The Hell of Good Intentions: America's Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy



Stephen Walt, Harvard Kennedy School

Date and Time

December 13, 2018 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM


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William J. Perry Conference Room
Encina Hall, Second Floor, Central, C231
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

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Abstract: In 1992, the United States stood at the pinnacle of world power and Americans were confident that a new era of peace and prosperity was at hand. Twenty-five years later, those hopes have been dashed. Relations with Russia and China have soured, the European Union is wobbling, democracy is in retreat, and the United States is stuck in costly and pointless wars.

The root of this dismal record is the foreign policy elite’s stubborn commitment to a strategy of “liberal hegemony.” Since the end of the Cold War, Republicans and Democrats alike have tried to use U.S. power to spread democracy, and other liberal values around the world. This strategy was doomed to fail, but its proponents elite were never held accountable and kept repeating the same mistakes. 

Donald Trump won the presidency promising to end these misguided policies, but his erratic style of governing and flawed grasp of world politics have made a bad situation worse. The best alternative is a return to a strategy of “offshore balancing,” eschewing regime change, nation-building, and other forms of global social engineering.  This long-overdue shift will require creating a foreign policy elite with a more realistic view of American power. 


Speaker Bio: Stephen M. Walt is Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, co-editor of the Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in May 200.  He received the ISA’s Distinguished Senior Scholar award in 2014.  His writings include The Origins of Alliances (1987) Revolution and War (1996), Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy, and The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (co-authored with John J. Mearsheimer, 2007).  His latest book is The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy (2018).

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