The Liberal Foreign Policy Tradition: Pluses, Problems, and Prospects

January 10, 2008

The MIT Center for International Studies, in cooperation with the History and Democracy Project and the U.S. Section of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, convened a one-day meeting on January 10, 2008, at the Wilson Center to explore the liberal tradition in U.S. foreign policy. Seven scholars and three interlocutors, and an invited audience of forty, provided insights on Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and others, and how they informed and shaped this tradition with respect to democratization and rights, global economic equity, war and peace, and other topics. This exceptionally rich conversation is captured on this video. Click here to see the agenda.

Conference Papers

FDR's Four Freedoms and Midcentury Transformations in America's Discourse of Rights
by Elizabeth Borgwardt

More than Multilateralism: Economic Dimensions of Liberal Foreign Policy
by Charles Maier

A Man Ahead of His Time? Wilsonian Globalism and the Doctrine of Preemption
by Erez Manela

The Liberal Moral Sensibility Writ Globally
by Amy Sayward Staples

Wilson, Bush, and the Evolution of Liberal Foreign Policy
by Tony Smith

Wilson and the Founders: The Roots of Liberal Foreign Policy
by Ted Widmer

Panelists and Organizers

James G. Blight is a professor of international relations at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. He began his academic career as a cognitive psychologist, but later turned his attention to a new method, critical oral history, for investigating post-world War II U.S. foreign policy conflicts and crises. He is the author and co-author of twelve books on the recent history of U.S. foreign policy, including Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba's Struggle with the Superpowers After the Missile Crisis and Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing and Catastrophe in the 21st Century. He has served as a consultant on several documentary film projects, and is the co-author, with Janet Lang, of the forthcoming companion book to Koji Masutani's film, "Virtual JFK: Vietnam, If Kennedy Had Lived."


Elizabeth Borgwardt is Associate Professor of History at Washington University in St. Louis, where she teaches courses on the history of human rights ideas and international law and institutions. An international lawyer as well as a historian of twentieth century America, her book A New Deal for the World: America's Vision for Human Rights (Harvard, 2005) has garnered awards for the Best Book in the History of Ideas, Best First Book in U.S. Foreign Relations, and the History Honor Society's Best First Book Award.


Nick Bromell is the founder and Executive Director of the History and Democracy Project, and an Affiliate Fellow of the Center for American Progress. He is Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of By the Sweat of the Brow (Chicago University Press, 1992) and Tomorrow Never Knows (Chicago University Press, 2002). His articles and essays have appeared in Fortune, Harper's, The Boston Globe, The American Scholar, and numerous other publications.


Rachel Glennerster is Executive Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT. She was senior economist at the International Monetary Fund, and has taught at Harvard's Kennedy School, among other posts as an economic adviser and scholar. She is coauthor of Strong Medicine: Creating Incentives for Pharmaceutical Research on Neglected Diseases (Princeton University Press, 2004).


Charles Maier is a historian of modern European and international history at Harvard, where he has directed the Center for European Studies. He has written on European politics and economics throughout the twentieth century and on American foreign policies in the Cold War era. His book, Among Empires: American Ascendancy and its Predecessors, appeared in 2006. An essay: "Beyond Statecraft: American Foreign Policy and Global Social Transformation," will appear in a collection on "Foreign Policy after the Bush Administration," slated for publication in summer 2008.


Erez Manela is Dunwalke Associate Professor of American History at Harvard University, where he teaches international history and the history of the United States in the world. He is the author of The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 2007). He has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Baruch/Marshall Foundation, the Fulbright Foundation, and the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard, among others. Professor Manela is currently working on a history of the global campaign to eradicate smallpox in the twentieth century.


Julie Mertus is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the MA program in Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs at American University. A graduate of Yale Law School, Professor Mertus has twenty years of experience working for a wide range of nongovernmental and governmental human rights organizations. Her book, Bait and Switch: Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy (Routledge, 2004) was named "human rights book of the year" by the American Political Science Association Human Rights Section. Her other books include Human Rights and Conflict (editor, with Jeffrey Helsing); The United Nations and Human Rights; Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War, and The Suitcase: Refugees' Voices from Bosnia and Croatia.


Tony Smith is Cornelia M. Jackson Professor of Political Science at Tufts University. His most recent publications include America's Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press, 1994); Foreign Attachments: The Power of Ethnic Groups in the Making of American Foreign Policy (Harvard University Press, 2000); and A Pact with the Devil: Washington's Bid for World Supremacy and the Betrayal of the American Promise (Routledge, Taylor, Francis, 2007).


Amy Sayward Staples is the author of The Birth of Development: How the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization Changed the World, 1945-1965 (2006) as well as several related articles. She is currently serving as the Co-Chair of the Program Committee for the 2008 annual meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) and as Chair of the History Department at Middle Tennessee State University.


Philippa Strum is Director of the Division of U.S. Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center and Broeklundian Professor of Political Science Emerita at City University of New York-Brooklyn College. She is the author of numerous volumes including Louis D. Brandeis: Justice for the People; When the Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom for the Speech We Hate and, most recently, Women in the Barracks: the VMI Case and Equal Rights (University Press of Kansas, 2002).


John Tirman is Executive Director of the MIT Center for International Studies, where he is also Principal Research Scientist. Previously, he was Program Director at the Social Science Research Council, Fulbright Senior Scholar, and Executive Director of the Winston Foundation. Among his ten books on international relations are Multilateralism Under Challenge? (UNU Press, 2006, coeditor and coauthor), and Terror, Insurgency and the State (Penn Press, 2007, coeditor and coauthor).


Robert Westbrook is a professor of history at the University of Rochester, where he has taught for over twenty years. He is the author of John Dewey and American Democracy (1991), Why We Fought: Forging American Obligations in World War II (2004), and Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth (2005). He has recently written regularly about the Iraq war for The Christian Century and is at work on a book about the American moral imagination in World War II. In 1994 he served as senior counselor to then Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ).


Ted Widmer is the Director of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, and the author of several works of early American history. He was a speechwriter for President Clinton from 1997-2001. His book, Ark of the Liberties: America and the World, is forthcoming.