Date of Award

Summer 2008

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Simon Serfaty

Committee Member

Steve Yetiv

Committee Member

David C. Earnest


Evaluating the foreign policies of presidents while they are in office or shortly after their tenure ends can sometimes lead to conclusions that prove to be unsound in the future. The case of Harry Truman exemplifies this. When he left office in 1952 his approval rating was in the 20 percentile range. Yet, he set the tone and direction of United States foreign policy that led eventually to the successful conclusion of the Cold War. The foreign policy of President Jimmy Carter was also generally viewed as a failure by many scholars in the field, both during his time in office and for some years beyond. Another analysis is now due.

This work reviews five issue areas of Carter's foreign policy: the Panama Canal treaties, arms transfers and human rights, Southern Africa, Camp David Accords, and the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis. It argues that Carter pursued policy choices that proved to be in the best interests of the United States in the long run. These issues were and are some of the most contentious that any president has been faced with in the post war world. Emotions ran high on many of them, which can create a toxic environment for many politicians, most of whom either have their eye on the next election or on their legacy. Carter, however, was not held prisoner to either of these. He consistently did the right thing, but seldom the popular thing. Camp David was the exception, and he has been given high praise for his work in helping to stabilize the Middle East, a region that is filled with old hatreds and grievances. It is difficult to achieve anything positive there and most presidents shy away from the Arab-Israeli problem because it yields little or nothing in political rewards. Carter's policies were not without their critics, however, and he got few accolades for his work on the other areas of concern that this work covers.

This work has examined Carter's foreign policy from the vantage point of what we know now, and argues that he tried to work within a framework of power and principle. It concludes that while his steady diplomacy, his prudence, and his refusal to use a military option except as a last resort made him unpopular at the time, in hindsight, he was successful in working for the long term national interests of the United States.


In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).