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Do Morals Matter?: Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump

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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 conseq 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 in 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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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 conseq 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 in 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.

30 review for Do Morals Matter?: Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Nye is pretty clear minded which makes for a refreshingly easy read for an international relations scholar. His arguments are often interesting and insightful. His takes on the future of US power is quite interesting [final chapter] in comparison to other perspectives on China, if perhaps too naive about his reverence for American liberal institutionalism. Not to mention his account of the rise of populism as endowed from purely nativistic rhetoric in response to economic conditions, seems to be Nye is pretty clear minded which makes for a refreshingly easy read for an international relations scholar. His arguments are often interesting and insightful. His takes on the future of US power is quite interesting [final chapter] in comparison to other perspectives on China, if perhaps too naive about his reverence for American liberal institutionalism. Not to mention his account of the rise of populism as endowed from purely nativistic rhetoric in response to economic conditions, seems to be turning a blind eye to the role of those very institutions Nye admires so much, that people like Trump dismantle. Trump's influence [as well as sources of "sharp power"], one may say, came out of distrust of those liberal institutions he holds dear.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Liston

    Really enjoyed this book, I especially liked that I couldn't tell if the author was liberal or conservative in his worldview. Would recommend to those interested in politics and foreign policy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    awesome book

  4. 4 out of 5

    Avery

    This book was extremely interesting and almost like a breath of fresh air due to the lack of overwhelming bias clouding the truth that is found far too often in the modern world.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kushtrim

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alex Maimis

  7. 5 out of 5

    Evelyn Walsh

  8. 5 out of 5

    John J. Mulbury

  9. 5 out of 5

    Frederico Bartels

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sabrina Dawson

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dilettanteque

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

  13. 5 out of 5

    Weibo Xiong

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mr. Book

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mark Madsen

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mauricio Santoro

  18. 5 out of 5

    ronald boisen

  19. 4 out of 5

    J ROBERT CAMPBELL

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mario Mlinarić

  21. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sierra

  23. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Geller

  24. 4 out of 5

    Arvind Vijh

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jason Warren

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dale

  27. 5 out of 5

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  28. 5 out of 5

    Akhilesh Bais

  29. 5 out of 5

    Iskander

  30. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Allen

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