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.

Presidents have had varying levels of impact upon the structure of the national security team. Among the most widely accepted “successful” managers of their foreign policy teams are Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, and George H.W. Bush. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are more hotly debated while Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter are more widely considered failures.

Truman is best known for the National Security Act of 1947. The act restructured the entire national security apparatus: it created an independent Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council (NSC). In more recent years, Truman has begun to fall considerably on the list of successful foreign policy presidents as the national security structure, again re-conceptualized following the attacks on New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, has been more vigorously debated as more than a decade of war has led to harsher criticism of the national security apparatus and policy.