I’m taking the opportunity to digress from my usual international relations pieces today for an opportunity to write an opinion piece. In completing a graduate program in the study of foreign policy, students are inevitably faced with the task of ranking the foreign policy successes, failures, and management styles of American presidents. Writers are also fond of such lists. In my own program, this project was confined to the presidencies that have occupied the White House since the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. The administration of President Harry S. Truman is widely regarded as the first in the modern foreign policy management age. While I have my personal list, it is probably a good idea to divulge that I define my world view as that of a Realist. While there are new structural philosophies and many associated schools of Realist philosophy, it would offer nothing to be more specific in this article. I admit that at times I’m drawn to both Offensive and Defensive Realist perspectives in general and, more specifically, break down my world view according to doctrine in ways that would make most of you stop reading right about … now. So, moving along.What follows is my personal abridged assessment of foreign policy presidents since 1945.
In the decades following 1945, historians have continued to revise their evaluations of preceding president’s foreign policy management. With the hindsight of history and the evolution of the geopolitical landscape, new realities and adjusted outcomes for previous administrations’ policies have commanded a re-conceptualization of what it means to be an effective manager of a foreign policy team and the national security apparatus. As the predominant threat to American interests abroad metastasized from a state (the Soviet Union) to non-state actors (international terrorist groups), disease and an increasingly interdependent and globalized economic structure, the United States foreign policy management team for each president has evolved.
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To place JFK ahead of Truman and Reagan is a mistake. Truman made very serious and long-last foreign policy decisions that helped the US to great extent in the long run: Firing MacArthur and keeping us out of a WWIII in China being very high on his list. Reagan deserves much more credit for putting the 'coup de grace' in the Soviet Union by corralling Gorbachev to be a reformer and taking a hard line vs. Communist expansion. Nixon's saving act from oblivion is establishing much closer relations with China, otherwise his legacy is pretty thin and Kissinger's handing of negotiations with the North Vietnamese was abysmal. JFK was berated by Krushev when they met in Germany, and the brinksmanship with the Cuban Missile Crisis alarmed many in the DOD/Pentagon & State Dept. My List: 1.Dwight D. Eisenhower 2.Ronald Reagan 3.Harry S. Truman 4.George H.W. Bush 5.John F. Kennedy 6.Richard M. Nixon 7.Bill Clinton 8.Jimmy Carter 9. Lyndon B. Johnson
A fascinating review of recent history - thanks!
I don't think presidents of the Cold War can measured in the same template as current presidents. Different era, different world. I'd put Truman above Ike, because Truman made the structure from which the US fought the Cold War, although it's true Ike executed within that structure almost flawlessly. Ike also laid the ground work for the military industrial complex while at the same time warning against it. GHW Bush initiated the Somalia intervention and handed that giant turd to Clinton who turned it into a total debacle. I've extensively researched the reason why HW went into Somalia and have no idea. Somalia is interesting because it was the 1st post-Cold War intervention and prelude to the 21C in that the intervention was truly post-Cold War, the result of a civil war, and had humanitarian ramifications. Theretofore, presidents were in zone where the realpolitik was a moving target and the world was changing so much it's still hard today to say what success should've been. I love Thucydides and think he was probably the first realist, but even he spent time describing the leaders. It's the whole thing; the leader as part of a culture that exists I a system tat affects the way people act and combine to mold culture. Studying foreign policy just makes me want to read more history.
This is definitely an analysts perspective. Black white. Not much gray.
JoshuaH NVShawn I did some research of my own, looks like what you put there is pretty solid.