Presidential Parley: Personal Diplomacy and the Modern Presidency
Chavez, Tizoc Victor Hutchinson
This dissertation is an examination of the American presidency and its use of personal diplomacy in the second half of the twentieth century. Through letter writing, telephone conversations, visits to the White House, and trips abroad, presidents engaged with world leaders on an increasingly large scale. For most of the nation’s history, presidents did not interact with their foreign counterparts. Not until the post-World War II period did personal diplomacy became common. Covering the presidency from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, the dissertation examines the forces that led occupants of the White House toward the practice. Rather than a phenomenon based on personality or personal predilection, presidents engaged in diplomacy at the highest-level for similar reasons. The project argues that four main factors pushed presidents toward the frequent use of personal diplomacy: 1) the imperatives of the international environment; 2) domestic political incentives; 3) pressure from foreign leaders for presidential time; 4) and presidential desire for control. Additionally, the dissertation explores the role presidents most frequently played when engaged in personal diplomacy. Often the primary focus of personal diplomacy was not necessarily political, but rather psychological. In this way, the American leader became a counselor for other world leaders. Presidents, particularly in the midst of the Cold War, felt the need to reassure and calm the fears of their counterparts. Other leaders did not necessarily see presidents performing this function, but presidents and their aides did. A work of both history and political science, the dissertation contributes to histories of U.S. foreign relations and the American presidency, as well as political science literature on the institution. Examining the use of personal diplomacy across presidential administrations provides a clearer view of how the United States engaged with the world in the second half of the twentieth century, offering a fuller, richer understanding of America’s role in the world and of the exercise of presidential power.