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64

APRIL 2017

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

The Power of the Past

takes important steps toward challenging

historians to make their work more policy-relevant and useful.

At the same time, it encourages foreign policy practitioners

to become more sensitive to history’s complexities and self-

aware about the sources and influences of their own historical

assumptions.

American power is inherently limited

and overreach dangerous; the lesson for

Bush was that the bold, decisive use of

military power is necessary if success is

to be achieved.

Similarly, different views of Balkans

history divided American and European

counterparts in trying to come up with

a common approach to the Bosnia and

Kosovo crises.

Another series of essays points to

history’s more subtle influences. The

lineage of current diplomatic efforts

against human trafficking, we learn, is

past campaigns against “white slavery.”

Today’s discussions over Japan’s mili-

tary strength are heavily influenced by

the post-World War II U.S. occupation

authorities’ narrative proclaiming that

both U.S. and Japanese peoples were

victimized by Japanese militarism.

Scholars evaluating President Ron-

ald Reagan’s National Security Council

are urged to look beyond well-known

indications of grave dysfunction and

instead note the NSC’s remarkable suc-

cess in achieving Reagan’s key policy

goals. “Containment” evokes memories

of U.S. diplomatic pre-eminence and

eventual Cold War success. But we are

reminded that this strategy—crafted

to achieve victory over the USSR—may

not be applicable to current challenges

because it was targeted at the Soviet

Union’s unique strengths and weak-

nesses.

The Power of the Past

takes important

steps toward challenging historians to

make their work more policy-relevant

and useful. At the same time, it encour-

ages foreign policy practitioners to

become more sensitive to history’s

complexities and self-aware about the

sources and influences of their own

historical assumptions.

The premise of the book suggests

questions for future research. It would

be interesting, for example, to learn if

policymakers in other countries have

the same struggles with history as those

in the United States. Also worth examin-

ing is whether powerful analogies such

as Munich and Vietnam are losing their

power as generations too young to have

experienced them become leaders.

I would urge any current foreign

policy practitioner to read

The Power of

the Past

to gain insights into history’s

power, as well as an understanding of its

promise and pitfalls when deciding the

best courses of action for today.

n

Todd Kushner, a retired Foreign Service of-

ficer, lives in Rockville, Maryland.