Do morals matter? Presidents and foreign policy from FDR to Trump

Joseph S. Nye

Book - 2020

" Americans constantly make moral statements about presidents and foreign policy. Unfortunately, many of these judgments are poorly thought through. A president is either praised for the moral clarity of his statements or judged solely on the results of their actions. Woodrow Wilson showed, however, that good intentions without adequate means can lead to ethically bad consequences. Richard Nixon, on the other hand, is credited with ending the Vietnam War, but he sacrificed 21,000 American lives and countless others for only a brief "decent interval." In Do Morals Matter?, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., one of the world's leading scholars of international relations, provides a concise yet penetrating analysis of the role of ethics i...n US foreign policy during the American era after 1945. Nye works through each presidency from Truman to Trump and scores their foreign policy on three ethical dimensions of their intentions, the means they used, and the consequences of their decisions. Alongside this, he also evaluates their leadership qualities, elaborating on which approaches work and which ones do not. Regardless of a president's policy preference, Nye shows that each one was not constrained by the structure of the system and actually had choices. He further notes the important ethical consequences of non-actions, such as Truman's willingness to accept stalemate in Korea rather than use nuclear weapons. Since we so often apply moral reasoning to foreign policy, Nye suggests how to do it better. Most importantly, presidents need to factor in both the political context and the availability of resources when deciding how to implement an ethical policy--especially in a future international system that presents not only great power competition from China and Russia, but transnational threats as borders become porous to everything from drugs to infectious diseases to terrorism to cyber criminals and climate change. "--

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New York, NY : Oxford University Press [2020]
Main Author
Joseph S. Nye (author)
Physical Description
xiv, 254 pages ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Introduction: American Moralism
  • American Exceptionalism
  • Wilsonian Liberalism
  • The Liberal International Order After 1945
  • 2. What Is a Moral Foreign Policy?
  • How We Make Moral Judgments
  • Double Standards and Dirty Hands
  • Mental Maps of the World and Moral Foreign Policy
  • The Best Moral Choice in the Context: Scorecards
  • 3. The Founders
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Harry S. Truman
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • 4. The Vietnam Era
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson
  • Richard M. Nixon
  • 5. Post-Vietnam Retrenchment
  • Gerald R. Ford
  • James Earl Carter
  • 6. The End of the Cold War
  • Ronald Reagan
  • George H. W. Bush
  • 7. The Unipolar Moment
  • William Jefferson Clinton
  • George Walker Bush
  • 8. Twenty-First-Century Power Shifts
  • Barack Hussein Obama
  • Donald J. Trump
  • 9. Foreign Policy and Future Choices
  • Assessing Ethical Foreign Policy Since 1945
  • Contextual Intelligence and Moral Choices
  • Ups and Downs of American Moral Traditions
  • Challenges for a Future Moral Foreign Policy
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • Index