The Limits of Foreign Policy

by Charles Burton Marshall. Holt, $3.00.
It would be hard to exaggerate the good sense and topical importance of this short essay on foreign policy by a former member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. In essence, it elaborates the truth that policy is the art of the possible, and it shows up the errors that have caused us to lose sight of the inescapable limits of foreign policy. A stultifying perfectionism has led to demands for a foreign policy conceived in terms of good principles destined to inevitable triumph over evil, rather than one expressed in terms of interests susceptible of compromise with rival interests. And the delusion that because America is great it is omnipotent has fostered the notion that wo should be able to make events everywhere conform to our wishes. We are suffering, in sum, from a generalized self-righteousness and a refusal to face up to the complex and vexing character of the world. There are, for instance, gross oversimplifications in the prevalent assumption that the alternatives before us are war or acceptance of the status quo.
I cannot hope in these notes to suggest the keenness and exhilarating sanity of Mr. Marshall’s discussion. In my estimate, it makes three-quarters of what is being said about foreign policy sound like the mischievous chatter of retarded schoolboys.