Presidential candidate Richard Nixon meets with Lyndon Johnson at the White House, July 26, 1968 / LBJ Library
Who were the best and worst presidents in American history? It's the sort of barstool conversation bandied about amateur historian and policy nerds like myself on a semi-regular basis. But as this question has come up in recent weeks around the blogosphere it got me thinking about a slightly more discrete question: Who are the best and worst foreign policy presidents of the last 100 years?
After reaching out to host of historians, foreign policy experts, academics and various think tankers here's one stab at answering a question which, in many respects, has no right answer. How you choose the best and worst foreign policy President depends in large measure on what values inform your vision of what a good foreign policy looks like. If you're a foreign policy idealist, Wilson would seem pretty good; a foreign policy realist; you might cast a vote for George H.W Bush or even Richard Nixon. If you prefer your presidents to talk tough, Harry Truman might be your man; if you prefer a more modest and less partisan figure, Dwight Eisenhower might float your boat.
As my list suggests, I tend to lean toward the more restrained, pragmatic realists who are suspicious about the use of force. Conversely, I'm more wary of not only the idealistic and ideologically driven presidents, but also those who use foreign policy, most destructively, as a tool of domestic politics. For the purposes of brevity, I've gone back 100 years from today, and restricted the selections to eleven presidents who fall in the best to worst spectrum (that means no TR, no Clinton and no Taft, Ford, Coolidge, Hoover and Harding). These are the five best, the five worst and the one who is in a category all his own. But half the fun of assembling a list like this is in the writing; the other is in listening to people tell me all the reasons I'm wrong. So have at it.