There are different ways of looking at the state of the world. Accordingly when it comes to international affairs, leaders propose differing foreign policies to make and preserve peace for their nations.
The two most common approach of ideas are idealism and realism, and their offspring, neoliberalism and neorealism, are illustrated by two former Harvard professors and leaders in U.S. government, Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara.
As secretary of defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, McNamara was in the forefront of America's involvement in Vietnam. By 1966, however, he was beginning to question America's role, and in his later years he has repudiated the support he gave to the war effort, believing that the disastrous conflict escalated largely as the result of misperception on both sides. In other words, in his opinion, America need not have intervened in the way that she did. If he could turn back the clock, he would seek peace on different terms. He would not make the costly commitment to bloodshed that occurred on all sides. He would find the opening to promote a moral commitment to end the war quickly.
Today McNamara, having been president of the World Bank in the interim, is devoted to the cause of reducing the risk of conflict, killing and catastrophe in the 21st century. His new book, coauthored with international relations professor James Blight, is titled Wilson's Ghost in reference to the prescriptions for peace of America's First World War president. Woodrow Wilson was an idealist who believed that moral issues should dominate in policy making. Essentially it was the president's efforts at peacemaking that provided the way out for Germany in a peace without victory. Wilson's subsequent tireless work aimed at establishing the League of Nations inspires McNamara and Blight; in it they see the only way ahead to a peaceful future for a planet still living in the nuclear shadow.
Like Blight, Kissinger also has a background in political science. In the 1960s he was a professor of government at Harvard. Best known for his years as Richard Nixon's assistant for National Security Affairs and subsequently as secretary of state, he was inevitably also embroiled in the Vietnam War. At first a hard-liner in the prosecution of the war, he went on to win the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize along with North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho (who refused the award) in recognition of the cease-fire agreement they reached. Nevertheless, Kissinger is a realist in the tradition of another U.S. president, Theodore Roosevelt (see "Mentors of Modern Men").
PRAGMATICS AND PRINCIPLES
In their efforts to ensure security for all society, realists pursue policy options based on the ebb and flow of power within the international system of nations. In his new book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Kissinger says it's vitally important that, as the only superpower, America decide on its interests and also on where it should and should not intervene. This is an approach driven by pragmatics first and foremost.
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