Accidents and Axioms: The Curious History of U.S. Foreign Policy

November 22, 2010 // 3:00pm4:30pm

The history of U.S. foreign policy has usually been told in order to spotlight recurrent purposes and dilemmas. American exceptionalism, open-door imperialism, realism vs. idealism – all are examples. Yet such schools of interpretation can obscure more than they reveal. They set up historians as judges whose verdicts become parables for the day's debates. They attach common labels to disparate thought. They hypothesize collective purposefulness that was not there, imagine a government driving the action when it was reacting spasmodically to choices made by outsiders. The presentation speculates about how to make the narrative history of U.S. foreign policy a bit more, well, historical - yet still notice some distinguishing characteristics and patterns that really do cross time.

Philip D. Zelikow is the White Burkett Miller Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in History at the University of Virginia. Zelikow began his professional career as a trial and appellate lawyer in Texas. His Ph.D. is from Tufts University's Fletcher School. He was a career diplomat, posted overseas and in Washington, including service on the NSC staff for President George H.W. Bush. Since 1991 he has taught and directed research programs at Harvard University and at the University of Virginia. His books include Germany Unified and Europe Transformed (with Condoleezza Rice), The Kennedy Tapes (with Ernest May), and Essence of Decision (with Graham Allison). In addition to service on some government advisory boards, and as an elected member of a local school board, he has taken two public service leaves from academia to return full-time to government service, in 2003-04 to direct the 9/11 Commission and in 2005-07 as Counselor of the Department of State, a deputy to Secretary Rice. He also advises the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's program in global development and is a consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Event Speakers List: 
  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
    Woodrow Wilson Center
    Back to top

    Experts & Staff

    Wilson Center Photo Gallery

    Browse or share photos from the Wilson Center’s events.

    To Attend an Event

    Unless otherwise noted:

    Meetings listed on this page are free and open to the public. Reservations are not required unless otherwise noted. All meetings take place at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Please see map and directions. Allow time for routine security procedures. A photo ID is required for entry.

    To confirm time and place, contact Maria-Stella Gatzoulis on the day of the event: tel. (202) 691-4188. Check this page for the latest updates and notices.