The Institute for the Study of Diplomacy (ISD) at SFS hosted professor and author Jeremi Suri on Friday, September 15, 2017. Suri is Professor of Public Affairs and History and the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Suri’s new book The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office studies the mechanics of the presidency—instead of the presidents themselves—and how successful presidents of the past have created unrealistic expectations for today’s officeholders that set them up to fail. Suri was joined in discussion by Dr. Kelly McFarland, ISD Director of Programs and Research, who served previously in the State Department’s Office of the Historian and as the daily intelligence briefer for Secretary of State John Kerry.
“I wrote the book because I wanted to understand the role of the presidency in American policymaking. And curiously, the presidency is under-analyzed,” Suri said. “Even though the book is build around presidential administrations, we study the driver (the president himself) much more than we study the car (the presidency).”
A portion of Suri’s research focused on how presidential schedules have changed over time. In the book, he actually reproduces some examples of presidential calendars to illustrate this point. Suri noted that as each successive president has added more meetings to his day and more staff to his office, the result has been shorter meetings and no time even to think. Suri argues there are real consequences for policymaking, especially on foreign affairs. “Diplomacy takes time. Diplomacy takes long term engagements,” Suri said. “Presidents who are in charge of it, don’t have time for it. That’s the problem—that’s the problem with the system.”