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Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from…
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Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger

by Bruce Kuklick

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301554,081 (3.5)1
In this trenchant analysis, historian Bruce Kuklick examines the role of intellectuals in foreign policymaking. He recounts the history of the development of ideas about strategy and foreign policy during a critical period in American history: the era of the nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. The book looks at how the country's foremost thinkers advanced their ideas during this time of United States expansionism, a period that culminated in the Vietnam War and détente with the Soviets. Beginning with George Kennan after World War II, and concluding with Henry Kissinger and the Vietnam War, Kuklick examines the role of both institutional policymakers such as those at The Rand Corporation and Harvard's Kennedy School, and individual thinkers including Paul Nitze, McGeorge Bundy, and Walt Rostow. Kuklick contends that the figures having the most influence on American strategy--Kissinger, for example--clearly understood the way politics and the exercise of power affects policymaking. Other brilliant thinkers, on the other hand, often played a minor role, providing, at best, a rationale for policies adopted for political reasons. At a time when the role of the neoconservatives' influence over American foreign policy is a subject of intense debate, this book offers important insight into the function of intellectuals in foreign policymaking.… (more)

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"Decisions are acts of the creative imagination, made in tumult and semiblindness, when the available powers of action cannot at all be described as a means to any end." This is the situation that elements of the American academic community thought that they could alleviate in the shadow of the threat of atomic weapons, and which the author finds to be a failure as a project in retrospect; this is not exactly news.

The real thrust of this slim monograph is that Kuklick wants to consider the mentality of those players who came out of a social science background, but whose analysis did not extend to examining their own motivations and values. Perhaps a less blithe assumption of American manifest destiny would have led to better advice, or at least a little humility. Instead, the main function of these men was to provide plausible excuses for what the actual decision makers intended to do.

Perhaps the ultimate irony for men like Kennan, Wohlstetter, and the like, is that the team of Nixon & Kissinger came closest to representing the rational decision maker unswayed by public opinion that they extolled; be careful what you wish for, you may get it. Let's say that Kuklick has more sympathy for the men who had the responsibility of state then those who thought they could master reality with a priori schematics.

If I have a particular complaint with this book is that there are times when it comes off as using a sledgehammer to crush a walnut, though Kuklick does take what opportunities he has to lighten the tone. For example, there was this comment in the footnotes: "RAND-bashing is a common academic sport, but does not seem to have had much of an effect." ( )
  Shrike58 | Nov 9, 2011 |
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