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Essays for the Presidency

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Abbie Rowe / JFK Library President-elect John F. Kennedy speaks to reporters outside the White House, 1960.
Foreign Affairs From The Anthology: Essays for the Presidency
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A Democrat Looks at Foreign Policy

The past months have set before our policy-makers a map whose essential features are not unfamiliar to those who have studied or been a part of the events of the past decade, but it is also crowded with new silhouettes. There are new projections, contours and dimensions. International events in recent months have accelerated in pace and have been in a flux not yet comprehended by the leadership of our nation or taken account of in adjustments in the machinery of our foreign policy. To an observer in the opposition party there appear two central weaknesses in our current foreign policy: first, a failure to appreciate how the forces of nationalism are rewriting the geopolitical map of the world—especially in North Africa, southeastern Europe and the Middle East; and second, a lack of decision and conviction in our leadership, which has recoiled from clearly informing both the people and Congress, which seeks too often to substitute slogans for solutions, which at times has even taken pride in the timidity of its ideas.

<i>Presidential Campaign Button, 1960. (JFK Library)</i></br>"To an observer in the opposition party there appear two central weaknesses in our current foreign policy: first, a failure to appreciate how the forces of nationalism are rewriting the geopolitical map of the world … and second, a lack of decision and conviction in our leadership."
<br>Kennedy Gives His Inaugural Address, 1961. (Army Signal Corps)</i></br>"It is a temptation to write the history of the last 40 years in terms of the symmetric rise of two giant states, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. But it is quite as important to see this period in terms of the decline of other states and the substitution for them of new combinations and clusters of power."
<i>Kennedy at a Press Conference, 1961. (Abbie Rowe / JFK Library)</i></br>"Our response to the Soviet challenge in Asia and the Middle East has been exaggeratedly military. However, in Asia our policy has been probably too rigid, in the Middle East too soft."
<i>Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, 1961. (Stanley Tretick / National Archives)</i></br>"We usually attribute to the enemy camp a rigidity of outlook and method; and certainly Russian thinking is hard in texture... We deceive ourselves, however, if we believe that on this account we are the more manœuvrable and flexible in our actions."
<i>Kennedy Observes the Firing of a Polaris Missile, 1963. (Robert Knudsen / National Archives)</i></br>"Whereas the coming of the nuclear age reinforced the bipolar structure of world power, its secondary effects now stimulate a dispersion of strength and influence... Several smaller nations may soon possess nuclear tools of destruction."
<i>Opening Pitch for the 32nd All-Star Game. (Cecil Stoughton / National Archives)</i></br>"Through the world today there runs both a tide toward and away from sovereignty. Many Americans view these tendencies with equal favor, reading into the one our own Declaration of Independence and Revolution, into the other the work of our Constitutional builders of a federal state. In fact, of course, we dangerously misread the movements of our time if we set them only in the prisms of our own historic experience."
<i>Kennedy With the Shah of Iran at Camp Lejeune, 1962. (Robert Knudsen / JFK Library)</i></br>"Americans have always displayed a faith in self-enforcing moral principles... They must learn that most current issues in international politics do not encourage such unrealistic hopes."
<i>Kennedy Visits NASA, 1962. (NASA)</i></br>"The technological and scientific evaluations which have become so important an ingredient of major decisions mean that the inherent difficulties of the decisions themselves have never been greater. Matters such as our draft and conscription policy, our weapons system, disarmament, East-West trade, all require [knowledge] which few informed persons in any branch of government can fully grasp."
<i>Kennedy at the Graduation Ceremony for Cadets in Colorado Springs, 1963. (Robert Knudsen / National Archives)</i></br>Graduating Cadets "It is futile to think that we can purge our foreign policy of all ambiguities--perfectionism is an empty standard for policy when effectiveness must depend not on abstract principles alone but also on estimates of power and national interest."
<i>Kennedy Speaks on the Steps of the Michigan Union, 1960. (University of Michigan)</i></br>"But with respect to some of the major challenges in the world at the present moment there is an opportunity for the idealistic initiative of our people and the self-interest of the nation to intersect."

II

International events today are subject to a double pull—a search for political identity by the new states and the search for unity among the established states of the world. As Europe draws in upon itself toward a Common Market and greater political integration, Africa, its former colonial estate, is breaking apart into new and emergent states. Through the world today there runs both a tide toward and away from sovereignty. Many Americans view these tendencies with equal favor, reading into the one our own Declaration of Independence and Revolution, into the other the work of our Constitutional builders of a federal state. In fact, of course, we dangerously misread the movements of our time if we set them only in the prisms of our own historic experience. It is easy by a false parallelism to mistake nationalism itself for national salvation, to mistake the assertion of broad unity for its healthy substance.

Modern nationalism, too, has

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