Contrary to current trends in historiography, Stoessinger (CUNY) insists on the primacy of the individual in international...


CRUSADERS AND PRAGMATISTS: Movers of Modern American Foreign Policy

Contrary to current trends in historiography, Stoessinger (CUNY) insists on the primacy of the individual in international affairs. Some statesmen, he posits, merely follow the flow, but others take command of events, and they are the ""movers."" This group, in turn, is divided between ""crusaders"" who act on moral principle, and ""pragmatists"" who act on experience. Stoessinger examines eight ""case studies"" of foreign policy makers who acted virtually alone; of these, Woodrow Wilson, John Foster Dulles, and Jimmy Carter fall into the crusader mold, FDR, JFK, and LBJ come out as hybrids, and Truman and Kissinger represent the pragmatist-type. Of course, any neat categorization like this is superficially simple-minded, but a deeper look at Stoessinger's interpretation reveals that it is simple-minded to the core as well. Not above employing third-rate psychological ""insights"" (FDR liked his father, but Hitler didn't) or taking the easy way out--e.g., writing LBJ off as ""ignorant"" because he hadn't read enough books--Stoessinger's arguments are built on sand. Rather than tie Wilson's League of Nations advocacy to an effort to construct an international counter-ideology to Bolshevism, Stoessinger sees it completely in terms of Wilson's evangelical politics. Similarly, while FDR did consciously rely on personal contact with Churchill and Stalin, Truman's policy in Korea can hardly be attributed to his feisty personality in abstraction from Cold War politics. Already on record as a Kissinger admirer (viz., Henry Kissinger: The Anguish of Power), Stoessinger lavishes more praise on this quintessential ""pragmatist"" here for his Soviet and China policies. Stoessinger sees his hero as the champion of stability, and credits him with achieving his goal through a flexible approach to policy. After berating LBJ for his Vietnam politics--not only for escalating the conflict, but also for his secretiveness--Stoessinger is silent about Kissinger's bomb-and-negotiate-and-prevaricate strategy. Without putting American foreign policy decisions and domestic politics in their structural contexts, Stoessinger winds up with a series of shallow vignettes.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 1979

ISBN: 0393955060

Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1979