Dean Acheson and the Creation of an American World Order Kindle Edition
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McMahon does a commendable job of presenting Acheson and his times, which, of course, is the purpose of the books in the series. He clearly admires Acheson's intellect and his interpersonal skills but concedes his blemishes. He notes, for example, that Acheson admired and worked easily with Truman, the failed haberdasher from Missouri who had only a high school education, but at the same time he had a tendency to be arrogant, abrupt, and condescending to those who did not meet his standards of integrity and intelligence. Perhaps the book's title best conveys McMahon's sense of Acheson's importance. Acheson's work in western Europe did indeed provide a basis for the demise of the Soviet Union and the secure and prosperous status of much of Europe today. In another respect, however, McMahon's assessment of Acheson's impact misses the mark. During Acheson's tenure in the State Department, America's failings in Asia were stark and costly in terms of its position in the world and in terms of American lives. One does not have to be an adherent of the kind of conspiracy theories propounded by Joe McCarthy to question what was gained by the drive to the Yalu River or by Acheson's continued support of the French in Indochina.
Nowhere in this book does McMahon seriously question the limits of extraordinary legal skills in the formulation and execution of foreign policy. Again and again he appears enamored of Acheson the accomplished litigator. For example, he describes Acheson's March 18, 1949, speech in support of a North Atlantic defense organization as "a tour de force by a master rhetorician" (p. 84). Moreover, McMahon frequently cites the influence of Holmes, Brandeis, and Frankfurter. However, notwithstanding Acheson's facility with practical issues and outcomes, which can serve an effective litigator well, he seems at times to have lacked the historical and cultural depth necessary for thoroughly grasping critical foreign-policy issues. Thus, his failings in the Far and Middle East may have reflected both a lack of interest and a lack of background.
In his conclusion, McMahon effusively restates Acheson's influence on postwar foreign policy. He emphasizes that for Acheson the primary goal was a world secure for the United States, a world in which Americans possessed predominant power. Moreover, he is candid in his assertion that Acheson saw this power primarily in military terms. To be fair, there was every reason for someone who had just experienced the most devastating conflict in history and was facing a heavily armed Soviet Union to think largely in military terms. Nevertheless, it also seems fair to suggest that someone more attuned to the entire world and schooled in its historical and cultural diversity might have sensed that in China, Vietnam, and the Middle East, the hegemony of Western military power was already crumbling.
From a review by Robert Heineman (The Independent Review, Summer 2010)