In This Review

Reversing Course: Carter's Foreign Policy, Domestic Politics, and the Failure of Reform
Reversing Course: Carter's Foreign Policy, Domestic Politics, and the Failure of Reform
By David Skidmore
Vanderbilt University Press, 1996, 234 pp.

A disappointing attempt to apply theories of foreign policy change to the experience of the Carter administration. The author, a political scientist at Drake University, wants to explain why the Carter administration, which came into office intent on "adjusting" to new forces in the international system, reverted to Cold War paradigms by its end. Changes in the international environment, he contends, had little to do with it; the motor was domestic politics. Those who saw a Soviet challenge were wrong, the author insists; hence international events do not succeed in explaining foreign policy change. In Skidmore's simplified framework, there were two options -- "adjustment" and "resistance." The first is identified with the "new politics" of the early Carter administration; the second is seen as a kind of domestic atavism unresponsive to the external environment. But this is a caricature of the foreign policy argument then raging: both sides were trying to adjust to new international realities; both appealed to domestic ideals and interests. The hinge of the argument is the assumption that "adjustment to hegemonic decline" dictated one obvious set of policies, when in fact the problem of decline and renewal was multifaceted, complex, and subject to a variety of remedies on which reasonable people could differ. It is a theoretical enterprise that is overly deterministic and whose basic concepts are inadequately specified -- flaws that infect a wider literature. That is the root of the difficulty with this book.