THE WISE MEN OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: The History of the Council on Foreign Relations by Robert D. Schulzinger

THE WISE MEN OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: The History of the Council on Foreign Relations

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Seeing the effect public opinion had on World War I settlements, a group of New York bankers, lawyers, and former policy-makers (such as Elihu Root) decided to establish a monthly dinner club to promote the discussion of foreign affairs--one that might, in turn, shape public opinion. That was the founding, in 1921, of the Council on Foreign Relations. By the next year, with the addition of some academics and journalists, the Council was publishing Foreign Affairs, one of the preeminent unread journals of our time--and sometimes, says U. of Colorado historian Schulzinger, one of the most boring. The Council was then, and is today, a genteel institution of the Establishment, created by gentlemen for the education of gentlemen. That it has also been assailed as the central organ for elitist control of American foreign policy--most stridently from the right, but with more reason from the left--is foremost in Schulzinger's mind, so he takes pains not to track members of the Council on their rounds from Council meetings to summit meetings (for this angle, see the Silks' 1980 The American Establishment) and focuses instead on the publications of the Council and on internal documents from the Council's archives. The results are predictable: Schulzinger discovers that the Council's ideas have largely followed the trajectory of American foreign policy, from activist interventionism in the 1930s to Cold War ""containment"" in the 1950s, mirroring rather than directing those developments. Considering the heavy representation by Wall Streeters, the fact that Schulzinger finds the Council most consistent in its advocacy of internationalism in economic affairs is also not surprising, though he treats it as a discovery. Sticking fairly closely to membership lists and the pages of Foreign Affairs, Schulzinger records the post-Vietnam period of discord within the Establishment as it made itself felt within the Council: the introduction of more women and blacks, the declining health of the old-guard bankers, and the introduction of debate and reevaluations into the journal. There is little here that can't be gleaned from general surveys of foreign policy. A middle-of-the-road approach to a middle-of-the-road institution--in essence, without a perspective.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press