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Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era (The Richard Ullman Lectures) Hardcover – 26 May 2013
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Sometimes the best presidential decisions are decisions not to act. This point is made in an excellent new book by Joseph Nye of Harvard University entitled "Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era".--Gideon Rachman "Financial Times "
"[A] timely book . . ."--"The Economist"
"[A] timely book . . ."--
"[A] timely book . . ."--
"[A] timely book . . ."--"The Economist"
"[A] timely book."--"The Economist"
"[A] timely book."--"The Economist"
"Short, tightly focused, and useful."--Walter Russell Mead, "Foreign Affairs"
"In this concise and readable study of American presidential foreign policy decisions, Kennedy School of Government professor Nye (The Future of Power) asks, 'To what extent were the men who presided over the creation of the American era simply responding, or were they shaping events?' Nye examines eight administrations, defined as 'transformational' or 'transactional, ' and the diverse ways presidents communicate with and inspire the public. He also entices the historically minded with a 'What if?' section that speculates on historical alternatives and provides worthwhile reflections on the uneasy relationship between ethical leadership and effective leadership. Besides risking controversy, his ethical scorecards of presidents--including Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson--illustrate the complexity of such judgments. Nye's overall assessment that the most dramatic and inspiring presidents are not always the most effective or ethical may, as he notes, overturn conventional wisdom, but the judgment bolsters his admonition to President Obama. His concluding reflections on the changing nature of exercising power in the 21st century effectively contextualize the continuing tensions inherent in managing domestic and international authority."--Publishers Weekly
"Sometimes the best presidential decisions are decisions not to act. This point is made in an excellent new book by Joseph Nye of Harvard University entitled Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era."--Gideon Rachman, Financial Times
From the Inside Flap
"A wonderful study that tackles head-on the most difficult issues of practical and ethical leadership--questions political scientists often duck as being close to intractable. Joseph Nye succinctly captures crucial turning points in U.S. foreign policy and illustrates the political and ethical paths taken and not taken, with the consequences that we can and cannot attribute to those choices. This is a must-read for students of international relations, public policy, and international ethics."--Michael W. Doyle, Columbia University
"A compelling study of the use and misuse of power in the modern age. Written by one of our country's foremost scholars, the book examines America's ascent through a White House lens, offering verbal bouquets to deserving presidents and criticism for those unequal to the intellectual, emotional, and moral demands of the job. Utterly nonpartisan, the volume is persuasive from start to finish, and valuable for experts and general readers alike."--Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State
"Do leaders matter? That question has persisted for centuries. In this pathbreaking book, Nye analyzes the role of presidents in the rise of American power and concludes--persuasively--that a few did indeed bend the arc of history. Which ones? His answers will surprise you."--David Gergen, Harvard Kennedy School, senior political analyst for CNN
"A penetrating combination of scholarly analysis and brilliant historical appraisals. Daring in scope and incisive in judgments, this wise and very timely book redefines our understanding of recent presidential leadership."--Zbigniew Brzezinski, author of Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power
"This book is essential for anyone who wants to understand personal leadership. Joseph Nye has written brilliant books on national power, and with this one he looks at the role that presidents play. It's both fascinating history and a useful guide for how individuals can have an impact."--Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs
"This timely book examines the impact of presidential leadership on the emergence and endurance of American global primacy. Nye is judicious, makes a plausible argument about each president he considers, and cuts through confusion and partisanship in his typically lucid and succinct way. I am unaware of any other book that does precisely what this one does."--John M. Owen IV, author ofThe Clash of Ideas in World Politics
"In looking at presidential leadership and the sources of individual power, Nye fuses together his influential prior work on smart power and leadership. His book is written in an engaging and accessible style, and provides an excellent primer on what presidents can do in foreign policy."--Daniel W. Drezner, author of Theories of International Politics and ZombiesSee all Product description
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He starts off by putting together a two-by-two table defining the objectives and the styles of leadership.
On one axis, a leader can have transformational objectives or merely incremental objectives. So, for example, George W Bush wanted to bring western style democracy to the Middle East. His dad, on the other hand, George H W Bush, only really wanted to make sure there was some type of workable peace in the Middle East. The former would have been a transformation, the latter merely a laudable goal. Progress, rather than transformation.
On the other axis a leader's style can be inspirational or transactional. An inspirational leader will talk you into following him. A transactional leader will bribe or coerce you. Ronald Reagan talked a big game when it came to fighting the Evil Empire, while Ike Eisenhower (an ethical man and the most adept cold war president) got his hands dirty in a million different ways, all while getting the basics right: doing his level best to avoid offending the Soviet Union and containing his trigger happy generals who wanted to use the nuclear arsenal.
Nye reviews the styles of the eight US presidents who led the nation during the transition from the pre World War I balance of powers to today's US primacy. What is remarkable, of course, is that US GDP as a percent of world GDP is no different today than it was 110 years ago when the journey to primacy started. Nye classifies the various types of power used by the presidents ("soft," "hard" and "smart," if you must ask) and sees how that fits in with the two axes of leadership that wielded the power (transformational vs incremental objectives and inspirational vs. transactional style)
He ends up deciding that transactional style and incremental objectives had a bigger effect in bringing the US to its current status than transformational objectives and inspirational style. And he repeats a number of times that a good transactional/incremental leader will have the mindset and the processes in place to jump onto opportunities to go transformational. The Japanese gifted FDR Pearl Harbour, but he was prepared to seize the opportunity.
Next, Nye tackles the role of ethics.
The way he sees it, ethics operate at three levels: intentions, means and results.
The president can bring an ethical set of goals and objectives to the office. Wilson, for example, was a God-fearing man who saw it as America's role in history, and his in particular, to defend and expand democracy and human rights.
The president can be 100% ethical in the means he employs (George H W Bush would not budge on the Iraq affair without UN approval and support from the Arab nations) or he can be more practical (Eisenhower did not get in the way of the CIA when it got rid of governments in Latin America and Iran), unethically lazy (George W Bush allowed amateurs to run the jails in Abu Gharaib) or have a total blind spot to unethical means being used, like Teddy Roosevelt did in the Philippines. This can happen all while ethical final goals are pursued. The process can range from 100% ethical to very messy. The biggest elephant in this particular room is Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obviously. Truman claimed never to have lost any sleep over them.
Finally, ethical goals and means mean nothing if the result is wrong. No point in losing cleanly to Hitler. Which kind of absolves FDR's various tricks and outright lies when trying to get the US involved in WWII.
Nye wraps up this chapter exactly like the first one. He comes down in favor of the presidents who delivered the goods.
And he declares George Herbert Walker Bush his favorite president, pretty much.
Cost him a star.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The office holders he highlights show their disregard for the Constitutional charges and the foundation laid down by their predecessors from Washington to McKinley. The 20th and 21st century Presidents have stretched and exceeded the boundries established by Constitutional limits. Congress has allowed this to occur with only token opposition, and only then when the other party holds the office. Judicial activity has only emboldened these men due to rulings allowing their expansion of power.
Nye correctly presents the apparent need for a singular, recognized head of state, but he also shows why the Founders established guidelines for each branch to maintain a balance and curb too much power in the hands of one branch. He shows how that has given rise to the "America Era" and how the imbalance in leadership can lead to a mighty fall, or leaders who have no restraints on their desire for absolute power.
This book would appeal to those desiring a knowledge of where we are headed in Presidential power and how it can be curbed or reduced to allow the exceptionalism of America to remain. It will also appeal to those who see in some of our past and present Commanders-in-Chief a blatant exercise of overreach and dimming of America in power, strength and prestige. Mr.Nye's insight correctly forsaw the recent comment of Secretary of Defense Hagel concerning America's day of dominence being taken for granted is over.
My one criticism, and it is not really a criticism since these were lectures, is that his concepts need a fuller exposition. i suspect they are really a major book in the making.
This is the most insightful brief book on American presidents that I have ever read. Focusing on presidents affecting the "American era," Professor Nye, drawing on his extraordinary historical and contemporary knowledge of presidents, shrewdly assesses the relative foreign affairs success of "transformative" as contrasted with "transactional" presidents. His conclusions remind me of Aesop's Fables regarding the tortoise and the hare.
Nye ranks transactional presidents, such as Truman, Eisenhower, and George H. W. Bush, more effective, in many categories, than such high-profile presidents as Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Reagan. His carefully constructed analysis provides uncommon insights into many of the 20th century U. S. presidents. One may personally object to his commentary on individual presidents. I suggest that you might re-examine your own preconceptions against the criteria set forth by Professor Nye.
I found Nye's chapter on "Ethics and Good Foreign Policy Leadership" the most challenging. Similar issues are discussed in Thomas Cronin's and Michael Genovese's THE PARADOXES OF THE AMERICAN PRESIDENCY. I am reminded of a quote ascribed to FDR by Thomas Corcoran: "Great men cannot be good men." How is personal morality linked to how a president should act? Is 'lying' ever an appropriate presidential posture? To what degree must a president appear to be moral and ethical?
This is an ongoing debate as evidenced by the discussion of killing people with drones and the targeting of U. S. citizens abroad. I recommend that everyone, seasoned professionals and concerned citizens, reflect on Professor Nye's shrewd insights, as they wrestle with such moral matters.
Nye focuses both on the "American era" and the three-dimensional 21st century world. President Obama and his successors should read and then re-read Professional Nye's classic treatise.