Topic: U.S. Presidential Foreign Policy Management


Fall 2005

Northern Illinois University

Christopher Jones


Class Time: Thursdays, 6:30-9:15 p.m.

Classroom: NIU-Naperville


On-Campus Office: 415 Zulauf Hall

Telephone: (815) 753-7039

E-mail: cmjones@niu.edu

Office Hours: Thursdays, 1:00-4:00 p.m. (on campus) or by appointment (on or off-campus)



The ongoing national security crisis related to global terrorism and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq provides a good opportunity to consider the role of the chief executive in foreign affairs. Clearly the president is just one of several actors with the capacity to shape the direction and content of American foreign policy. The president, however, retains an impressive array of formal roles and informal powers in foreign affairs, including the awesome responsibility of commander in chief. While modern presidents may not dominate foreign policy-making to the extent their cold war predecessors did, they wield considerable power during times of crisis and remain the only actors with the potential to impact every type of foreign policy issue. The president, therefore, enjoys the greatest overall influence relative to any individual or institution within the U.S. foreign policy process. Moreover, no other actor carries the mantle "leader of the free world" at a point in history when the United States enjoys unprecedented and unrivaled international power. However, the importance of the president in foreign affairs does not mean that each chief executive handles Americaís relationship with the world in the same manner and with the same degree of effectiveness. Much of our attention, therefore, will be directed toward identifying and discussing the factors that may make a difference in whether a president experiences success or failure as a foreign policy manager.



This class strives to meet two objectives. The first goal is to provide students with a clear understanding of American foreign policy from the end of World War II to the present day. The course is structured in such a way to allow students to develop a strong understanding of the foreign policies of 10 different presidents -- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and G.W. Bush. The cold war dominates much of the 1945-2005 period. Although the Soviet Union has disappeared and there is considerable discussion of a new era in international politics, many aspects of contemporary U.S. foreign policy are rooted in the cold war period. Thus a related aim is to consider how each chief executive from Truman to George W. Bush has impacted present-day U.S. foreign policy. In addition, it is important to understand the significant changes associated with the post-9/11 era within the broader context of six decades of U.S. foreign policy making.

The second course objective is to identify and analyze thoughtfully and critically how particular factors (independent variables) shape presidential foreign policy management within and across administrations. What types of factors tend to shape all presidentsí direction of foreign policy? What makes some presidents more successful foreign policy managers than others? Is it experience, personality, leadership style, a clear vision, a willingness to devote economic resources to policy goals, the quality of their advisors, domestic politics, the state of the world, or sheer luck? These questions lie at the center of this semesterís inquiry into presidential foreign policy-making.

After being exposed to lecture and reading material, we will use a detailed question set to analyze each presidentís handling of foreign policy. At the end of the semester, we will attempt to draw conclusions about presidential foreign policy-making in general as well as assemble a class ranking of presidential foreign policy performance. Throughout the semester, each member of the class will be asked to arrive at his or her own personal conclusions about the material and to support oneís position with reasoned argumentation. To facilitate this process, the instructor will not indoctrinate the class with his views. Instead the goal will be to present the material in a manner that allows individuals to formulate their own positions.



Since this is a small 300/400-level course, it will often be conducted more like an interactive seminar than a series of lectures. I will lecture and interrupt the class from time to time to introduce background information or an important point, but the majority of our time will be spent discussing and dissecting foreign policy as a group. Therefore, everyoneís full participation is absolutely essential and expected. Questions about the material are always welcome and encouraged.

To ensure the quality of class discussions, everyone is expected to do three things each week. First, the assigned readings under discussion and the syllabus, which contains a question set, should be brought to each class session. Second, all assigned readings must be completed prior to class. Third, some time should be spent outside of class considering the question set before we collectively evaluate a particular presidentís management of foreign affairs.

It is recommended that students complete POLS 285 (or an equivalent introduction to international relations course) and POLS 100 (or an equivalent introduction to American government course) before enrolling in this class. This foundation may be helpful in understanding certain aspects of class lectures, readings, and discussion, such as references to realism and liberalism or the formal and informal powers of the presidency.


The required texts are available for purchase at the campus bookstore. I have made a conscious effort to keep the books affordable and up-to-date as possible. To be successful in this course, I strongly encourage members of the class to have personal copies of the following books.

Stephen E. Ambrose and Douglas G. Brinkley, Rise To Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938 (8th edition). New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Robert Strong, Decisions and Dilemmas: Case Studies in Presidential Foreign Policy Making since 1945 (2nd edition). Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2005.

Students, especially those enrolled in the POLS 495 section, who wish a richer, more extensive set of readings each week are encouraged to consult the instructor's graduate-level POLS 586 syllabus posted online at: http://polisci.niu.edu/fa05courses/586.htm.



There are four general requirements for this course. The first is written examinations. The midterm exam is scheduled for Thursday, October 20. It will be worth 25 percent of the final course grade. The final exam will be administered during the universityís examination period on Thursday, December 8. It will be worth 30 percent of the final course grade. Prior to each exam, I will outline the specific exam format, discuss my grading standards, and distribute a study guide. To earn a passing grade and credit for the course, both examinations must be completed.

The second course requirement is participation. Components of this grade include (1) regular and thoughtful participation in class discussions, (2) regular attendance (no more than one absence), and (3) completing any assignments. Failure to fulfill any of these expectations will significantly reduce the participation grade that is worth 20 percent of the final course grade.

In general, relevant in-class participation will be evaluated according to the following scale:

A = regular and thoughtful participation

B = occasional and thoughtful participation

C = regular attendance

D = less than regular attendance

F = little or no attendance

Attendance is generally taken each class session. At the end of the semester, the total number of class meetings is divided into the number of times a student was present. The resulting percentage is then converted to a letter grade. Missing class no more than one time will result in an "A" range grade for this portion of the participation grade. Attendance will constitute roughly one-third of the overall participation grade.

The third requirement is a weekly quiz. These short, straightforward, relatively easy quizzes of no more than five to 10 questions will test students' understanding of the assigned readings. Responses will only need to be a few words or a sentence. This weekly requirement is another incentive to complete the readings and come to class ready to participate. At the end of the semester, the average of all these quiz grades will constitute 15 percent of the final course grade.

The fourth requirement is a short, written report due at the beginning of class on Thursday, December 1. Students will be asked to rank and defend the relative foreign policy performance or success of the 10 chief executives that will be the focus of our course this semester. An important element of this assignment will be identifying and discussing the factors or independent variables that the student thinks has the greatest impact on presidential foreign policy success or failure. This report, which is worth 10 percent of the final course grade, should not be completed until after November 17 when have studied and discussed all 10 presidents. The required page-length of the report will likely be four to five pages. Thus quality will count more than quantity. However, the exact length of the report and other essential ingredients of the assignment will be addressed in class on November 17. Students will be expected to share portions of their reports during our class discussion on December 1. Thus it is important everyone attend this class session.



Midterm Examination = 25 percent

Participation = 20 percent

Weekly Quizzes = 15 percent

Written Report = 10 percent

Final Examination = 30 percent



1. Makeup Exams: Makeup exams will only be given in extraordinary circumstances. If such circumstances arise, please contact the instructor as soon as possible and before the scheduled exam. To keep the process fair for everyone in the course, students may be asked to support requests for makeup exams with documentation. A missed examination without prior notification and a documented excuse will result in a zero and a course grade of "F" as opposed to an incomplete.

2. Students with Disabilities: Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework for which they may require accommodations should notify the University's Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR). CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.

3. Late Assignments: An assignment submitted after the due date will be penalized by a deduction of ten points or one letter grade per day. Since students will have had several weeks to complete their work, this standard will be waived only in extraordinary circumstances.

4. Submitting Written Work: Assignments should be handed-in to me personally or given to a department secretary to be time-stamped. Assignments placed under my office door or sent with a friend tend to disappear at times. If a student selects one of these modes of delivery, he or she does so at his or her own risk.

5. Extra Credit: Extra credit assignments will not be given on an individual basis to raise final course grades. Like makeup exams, such projects raise serious questions of equity. If a project is made available, such as an assignment related to a "pizza and move night," every member of the class would be given the opportunity to complete it.

6. Handouts: Handouts are a privilege for those students who attend class on a regular basis. No student is entitled to supplemental materials simply because they are registered for the course.

7. Classroom Etiquette: Students are to arrive at class on time. Two tardy arrivals are equivalent to one class absence. Students are to remain for the entire session unless excused by the professor beforehand or confronted with a serious personal emergency. For instance, it is not acceptable for students to walk in and out of class to answer cell phones, take casual bathroom and smoking breaks, or attend to other personal matters. Cell phones, pagers, or any electronic devices that make noise must be turned off during class unless the instructor has been notified beforehand of a special circumstance (e.g., sick family member, pregnant wife, special childcare situation, etc.). No one should talk while someone else is talking; this includes comments meant for a classmate rather than the entire group. What may seem like a whisper or a harmless remark to one person can be a distraction to someone else, particularly in a small room. Overall, classroom dialogue and behavior should always be courteous, respectful of others, and consistent with the expectations set forth by the university.

8. Incomplete Requests: Such petitions will be granted only in extraordinary circumstances. The instructor reserves the right to ask for documentation to verify the problem preventing completion of the course by the normal deadlines. If the student does not present documentation from a university office or official, the matter will be left to the instructorís discretion.

9. Academic Dishonesty: Regarding plagiarism, the NIU Undergraduate Catalog states: "students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university." The above statement encompasses the purchase or use of papers that were written by others. Please note that I retain copies of papers written in previous years. In short, students are advised to do their own work and learn the rules for proper quoting, paraphrasing, and footnoting.

10. Class Participation: I recognize class discussion comes more easily for some people than for others. By temperament or habit, some individuals are "talkers" while others are "listeners." Learning to be both is an important subsidiary goal of this course. Comments that are not relevant to the ongoing discussion and off the point will not be rewarded. Remarks that are disruptive to the discussion, insensitive to others, or attempt to dominate the discussion will not be tolerated. I strongly prefer students to participate on a voluntary basis. If you are particularly apprehensive about talking in class, or feel closed out of the discussion for another reason, please speak with me. There are some things I can suggest that may be helpful. Remember: communication skills and self-confidence are extremely important assets in the professional world. Thus it is better to develop these things in the collegial environment of this class rather than under more difficult circumstances later in life.

11. Unannounced Quizzes: The instructor reserves the right to conduct pop quizzes (in addition to the reading quizzes), if it becomes grossly apparent through class discussions that students are not completing the assigned readings on a regular basis. If such quizzes are administered, they will be averaged and used to raise or lower a studentís final course grade by a half a letter grade. Whether a particular studentís grade is adjusted positively or negatively will be dependent on a class average. It will not be done capriciously.

12. Undergraduate Writing Awards: The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies. Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing. Winners are expected to attend the Departmentís spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate and $50.00. Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by February 28. All copies should have two cover pages Ė one with the studentís name and one without the studentís name. Only papers written in the previous calendar can be considered for the award. However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following yearís competition even if the student has graduated.

13. Department of Political Science Web Site: Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu



October 13: Midterm Review Sheets Distributed

October 20: Midterm Examination

December 1: Written Reports Due

December 1: Final Review Sheets Distributed

December 8: Final Examination






September 8: Course Introduction

No assigned readings


September 15: President Truman and U.S. Foreign Policy

Ambrose & Brinkley, Chapters 4, 5, 6, & 7

Strong, Chapter 1 (Recommended but not required)


September 22: President Eisenhower and U.S. Foreign Policy

Ambrose and Brinkley, Chapters 8 & 9

Strong, Chapter 2


September 29: Presidents Kennedy & Johnson and U.S. Foreign Policy

Ambrose & Brinkley, Chapters 10 & 11

Strong, Chapter 3


October 6: President Nixon & U.S. Foreign Policy

Ambrose & Brinkley, Chapters 12 and 13

Strong, Chapter 4


October 13: President Carter and U.S. Foreign Policy

Ambrose & Brinkley, Chapter 14

Strong, Chapter 5

Midterm review sheets will be distributed.


October 20: Midterm Examination

No assigned readings



October 27: President Reagan and U.S. Foreign Policy

Ambrose & Brinkley, Chapter 15

Strong, Chapter 6


November 3: President George H.W. Bush and U.S. Foreign Policy

Ambrose & Brinkley, Chapters 17 and 18

Strong, Chapter 7

November 10: President Bill Clinton and U.S. Foreign Policy

Ambrose & Brinkley, Chapter 18

Strong, Chapter 8

Additional reading covering Clinton's second term will be assigned before November 10.


November 17: President George W. Bush and U.S. Foreign Policy

Additional reading(s) will be assigned before November 17.

Strong, Chapter 9


November 24: No Class - Thanksgiving Day



December 1: Course Conclusion - Assessment of Presidential Foreign Policy Management

Review past readings (as necessary) to complete report.

Written reports on presidential foreign policy performance due at the beginning of class.

Final examination review sheet will be distributed.


December 8: Final Examination

No assigned readings





  1. What was the presidentís personal and professional background? Did the president come to office with foreign policy expertise or experience?

  3. Did the president come to office with a clear foreign policy vision or set of goals?

  5. Was the presidentís actual foreign policy consistent with his original vision or ideas?

  7. What core values shaped the presidentís vision and handling of foreign policy? Was the president a realist or a liberal? Was he a pragmatist or a crusader?

  9. Who were the presidentís key advisors? What was the presidentís leadership style and management style?

  11. In conducting foreign policy, did the president treat economic resources Ė Ďmeansí Ė as expanded or limited?

  13. Did the president consider foreign policy goals Ė Ďendsí Ė to be expanded or limited?

  15. What were key foreign policy decisions or events during the presidentís tenure? Which decisions or events have had a lasting effect on U.S. foreign policy?

  17. Was the president a successful foreign policy manager?

  19. What specific factors led to the presidentís success or failure?