Who was the best foreign policy president?
October 22nd, 2012
08:59 AM ET

Who was the best foreign policy president?

As President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney square off in the final presidential debate - focusing on foreign policy - who should they perhaps be drawing inspiration from?

Global Public Square asked a group of historians and commentators a few weeks ago for their take on the most successful U.S. presidents, from a foreign policy point of view. (All views expressed here are, of course, the writers' own.) Agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Read the original post and readers' opinions


Bruce Jentleson is professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University and the author, among other works, of "American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century."

His take: Both for his leadership turning one of our country’s moments of greatest vulnerability into the triumph of World War II, and for the vision to begin building the postwar peace, Franklin D. Roosevelt deserves the highest ranking. Congressional isolationists had blocked most of FDR’s efforts to start mobilizing the American industrial base and preparing the American people for the war. We would have had our work cut out for us even if the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hadn’t crippled the Navy. FDR’s fireside chats provided a mix of reassurance and call to action. From only 175,000 troops, enlistments and the draft brought the military to 8.5 million. Government and industry worked together. American families did their share buying war bonds and growing “victory gardens” – including my then-14 year-old Mom who still had her official thank you letter for her Scranton, Pennsylvania plot of lettuce and tomatoes when she died more than 60 years later. And even before the war was over, he began laying the groundwork for a postwar order: the Bretton Woods open international economic system, the United Nations, diplomacy with the Soviet Union to at least try and avoid what later became the Cold War.

More: The current candidates' global challenges

James Lee Ray is director of undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt University.

His take: Franklin Delano Roosevelt is hard choice to avoid as most successful foreign policy president. He faced the greatest, most serious challenges, and he dealt with them successfully.

He managed to make important contributions to the anti-fascist effort even when faced with overwhelming isolationist opposition before 1941. (Lend-Lease, for example.) Japan attacked in 1941, and then Hitler declared war almost immediately. That declaration made it possible for him to focus on Europe first. His planning for the attack across the English Channel took a very long time. Meanwhile, the Nazis and Communists were killing each other by the millions. The difficulties faced by the Allies even in 1944 when the cross-channel attack was launched suggest that an earlier attack might have been premature and unsuccessful.

Holding together the Allied coalition was difficult. Adopting the policy of “unconditional surrender” was probably a key to doing so. He did put too much faith, at Yalta, in his ability to deal with Stalin after the war. He didn’t count on being dead when the time came. But it is unlikely that any policies would have prevented the Soviet Union from taking over in Eastern Europe, or the Cold War.

Andrew Bacevich is a professor of international relations at Boston University and a retired career officer in the U.S. Army.

His take: The measure of merit: A successful statesman enhances the wealth, power, and influence of the state; the unsuccessful statesmen depletes those assets.

Based on those criteria, Franklin D. Roosevelt ranks as our most successful foreign policy president. Thanks to FDR’s skillful management of World War II, the United States by 1945 had become the richest and strongest country in the world. Americans were the sole beneficiaries of the cataclysm touched off by Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939. By the time the smoke cleared, the ranks of Great Powers had been reduced to two and in every way that counted, the United States enjoyed vast advantages over its only conceivable rival, the Soviet Union.

James M. Lindsay is the senior vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

His take: In the spirit of the bipartisanship that Americans long for in their foreign policy but typically don’t see, two presidents rate as most successful in foreign policy: Franklin D. Roosevelt and George H.W. Bush. With the destroyer-for-bases-deal, the Lend Lease Act, and other actions, FDR secured critical support for Britain during its darkest hours and against intense isolationist head winds at home. He then led the country to victory in World War II and oversaw the creation of the bedrock international institutions of the modern world: the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.

More: Next president faces a dangerous world


Thomas Schwartz is professor of history at Vanderbilt University.

His take: Two very different presidents who come to mind almost immediately are Harry Truman and Richard Nixon. Truman’s presidency laid the basis for the successful policy of containing the Soviet Union and built such important foreign policy institutions as NATO, through which American policy was exercised throughout the Cold War. He presided over the reintegration of Germany and Japan into the American led system of alliances. Truman did fight an unpopular war in Korea and fire a popular general, but his decisions have largely been vindicated by history even though they made him extremely unpopular as he left office. The other president is Richard Nixon, who with the help of Henry Kissinger reversed America’s decades-long estrangement from China and dramatically improved relations with the Soviet Union, playing the two communist giants off against each other. Although Nixon’s policy of ending the war in Vietnam was controversial, it was ultimately approved by the American people, who gave him one of the largest landslides in American history. But the collapse of his presidency over Watergate keeps his presidency from being seen as a success.

But the president I would select as the most successful post-1945 president in foreign policy is George Herbert Walker Bush. Bush came into the presidency during the tumultuous year of 1989, which saw the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, and most importantly, the reunification of Germany. Not only did he manage these changes with an intelligence and modesty that facilitated America’s goals, he also worked quietly behind the scenes with his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev to minimize any violence and bloodshed. At the same time, Bush engineered an extraordinarily effective international coalition to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. He was a president who both recognized the potential strength of the United States, but also the limits of its power.

James Lee Ray:

His take: George H. W. Bush is surely the most highly qualified foreign policy president in the history of the country. He had been a Congressman, head of the CIA, ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China and vice president of the United States for eight years by the time he became president.

And that experience seemed to pay off. He did launch a gratuitous attack on Panama in 1989. But then he put together the greatest, most powerful coalition ever (compared to its enemy), to push Iraq (and its million man army) out of Kuwait in 1991. He avoided the temptation to go into Baghdad. (Had he not, the hardline Communist coup in the Soviet Union in August of 1991 would have succeeded.)

Bush faced a situation in Germany after the end of the Cold War whose potential for disaster is also still under-appreciated. The Soviet Union still had 300,000 troops in East Germany. It did not want to see Germany united, and it considered a united Germany as a member of NATO totally out of the question. But President Bush managed to pull that off anyway, without creating a very messy crisis in the middle of Europe, with a desperate Soviet Union in its death throes.

James M. Lindsay:

His take: George H. W. Bush did not enjoy the FDR’s electoral success. But during his one term he successfully handled some of the stiffest foreign policy challenges of the last half century. He helped manage the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union and pushed for the reunification of Germany against the advice of close U.S. allies. He also liberated Kuwait and resisted calls to send the U.S. military onward to Baghdad. No, the elder Bush never figured out what the “new world order” would look like. But then again, neither have his three successors.


Danielle Pletka is Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Her take: Measuring the relative success of American presidents in foreign policy is an almost impossible task. Even narrowing the task to the 20th and 21st centuries demands almost ridiculous comparisons. What are the metrics? Lives lost? Lives saved? American interests served? But which ones? Many might argue that Franklin Roosevelt was one of our nation’s greatest foreign policy leaders, ushering in the era of American global leadership, ridding the world of a vile dictator. But World War II was also a tale of missed opportunity; of lives lost because the United States would not act. Can any war that ends with the death of six million Jews be considered a “success”?

Then too, there are contests, many partisan, for the title of worst foreign policy president. Was it Lyndon Johnson, who failed to successfully prosecute the Vietnam War and sacrificed tens of thousands of American lives only to see us leave a few short years later? Was it George W. Bush, scourge of liberals for beginning the Iraq War, a conflict supported by the United States Congress but long and complex in its undertaking? Or Jimmy Carter, for whom ideology was paramount, therefore allowing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Islamist takeover of Iran?

There are no serious answers to the question because American leadership doesn’t lend itself to a neat, nonpartisan dissection of our presidents. Different Americans want different things for our country, and even those Americans aren’t divided into neat partisan lines. There are Republicans and Democrats for retreat; conservatives and liberals for internationalism.

Still, two men vie for the title of best and worst, though each has many competitors. Each governed at a seminal moment, and saw the United States through a crossroads, determining a path that would govern our future for many years.

Ronald Reagan had a vision for America in the world. Importantly, his ambitions for America’s role on the world stage were not shaped by our enemies, but rather shaped by his own view of American exceptionalism. Reagan hastened the end of the defining battle of the 20th century, the fight between those who believed in freedom and those who embraced communism. True, there were bad choices of allies (Pinochet, Savimbi), but in the aftermath of the Carter era – dominated by a president who believed American power was an embarrassment to be lived down – Reagan knew not only what the United States opposed, but what America supported: freedom in all its iterations.

More: What can history teach the next president?

Honorable mention


David Ryan is professor of history at University College Cork, Ireland and author of Frustrated Empire: US Foreign Policy from 9/11 to Iraq.

His take: Jimmy Carter reflected in his second State of the Union that it was “sound.” The troubles of 1979 had yet to compound his presidency. Carter reflected that on his watch, not one American service person had died abroad. He asked his audience, in words that now seem incredibly ironic, what sort of world the early 21st century would be as that generation of kids grew up – would America be at war? “Our children who will be born this year will come of age in the 21st Century. What kind of society, what kind of world are we building for them? Will we ourselves be at peace? Will our children enjoy a better quality of life? Will a strong and united America still be a force for freedom and prosperity around the world?” Little did he realize that it would witness two presidents trying desperately and ineffectively to withdraw from two theaters of combat with mixed results.

Of course, Carter was weak! Or so the conventional narrative ran. He received constant advice that he had to hit someone, somewhere. Americans were confused about the direction of his foreign policy. Americans had been taken hostage, the Soviets had moved into Afghanistan, the Sandinistas had succeeded in Nicaragua and Carter moved around the White House in indecision: such is the caricature.

Yet Carter realized that the use of force in each of these instances would be counterproductive. On Iran especially, he confessed to an interviewer that bombing Tehran might make the country feel good, perhaps if timed well, he might have even been re-elected. But in terms of local and specific objectives, he would not have advanced the agenda much. Despite his early rhetoric, his was a more cautious and realistic presidency. After a decade and more of the atrocious use of force, he recognized the limits of U.S. military power and the power of the country’s appeal. That it did not work is in part due to the domestic discourse that straitjacket presidents in so many ways, limiting their choices, generating expectation, frequently of a pugnacious sort, and most insidiously questioning their “credibility” should they fall short.


Bruce Jentleson:

His take: Thomas Jefferson gets my second nomination, principally for his deft diplomacy in pulling off the Louisiana Purchase. These 820,000 square miles, encompassing an area that eventually would include all or part of 14 new states and provide the gateway opening the Far West, transformed our small Atlantic Coast country into a vast continental one. Despite blustery urgings from Alexander Hamilton to try to seize these areas militarily, Jefferson got it done through skilled statecraft. He played French-British-Spanish rivalries off one against the other. And when he and his emissary James Monroe saw how much Napoleon needed the money, they savvily shifted from their original plan to buy just the port of New Orleans for $10 million to dealing for all that territory for just $15 million.

None of the above:

Scott Lucas is a professor of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Birmingham, England.

His take: I don’t think there is a best, at least in the post-1945 world, because each of them has been limited by the demands of American power. Franklin D. Roosevelt might have prevailed with a vision of the “international” had he not died in office, but Truman and Eisenhower were both caught up in the confrontation with the Soviet Union – the good of the Marshall Plan has to be set alongside not-so-good U.S. interventions outside Western Europe. Kennedy’s inaugural address is one of the most aggressive speeches ever delivered and partly-implemented, Johnson sank in Vietnam, and Nixon complemented “détente” with a cynical U.S. policy that rampaged through much of the world from Cambodia to East Timor to Chile. Reagan? Overrated – the fortuitous economic exhaustion of the Soviet Union saved him from a less-exalted reputation built on the excesses of U.S. power, such as Iran-Contra and the aftermath of 1980s Afghanistan.

Jimmy Carter could have made a difference, but his well-intentioned attempt to shift U.S. policy to international justice and rights was sabotaged by the Soviets, Congress, and an inability to deal with cases like Iran.

But the one lost chance of “best” that sticks with me is seeing the last overseas speech of Bill Clinton, given in December 2000 in Warwick, England. He spoke in a tired but eloquent voice of the necessity to meet the challenges of climate change and global warming, epidemics and basic health care, and the vast divide in living standards. And I thought, “Great speech. What have you been doing for the last eight years?”

What do you think? Which president set the bar when it comes to U.S. foreign policy? Who would you argue in favor of? Against? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Topics: 2012 Election

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soundoff (143 Responses)
  1. suzy

    this is accurate when it comes to FDR....don't realy agree with the Bush senior thing or Reagon...all show!

    October 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • J. Foster Dulles

      Thank you, suzy. That was very well stated. Neither Reagan nor Bush were any good at foreign policy although they were very politically popular!

      October 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • R. Wilson Reagan

      Thank you suzy, for seeing the errors of my ways. Yes, I should have done better but I let my wife Nancy do my thinking for me.

      October 22, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Indeed, Mr. President, your wife, Nancy was a huge asset. She made sure every move you made was in accordance with your horoscope. There's a saying, "behind every great man, there must be a great woman".

        October 23, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Rosseroni

      Hm, Bush Sr. as "all show" ... I've heard him described (and derided) in many ways, but that's a new one for me!

      October 23, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Brian

      The absence of John F. Kennedy mystifies me. His handling of the Cuban Missile Crises arguably saved the world. He and America were riding high at the time of his assassination and would not regain such status for many administrations. The you have the Berlin Crises, uniting the OAS for it's first and probably only unanimous vote condemning Cuba and USSR, healing the relationship of the US and France, and much more in only a thousand days.

      November 18, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
      • Sherm

        Agree totally... JFK should possibly be listed... he did de-escalate the Cuban Missle Crisis. Did Bay of Pigs hurt him? I was definitely looking for him on the list and feel he surpasses a few listed.

        March 29, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • _____

      Reagan won the Cold War. If re-elected, Jimmy Carter would've lost it. And he also would've done to our country what Barack Obama is about to do to our country.

      Bend over, Amerika.

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  2. Quigley

    The answer to this question is hard to say. George Washington both rightly and wisely said that we need to stay out of European alliances while Warren Harding very rightly led this country back into Isolationism after WW1. Then again, FDR led us to victory in WW2. Moreover, had not FDR died when he did, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. would probably had continued to cooperate well after WW2 preventing the Cold War from happening!

    October 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Like Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney Danielle Pletka is also an admirer of Ronald Reagan and looks to him for inspiration. How unimaginative!

    October 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      The Kennedys were excellent ambassadors abroad. In 1961 Jacqueline Kennedy charmed President Charles de Gaulle but telling him in French that her grandparents were French and he replied, "So were mine!"
      In 1963 John F Kennedy spoke to a crowd in Berlin and said, "Ich bin ein Berliner". The Germans were impressed and overwhelmed.

      October 23, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
      • Goober Pyle

        Too bad the only thing a Kennedy ever accomplished was spreading social diseases!

        November 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Gomer Pyle

      I certainly hope you dont look to Hussein Obama for inspiration. This insipid louse looks to kill off the rich and give away money we dont have. His leadership skills are non existent and he hides all his dirt ie generals screwing around! He is a product of liberal affirmative action so he can attend law school on our money despite his mediocre scores. Once he finishes killing off small business and removes more jobs from the economy, you'll wakeup and see you have nothing. His goal – make us all poor! Then he'll claim us an Islamic Republic! The Mayans are right – we are doomed – and the media helped.

      November 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
      • To be said

        yea right .....

        November 13, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
      • Marsha

        TO the Obama bashers, look beyond the splinter in your eyes. Your personal agenda is showing. We need to change our ways or we'll go down as divided as fool. This mean all of us, white, black yellow red and in between.

        November 19, 2012 at 4:52 am |
      • _____

        You mean the personal agenda of peace, prosperity and freedom?

        Is that the personal agenda that you find so offensive?

        November 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
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  4. Aristocles

    Jimmy Carter? Are they hallucinating?

    October 23, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Goober Pyle

      Its what you get when his mother bred with a peanut and you get a real nuttin!

      November 13, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
      • _____

        Miss Lillian had bigger boobs than Dolly Parton: Jimmy and Billy.

        November 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  5. Nuveria87

    George H. W. Bush shouldn't even be an option. FDR, George Bush 1&2, and Thomas Jefferson were, put loosely, leaders of war not Foreign Policy makers. The best President on Foreign Policy is hands down James Monroe! Get it together CNN.

    October 23, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  6. Dr Eric

    The science is clear and we'll be happy to prove it before any court or lab on Earth, as America was created to do....it was Ronald Reagan,, for his usages of the early Unification Science Prototypes (ind. est.), PROVING THEY WORKED, by taking the political party that opposed Social Security (the GOP) and turning it into the political party that made Social Security solvent for the first time in history (on a reprovable basis)....NO NEED TO WET YOUR FINGER AND STICK IT IN THE AIR, AS FOREIGNERS WILL DIRECT OF AMERICANS (HERE-EVEN, BORN AND RAISED, BUT A "FOREIGN PRACTICE", just the same)......any takers?? RCCFM: Always(c) Dr. Eric USRecovery@Gmail.com...Scientifically Impossible to be Otherwise (without proof of his undermining Unification Science's implementation, the only way to "balance the budget", as benefit-cuts will only triple it and crime rates, not balance anything....

    October 23, 2012 at 2:00 am |
  7. Brian

    Someone needs to remind the American people that it was Reagan and Bush who put the weapons in the hands of the Taliban, and enabled the forming of Al Qaida. In addition, having US forces staying in the Saudi Arabia (after first Iraq Invasion) directly caused the current conflict between the West and Muslim extremists. Everyone knew for awhile that the Middle East was a powder keg waiting to explode. Reagan and Bush policies were the fuse that set it off.

    October 23, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Ozymandias

      The Taliban didn't even exist as a group while either Reagan or Bush Sr. was president. They armed the Mujaheddin. The Taliban was partially an offshoot of the Mujaheddin, and partially its own movement, but it opposed the Mujaheddin. While the Taliban may have later used the same weapons we originally intended for the Mujaheddin, it's a great oversimplification to say that Reagan and Bush Sr. armed the Taliban. Mind you, I'm not a fan of either of them, but make sure you have your facts straight.

      November 12, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Mother Murphy

      You're right with those two, but dont forget good ol BIlly Boy Clinton for letting Osama go when he had the chance to take him out. But for BIll, we'd have no 9/11! These three, plus Bush II and Barack Hussein should be tried for treason!

      November 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
      • what? treason

        i dont say much but had to ask why charge pres.obama and pres.clinton with treason clinton had him at bay,bush could'nt get him,so obama took him out to end it all.if anything bush should be charge with war crimes why did we go to iraq? we had no reason over there, they didnt call for us and congress said no he goes anyway and still NO WMD he tried to finish something he daddy started and fail and said on T.V he knew the country was in trouble and was ready to leave the white house shame shame blame it on everybody but a cold bush.

        November 28, 2012 at 5:38 am |
  8. Alene Feltus

    i think JFK and Roosevelt were two of the greatest presidents this country has ever had. Ronald Regan is the reason this country is in the financial mess it is in today. He almost bankrupted the USA!!!

    October 23, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Pappa John

      JFK wasnt president long enough to do anything good OR bad except lots of women. No wonder BIll Clinton admired him – using the white house as a pimping servce. JFK was all image. Nixon really won but the Kennedy clan bought that election through West Virginia. Check the facts. Kennedy and Clinton and Bush II and Barack "aint a muslim" Osama will succeed in killing off the middle class. Glad you voted the turd back in? You'll live to regret it one day ms fetus!

      November 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Hen na gaijin

      Kennedy and FDR ? You must be joking. Bay of Pigs and Vietnam ring a bell ? As for Roosevelt, he was
      determined to get us into war, and he did. If you want a Roosevelt, try Theodore.

      November 15, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  9. Alexander L.

    I am surprised President Kennedy was not even mentioned, as it appears to me that he was probably the only President openly challenged with nuclear threats from the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also, his approach to Vietnam seemed to be comprehensive of the World's geopolotical climate, and one which could have fundamentally improved the American standing in the later stages of the Cold War.

    October 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • seymour butts

      >be responsible for escalation of US involvement in vietnam
      >get praised as having the best approach

      man its nice to be a kennedy

      November 15, 2012 at 7:08 am |
  10. bribarian

    Jimmy Carter, he was one man that was committed to real peace.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Cletus Kadiddlehopper

      Too bad he had no brain power and was a racist and anti semite as well as anti arab. He hated nayone who wasnt a yee ha redneck like him. He was a true accident. What a laugh!

      November 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
      • yankee doodle

        Anti-Arab AND anti-semite? So the Camp David Peace Accords were just my imagination? (You know, the one where Egypt finally recognized Israel's right to exist?) So that picture of Carter standing between Anwar Sadat (an Arab) and Menachem Begin (a Jew) was just a fantasy? Thanks for clearing that up for me. Jerk.

        November 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  11. Chris

    Depends on your definition of what was good for the country. That would be territory, I would think. So the winners would then be:
    1. Jefferson for the Lousiana Purchase and claims to the Oregon Territory
    2. Polk for the gains of California and the Southwest following the Mexican-American War.

    October 24, 2012 at 9:14 am |
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  12. Nuveria87

    James Monroe, through the installation of the Monroe Doctrine, defeated European Imperialism in the Western Hemisphere and expanded American Influence in South America. To stand up to the world powers of the day and make them think twice on their actions is a true example of leadership in American Foreign Policy and these other choices are nothing in comparison.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  13. Rick McDaniel

    Actually, I think Nixon may have been the best at that. Certainly, his efforts in that arena, will be remembered for a very long time. Kissinger worked very hard for his administration, to find common ground for this country, with the middle east, and Nixon worked hard in other areas of the globe, as well.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
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  14. Johnny

    CARTER, HONORABLE MENTION??? Can you say 444 days? HA! Of course some left-wing professor from Ireland who calls us an "Empire" would laud Carter, Hamas' best friend.

    And he almost scuttled the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, yet no Clinton, no Kennedy, no Truman? Bush Sr.?? His foreign policy simply followed Reagan's coattails.

    November 8, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  15. Nancy

    While the economic exhaustion of the Soviets and the rise of Gorbachev were fortuitous, Reagan had the instinct to push for the arms control agreements that have, at least, put off the destruction of human race until some crazy gets his hands on a nuclear weapon and uses it. The Cold War was the best war of all–the one that was never fought. Not bad his Main Act. Deserves a political oscar if such a thing existed.

    November 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  16. victor sindoni

    Looking back at our own history, Franklin Roosevelt became our president shortly after the wall street crash.
    He began his term as commander in chief , when the world was in a state of depression.
    Credit should be given to FDR for enacting policy that turned our sleeping nation into a world power.,..
    Many people have branded FDR a socialist, There are times that Socialism becomes necessary.

    November 12, 2012 at 5:56 am |
  17. Robert Haggerty

    You have to be a complete historical illiterate not to have Eisenhower near the top of the list of best foreign policy Presidents. He got us out of Korea, he didn't let us get sucked into France's Indo China war, he handled the Suez Crisis brilliantly,he stablilized Lebanon and most importantly he kept the Cold war cold.(we didn't do anything foolish during the Quemoy-Matsu crisis). Not a single American was killed in combat during his entire term after we withdrewfrom Korea in 1953. He wasn't perfect (who is?). Two marks against him are approving the overthrow of Mossadegh (for which Foster Dulles is to blame) and he never should have given the go ahead for the planning of the Bay of Pigs invasion. On balance though an outstanding foreign policy record.

    November 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  18. lweba

    The worst President of America after WWII was Reagan. This is according to third World assessment. He went back to supporting Right Wing repressive regimes in the Third World including South Africa's Apartheid regime. Reagan did not bring down the Soviet System what many American politicians tend to allege. The Soviet System was already crumbling on its own due to bad economic policies. Take him off the list!!!!!!

    November 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  19. Gomer Pyle

    NIxon was the only president to balance both Russia and China successfully. Both Roosevelts and Truman follow up. Reagan was a great paper tiger who acted the part and got lucky. Bush I was also good. Carter, Clinton, Bush II and Obama will go down in history as the worst foreign policy leaders in history. They played with the wrong parties and ignored the threats. We all forget Carter legitimized Arab terror groups and Clinton let Osama go free to appease the Arabs. Bush II and Obama both lack the mental capacity to make any decent decision and together have killed the middle class chance for recovery. We are doomed.

    November 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  20. Hank

    What about Nixon? Surely he must get a higher mention than Carter.

    November 14, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  21. SteveL

    James Monroe hands down. Only Jefferson can rival Monroe!!

    November 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  22. Mr. Anderson

    Nixon. Pyle was right. The tightrope Nixon (Kissinger) walked, reversing the process of the Soviet Union pitting China against the USA, to pitting China against the Soviet Union was a stroke of genius. I haven't seen that kind of foreign policy chess move duplicated by any other president. Carter was embarrasing. Foolish Bush II took his eye off the ball in Afganistan, and eliminated Iraq, the natural buffer of Iran, which enabled Iran's rise to power. Insane foreign policy. Eisenhower is a close second place.

    November 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
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  23. Harry Forrester

    I agree with several comments above: Nixon was the best. Before Nixon opened up to China it was a closed communist society and now it is a modern technological power house where the lives of a billion people have significantly improved.

    For some reason Nixon isn't mentioned at all in the article. My second candidate (who is mentioned also in the article) would be G.H.W Bush (the senior). His significant contribution was managing the collapse of the Soviet Union peacefully. This accomplishment is often overlooked. When the communist regime first in Eastern Europe, and then in the Soviet Union itself, started to crumble, the significant feat of GHW Bush was to stay quiet and not sound triumphalist, even much less make some intervention in the process. His statesmanship probably cost him a second term, but it saved the world from a possible nuclear holocaust. The Soviet Union had nuclear missiles capable of destroying the world many times over, and when the regime was crumbling on its own weight it would have been very dangerous to provoke them.

    November 15, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  24. Eichmann

    Jimma Carter? They are hallucinating!

    November 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  25. Marsha

    It looks as if there was some good deeds done by all presidents. Why not focus on those and go forward from here? There is but one man who was/is greatet than all. We tend to forget him and the message lef for us. He said "Follow Me" . He is now saying, "America, I don't like what you are doing to each other. He goes on to say like he said to Isreal, "be still and know me and my power. If you don't top this hating among you, I,ll rise up and beak the backbone of your power, bringing yuo to your knees as you are delivered into the hands of those who don't know me".

    November 19, 2012 at 5:05 am |
  26. Matt

    My two picks would be Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Both redefined the world rather than just managing existing conflicts.

    November 19, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  27. rightospeak

    I guess you did not like my comment so it vanished-so much for our 'free press ". I would like to add a quote for you : "bread gained by fraud may be tasty to a man, but later his mouth will be filled with gravel".-Proverb 20:17

    November 20, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  28. Dick Ramer

    Hello, What excellent reading! TRUMAN and Marshal Plan with former President HOOVER was the stablelizing factor of that time. Reagan with the charm of FDR was something to behold with Star wars! MR BUSH was a Visonary, but politcal PRIDE took US down a terrible path after , they tried. to kill him in Middle East. He is trying to correct some of that now. I hope lives long enough to accomplish this.Clinton gave us China and gave us UN check GREED to the WORLD.I hope MR BUSH and MR CLINTON with President OBAMA CAN stablelize the world. WILSON,FDR, HST , JFK, REAGAN, MR BUSH, clinton ,obama ! FDR was GREATEST! HST is my FAVORITE!

    November 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  29. spent


    November 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • _________

      Actually, aside from Watergate, Nixon had quite a successful foreign policy. He got us out of Viet Nam and opened diplomatic relations with China.

      On the bad side, he also pulled the rug out on Prince Sihanook in Cambodia and paved the way for Pol Pot and the Kmer Rouge to slaughter millions of people. Henry Kissinger helped, too.

      On second thought.....

      November 23, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
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