OUR OWN WORST ENEMY: The Unmaking of American Foreign Policy by I. M.; Leslie H. Gelb & Anthony Lake Destler

OUR OWN WORST ENEMY: The Unmaking of American Foreign Policy

Email this review


Nostalgia for the 1950s has hit the foreign policy arena--first through Ronald Reagan's peace-through-strength sloganeering, now from the proponents of a consistent and moderate approach to America's international affairs. Think-tanker Destler (Institute for International Economics), New York Times correspondent Gelb, and Amherst College professor Lake (formerly a Foreign Service officer and the State Department's Director of Policy Planning) patch together a familiar litany of complaints about the erratic nature of US foreign policy, and then break down the policy-formation process to show that it has become victim to short-term partisan interests. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, they say, were able to take unpopular foreign-policy steps--Truman by not committing the US to defeat the Communists in the Chinese Civil War, Eisenhower by refusing to join the British, French, and Israelis in their 1956 attack on Egypt. They also cite the Marshall Plan and NATO as examples of enduring foreign policy ventures of the moderate, bipartisan post-WW II period. And they fondly recall the dominance of the Eastern Establishment: the lawyers and bankers who set the tone and style of US foreign policy and staffed many of the critical offices, providing a centrist continuity. Today, the Establishment has been replaced with a fractionalized professional elite who regularly snip at incumbent policy-makers through books and articles (the Establishment stayed away from the printed word) to secure their own positions in the next administration. Meanwhile, the congressional center has given way to opportunistic political pandering, encouraged and abetted by the press. (The Salt II treaty serves as an example of irresponsible congressional action, while television's penchant for visual effects and too-short explanations is said to be inherently inflammatory.) The authors' '50s nostalgia extends to the days when the newspapers could be expected to go along with consensus foreign policy. Their solutions are no more exceptional than their diagnoses: a single six-year presidential term to break the electoral hold on White House policy initiatives; a four-year term for the House for the same reason; consolidation of congressional committees; cutbacks in the foreign policy staffs of individual House and Senate members; more reliance on professional Foreign Service personnel; etc. All in all, the pitch is for removing foreign policy from the public arena and putting it back in the easy chairs where it belongs, to be pondered by responsible experts. In this the book parallels efforts to restore the backroom political parties of yesteryear, and it has the same anachronistic flavor. Not inaccurate, that is, but irrelevant.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster