For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War

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To the amazement of the public, pundits, and even the policymakers themselves, the ideological and political conflict that had endangered the world for half a century came to an end in 1990. How did that happen? What caused the cold war in the first place, and why did it last as long as it did?

The distinguished historian Melvyn P. Leffler homes in on four crucial episodes when American and Soviet leaders considered modulating, avoiding, or ending hostilities and asks why they failed: Stalin and Truman devising new policies after 1945; Malenkov and Eisenhower exploring the chance for peace after Stalin's death in 1953; Kennedy, Khrushchev, and LBJ trying to reduce tensions after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962; and Brezhnev and Carter aiming to sustain détente after the Helsinki Conference of 1975. All these leaders glimpsed possibilities for peace, yet they allowed ideologies, political pressures, the expectations of allies and clients, the dynamics of the international system, and their own fearful memories to trap them in a cycle of hostility that seemed to have no end.

For the Soul of Mankind illuminates how Reagan, Bush, and, above all, Gorbachev finally extricated themselves from the policies and mind-sets that had imprisoned their predecessors, and were able to reconfigure Soviet-American relations after decades of confrontation.

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About the author

Melvyn P. Leffler, Stettinius Professor of American History at the University of Virginia, is the author The Specter of Communism (H&W, 1994) and A Preponderance of Power, which won the Bancroft Prize in 1992. He lives in Charlottesville.
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Hill and Wang
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Published on
Sep 2, 2008
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History / Russia & the Former Soviet Union
History / United States / 20th Century
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Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism gathers together decades of writing by Melvyn Leffler, one of the most respected historians of American foreign policy, to address important questions about U.S. national security policy from the end of World War I to the global war on terror. Why did the United States withdraw strategically from Europe after World War I and not after World War II? How did World War II reshape Americans’ understanding of their vital interests? What caused the United States to achieve victory in the long Cold War? To what extent did 9/11 transform U.S. national security policy? Is budgetary austerity a fundamental threat to U.S. national interests?

Leffler’s wide-ranging essays explain how foreign policy evolved into national security policy. He stresses the competing priorities that forced policymakers to make agonizing trade-offs and illuminates the travails of the policymaking process itself. While assessing the course of U.S. national security policy, he also interrogates the evolution of his own scholarship. Over time, slowly and almost unconsciously, Leffler’s work has married elements of revisionism with realism to form a unique synthesis that uses threat perception as a lens to understand how and why policymakers reconcile the pressures emanating from external dangers and internal priorities.

An account of the development of U.S. national security policy by one of its most influential thinkers, Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism includes a substantial new introduction from the author.

In Uncertain Times considers how policymakers react to dramatic developments on the world stage. Few expected the Berlin Wall to come down in November 1989; no one anticipated the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in September 2001. American foreign policy had to adjust quickly to an international arena that was completely transformed.

Melvyn P. Leffler and Jeffrey W. Legro have assembled an illustrious roster of officials from the George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations-Robert B. Zoellick, Paul Wolfowitz, Eric S. Edelman, Walter B. Slocombe, and Philip Zelikow. These policymakers describe how they went about making strategy for a world fraught with possibility and peril. They offer provocative reinterpretations of the economic strategy advanced by the George H. W. Bush administration, the bureaucratic clashes over policy toward the breakup of the USSR, the creation of the Defense Policy Guidance of 1992, the expansion of NATO, the writing of the National Security Strategy Statement of 2002, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A group of eminent scholars address these same topics. Bruce Cumings, John Mueller, Mary Elise Sarotte, Odd Arne Westad, and William C. Wohlforth probe the unstated assumptions, the cultural values, and the psychological makeup of the policymakers. They examine whether opportunities were seized and whether threats were magnified and distorted. They assess whether academicians and independent experts would have done a better job than the policymakers did. Together, policymakers and scholars impel us to rethink how our world has changed and how policy can be improved in the future.

Contributors: Bruce Cumings, University of Chicago; Eric S. Edelman, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; Melvyn P. Leffler, University of Virginia; Jeffrey W. Legro, University of Virginia; John Mueller, Ohio State University; Mary Elise Sarotte, University of Southern California; Walter B. Slocombe, Council on Foreign Relations and Caplin & Drysdale; Odd Arne Westad, London School of Economics and Political Science; William C. Wohlforth, Dartmouth College; Paul Wolfowitz, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research; Philip Zelikow, University of Virginia; Robert B. Zoellick, World Bank Group

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