Review: America’s moral imperative

Daniel Strieff on how the originator of ‘soft power’ rates US presidents

The World Today Updated 16 October 2020 Published 5 October 2020 3 minute READ

Daniel Strieff

Author of ‘Jimmy Carter and the Middle East: The Politics of Presidential Diplomacy’

Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump
Joseph Nye, Oxford University Press, £18.99

During the Paris Peace Conference after the First World War, Woodrow Wilson’s stridently idealistic moralism so exasperated Georges Clemenceau that the French president complained: ‘He thinks he is another Jesus Christ come upon the Earth to reform men.’

Indeed, as Joseph Nye argues in Do Morals Matter? ‘Americans have been exceptional in their taste for moralism in foreign policy’. In the near term, Wilson’s dreams died when the Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. But his moralistic liberal legacy has profoundly influenced US foreign policy. That has translated into both the inspired (building the post-war international order after 1945) and the disastrous (attempting to spread democracy by force).

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