The Diplomatic Presidency

American Foreign Policy from FDR to George H. W. Bush

Tizoc Victor Chavez

President Woodrow Wilson riding down the Champs-Élysées in December 1918 to meet with the leaders of the victorious Allies at the Paris Peace Conference marked a break from a long tradition where US presidents directed foreign policy, and direct engagement with foreign counterparts was not considered a central duty. Not until the arrival of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration over a decade later would this change. In The Diplomatic Presidency: American Foreign Policy from FDR to George H. W. Bush Tizoc Chavez reveals the long-overlooked history of the rise of personal diplomacy as one of the core responsibilities of the modern president. The modern presidency as it took shape during the FDR era is characterized by rising expectations, sensitivity to public opinion, activism in the legislative arena, a propensity to act unilaterally, and a vast executive branch bureaucracy, all of which contributed to shaping the necessity and practice of presidential personal diplomacy.

Tizoc Chavez takes a comprehensive approach and provides a thorough, archival-based examination of the causes that led presidents to conduct diplomacy on a more personal level. He analyzes personal diplomacy as it was practiced across presidential administrations, which shifts the focus from the unique or contingent characteristics of individual presidents to an investigation of the larger international and domestic factors in which presidents have operated. This approach clarifies similarities and connections during the era of the modern presidency and why all modern presidents have used personal diplomacy regardless of their vastly different political ideologies, policy objectives, leadership styles, partisan affiliations, and personalities, making the practice a central aspect of the presidency and US foreign affairs. This cross-administration exploration of why the presidency, as an institution, resorted to diplomacy at the highest level argues that regardless of who occupied the modern White House, they turned to personal diplomacy for the same reasons: international crises, domestic politics, foreign leaders seeking them out, and a desire for control. The Diplomatic Presidency bridges the gap between history and political science by balancing in-depth case studies with general explanations of broader developments in the presidency and international and domestic politics for a better understanding of presidential behavior and US foreign relations today.

“Beautifully written, thoroughly researched, and incredibly timely. Chavez reminds us that, in the final analysis, diplomacy is made by people engaging with other people, even at the presidential level. This important work demonstrates that the ability to form personal connections with other world leaders is an often overlooked but vital skill for modern American presidents.”

—Mitchell Lerner, professor of history and director, East Asian Studies Center, Ohio State University

“In this historically rich and analytically sophisticated book, Tizoc Chavez explains the historical developments, institutional imperatives, and personal drives that led to the increasing importance (for good and for ill) of personal diplomacy by US presidents. The Diplomatic Presidency is rooted deeply in the scholarly literature and engagingly written; I recommend it highly.”

—James P. Pfiffner, professor emeritus, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University

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About the Author

Tizoc Chavez is visiting assistant professor, Department of Government, Colby College.