a fresh approach and answer to the question of how – and what kind of – foreign policy is made in the United States. In one sense, the answer is simple: “domestic politics affects elements of foreign policy and does so differentially.” But in showing that is so, and how it has worked in practice over three decades and more, the authors provide a stunning breadth of data and cutting-edge methods to provide convincing evidence that contradicts the old adage that politics stops at the water’s edge. Instead they find that “politics occurs all along the water’s edge.”
Indeed, there are not “two presidencies” but many, with presidential power a function of the domestic distributive aspects of a given policy instrument and of the ideological division surrounding a policy area. The simplistic notion of a unitary rational executive is made far more realistic and complex here. Indeed, American political institutions including the U.S. Congress, the bureaucracy, interest groups, and public opinion all play important roles in shaping American foreign policy – encouraging the choice of some policy instruments and discouraging others. Policies are not costlessly substituted for one another in this environment: contingency matters. One disturbing finding is that the president’s desire to avoid the complications and politics generated by these groups thus biases foreign policy toward military instruments and away from other policy instruments.
The book is a tour de force that bridges numerous fields in political science too often studied in isolation. The data range from hundreds of thousands of lobbying reports to thousands of roll call votes to bespoke polling data to an outstanding qualitative case study of US foreign policy towards sub-Saharan Africa. Milner and Tingley’s unusual integration of theory, data, and methodological approaches from American politics, international political economy, and international relations pays substantial dividends for our understanding of the complexities of American foreign policy. Moreover, their sophisticated approach to the policy-making process unifies often disparate subfields within American politics including the presidency, public opinion, legislative politics, lobbying and interest group politics, organizational behavior, and foreign policy studies into an unusually cohesive whole.
Scholars from a wide range of fields, then, will find their approaches, theories and implications of relevance to their own areas of research. Indeed, Milner and Tingley succeed in bridging not just the water’s edge but much of the open ocean between the policymaking literature across multiple subfields. Such an integrative effort is rarely attempted on this scale – and even more rarely achieved as successfully.
Special thanks to our committee Eleanor Powell, Sara Anzia, and Andrew Rudalevige.