From Abraham Lincoln’s stance on international slavery to George W. Bush’s incursions on the world stage, American presidents and other leaders have taken decisive actions to shape our country’s foreign policy. This new collection of essays provides analytical narratives of how and why policies were devised and implemented that would determine the place of the United States in the international arena from the 1860s to the present. Showing what individuals do—or choose not to do—is central to understanding diplomacy in peace and war.
These writings—by such prominent historians as Terry H. Anderson and Eugene P. Trani—examine presidents and other diplomats at their best and worst in the practice of statecraft. They take on issues ranging from America’s economic expansion abroad to the relations of democracies with authoritarian leaders and rogue nations to advocacy of such concepts as internationalism, unilateralism, nation building, and regime change. In so doing, they take readers on a virtual tour of American diplomatic history, tracing the ideas and actions of individuals in shaping our foreign policy, whether George F. Kennan as author of Soviet containment or Ronald Reagan as progenitor of “Star Wars.”
The essays range over a variety of scenarios to depict leaders coming to grips with real-world situations. They offer original views on such topics as American diplomacy toward Nicaragua, origins of U.S. attitudes toward Russia and the Soviet Union, FDR’s idiosyncratic approach to statecraft, and food diplomacy as practiced by LBJ and Richard Nixon. And in considering post–Cold War crises, they address Bill Clinton’s military interventions, George W. Bush’s war against Iraq, and the half-century background to the current nuclear standoff with Iran. Additional articles pay tribute to the outstanding career of Robert H. Ferrell as a scholar and teacher.
Throughout the volume, the authors seek to exemplify the scholarly standards of narrative diplomatic history espoused by Robert Ferrell—especially the notion that historians should attempt to explain fully the circumstances, opportunities, and pressures that influence foreign policy decisions while remembering that historical actors cannot with certainty predict the outcomes of their actions. Presidents, Diplomats, and Other Mortals is both a collection of compelling historical studies and an overarching case study of the role of individuals in foreign policy making and an insightful review of some of history’s most important moments. Taken together, these essays provide a fitting tribute to Ferrell, the trailblazing scholar in whose honor the book was written.