James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Showing posts for "The White House"

Do Americans Prefer Romney’s Foreign Policy to Obama’s?

by James M. Lindsay
U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts Romney speaks during a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware. (Tim Shaffer/courtesy Reuters) U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts Romney speaks during a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware. (Tim Shaffer/courtesy Reuters)

I’ve spent most of my time the past two weeks discharging my administrative responsibilities rather than following the news. With the stack of papers piled in my inbox now looking to be just daunting rather than terrifying, I decided to catch up on the news. So far most of what I have read has been unsurprising. The Syrian government agreed to a cease-fire and then broke it. North Korea promised not to launch a long-range missile and then did just that. Iran offered to talk about a nuclear deal while continuing to intimidate its neighbors.  People behaved badly when they went abroad or visited Las Vegas.  All are essentially dog-bites-man stories. Read more »

Lessons Learned: Bay of Pigs Invasion

by James M. Lindsay

A new installment of “Lessons Learned” is now out. This week I discuss the Bay of Pigs invasion, which began on April 17, 1961. In the video, I look at the mistakes made before and during the invasion and discuss the importance of anticipating failure and planning accordingly. Here’s a question to consider when thinking about these kinds of actions: What steps should presidents take to make sure that they are thinking how their policies might fail rather than simply engaging in wishful thinking about how they will succeed? I encourage you to weigh in with your answer in the comments section below.

I hope you enjoy the video.

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TWE Remembers: NSC-68

by James M. Lindsay
The cover of NSC-68. (Harry S. Truman Library and Museum) The cover of NSC-68. (Harry S. Truman Library and Museum)

“United States Objectives and Programs for National Security” is a rather bland title for a report. Especially one that turns out to help drive history. But that’s the formal name given to NSC-68, the foundational document for America’s Cold War strategy. It was issued by President Harry Truman’s National Security Council for review on April 14, 1950.* Read more »

Lessons Learned: General MacArthur’s Dismissal

by James M. Lindsay

A new installment of “Lessons Learned” is now out. This week I discuss President Harry Truman’s announcement on April 11, 1951, that he had dismissed General Douglas MacArthur as commanding general of U.S. forces in Korea. In the video, I look at the principle of civilian control of the military and discuss when exercising that control is justified. Here’s a question to consider when thinking about wartime decision-making: How much deference should presidents give to the military, and under what conditions should they overrule military advice?  I encourage you to weigh in with your answer in the comments section below. And one quick correction. I mistakenly say in the video that General MacArthur sent a letter critical of the Truman administration’s policy in Korea to the “Republican speaker of the House.” MacArthur actually sent his letter to the House Republican minority leader.

I hope you enjoy the video.

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TWE Remembers: Secretary of State Dean Acheson

by James M. Lindsay
Former secretary of state Dean Acheson in 1965. (Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum) Former secretary of state Dean Acheson in 1965. (Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum)

Many secretaries of state have written memoirs. George Shultz penned Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State. James Baker wrote The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989–1992. Madeleine Albright has Madam Secretary: A Memoir. Condoleezza Rice is the latest entrant in the memoir sweepstakes, having released No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington just last year. Not to be outdone, Colin Powell plans to release his second memoir next month, and political junkies are no doubt eager to read what Hillary Clinton has to say about her service in the Obama administration. But my favorite memoir by a secretary of state is Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department, by Dean Acheson, who served under President Harry Truman. Born in Middletown, Connecticut on April 11, 1893, Acheson could truly say that he had a hand in crafting an entirely new American foreign policy. Read more »

TWE Remembers: Juvenal Habyarimana’s Plane Crashes and the Rwandan Genocide Begins

by James M. Lindsay
President Clinton speaks to survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide at the Kigali airport on March 25, 1998. (Win McNamee/courtesy Reuters) President Clinton speaks to survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide at the Kigali airport on March 25, 1998. (Win McNamee/courtesy Reuters)

Planes crashes have killed a regrettable number of world leaders. Legendary UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld died in 1960 in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) in mysterious circumstances while on his way to negotiate a ceasefire in neighboring Congo. Pakistani president Muhammed Zia-ul-Haq died in 1988 in similarly disputed circumstances. Just two years ago, Polish President Lech Kaczynski  died when his plane crashed attempting to land at a Russian airport in bad weather. But no plane crash involving a world leader has led to the kind of consequences that followed the death of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994. His death did more than disrupt Rwanda’s day-to-day routine; it ushered in one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century. Read more »

Lessons Learned: North Atlantic Treaty Signing

by James M. Lindsay

A new installment of “Lessons Learned” is now out. This week I examine the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, DC, on April 4, 1949. In the video, I look at how American membership in NATO marked a fundamental shift for U.S. foreign policy and discuss how difficult it can be for a country to undertake such a shift. Here’s a question to consider when thinking about these kinds of changes: Does the emergence of China, India, Brazil, and other rising powers require a fundamental rethinking of American foreign policy? I encourage you to weigh in with your answer in the comments section below.

I hope you enjoy the video.

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TWE Remembers: Woodrow Wilson Asks Congress to Declare War on Germany

by James M. Lindsay
The first page of President Woodrow Wilson's Declaration of War Message to Congress, April 2, 1917. (National Archives) The first page of President Woodrow Wilson's Declaration of War Message to Congress, April 2, 1917. (National Archives)

Presidents win elections by making promises to voters. But keeping those promises can prove impossible to do. Just ask Woodrow Wilson. He won reelection in November 1916 on a pledge to keep the United States out of World War I. Five months later he was asking Congress to declare war on Germany.

Foreign policy, let alone war, was far from Wilson’s mind when he first won election in 1912. Read more »

Friday File: Obama’s Open Mic Gaffe

by James M. Lindsay
obama-medvedev-hot-mic-2012-03-30 U.S. President Obama talks with Russian President Medvedev in South Korea. (Larry Downing/courtesy Reuters)

Above the Fold. President Obama got himself into hot water this week when he was overhead telling Russian president Dmitri Medvedev he would have “more flexibility” on issues like missile defense after the November election and that incoming Russian president Vladimir Putin should give him “space.” The incident added to a long list of presidential and vice presidential “open mic” gaffes. During a sound-check before a 1984 radio interview, Ronald Reagan warmed up by saying,  “My fellow Americans, I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” That got people’s hearts pounding. Vice President Biden famously called the signing of Obama’s health-care bill in 2010 “a big f***ing deal.” Parents of young children were not pleased. Read more »

Lessons Learned: LBJ Announces He Will Not Seek Reelection

by James M. Lindsay

A new installment of “Lessons Learned” is now out. This week I discuss Lyndon B. Johnson’s announcement on March 31, 1968, that he would not seek reelection as president. In the video, I discuss how Johnson’s decisions on Vietnam derailed a presidency that had accomplished historic success on domestic issues. Here’s a question to consider when thinking about foreign policy: why are presidents so eager to pursue an activist foreign policy when history suggests that it so often hurts them politically? I encourage you to weigh in with your answer in the comments section below.

I hope you enjoy the video.

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