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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.3 (2002) 123-125

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Book Review

John Foster Dulles:
Piety, Pragmatism, and Power in U.S. Foreign Policy

Richard H. Immerman, John Foster Dulles: Piety, Pragmatism, and Power in U.S. Foreign Policy. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1999. 221 pp. $19.95.

In this short, elegant, and accessible account, Richard H. Immerman chronicles the life and career of John Foster Dulles, Dwight D. Eisenhower's secretary of state. Deftly combining primary research and historical synthesis, Immerman offers a critical but largely sympathetic assessment. He challenges the image of Dulles as a dour and rigid moralist, calling him "more of a pragmatist than a crusader" (p. 196), and praises Dulles's ability to revise his own views and to work effectively with his advisers, his colleagues, and especially President Eisenhower. "Dulles made many mistakes," Immerman writes, "but he also did a lot of things right. There is much to be learned from studying both" (p. 197).

Immerman notes that "Dulles's career trajectory . . . parallel[ed] the rise of the United States to global preeminence" (p. xvi). The grandson of one secretary of state and the nephew of another, young Dulles served on delegations to the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907 and the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Over the next three decades Dulles served as an international lawyer specializing in European debt and reparations issues, as a charter member of the Council on Foreign Relations, as a participant in international church conferences, as an architect of the United Nations, and as a foreign policy adviser to the Republican Party. In early 1953 the newly elected Eisenhower appointed Dulles secretary of state, and, until the latter's death in 1959, [End Page 123] the two men enjoyed a relationship of extraordinary mutual trust and respect. "Eisenhower," Immerman writes, "always made the decisions—but always after consulting Dulles" (p. 46).

Some of Immerman's most original and insightful passages concern Dulles's attempts to combine nuclear strategy with successful maintenance of the Western alliance. Initially, Immerman writes, Eisenhower and Dulles had markedly different assessments of the reliability of America's European allies. Eisenhower's was shaped by his interactions during World War II with the British and the French, whose courage and resolve in that conflict deeply impressed him. Dulles formed his view of Britain and France while serving as a diplomat and international lawyer during the interwar years, when such virtues were less evident. Consequently, Dulles came to office doubting the efficacy of collective security with the allies and believing that the United States could better deter Soviet aggression through unilateral threats of massive nuclear retaliation. By late 1953, however, Dulles had come around to Eisenhower's view that collective security was not only possible but indispensable, a position that Dulles maintained, with only occasional backsliding, for the rest of his life. Although "massive retaliation" remained an essential component of U.S. strategy in the 1950s, it was neither as exclusive nor as unilateral as critics alleged both then and later. Indeed, Immerman writes, in the late 1950s Dulles called for greater reliance on conventional deterrence, anticipating the Kennedy administration's "flexible response" doctrine. But Eisenhower overruled such a policy shift, fearing it would make war between the superpowers a less forbidding, and hence more likely, prospect.

Immerman makes a few factual errors. He treats the school desegregation crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas, as occurring in the fall of 1958 (it occurred a year earlier), credits Eisenhower and Dulles with organizing the Baghdad Pact (the British organized it), and garbles the chronology of the 1957 Jordan crisis. A more serious objection is that Immerman does not sufficiently interpret the events he chronicles. Subjects and crises are often presented episodically, without a clear sense of what links them conceptually. Dulles's theological outlook is carefully explained in the early sections, but is not adequately integrated into the treatment of his diplomacy. Nor does Immerman fully explicate his claim that Dulles's "life and career embody the best and worst of...