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Thursday, April 25, 2013

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Nye's lecture was followed by a wide-ranging question-and-answer session that touched on climate change and events like Pearl Harbor and the Boston Marathon bombing. Photo by David Hollingsworth
Harvard's Joseph Nye Discusses American Politics, International Relations for President's Lecture Series

How significantly did specific presidents impact the rise of the "American era?"

That was the theme of the latest installment of the Old Dominion President's Lecture Series that featured Harvard professor, and American foreign policy expert, Joseph S. Nye Jr. The April 23 lecture, which was held in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of ODU's Graduate Program in International Studies, drew more than 250 people to Webb Center's North Cafeteria.

During his lecture, which focused on the balance of power in American politics and international relations, Nye analyzed the four phases of the "American era": the country's transition from isolationism into global politics at the start of World War I, entry into World War II, consolidation of post-WWII containment and the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. In this discussion, he pondered whether "American primacy was just in the cards or does the presidency matter?"

Nye walked the audience through the contributions of various American leaders, from Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower to more modern presidents such as Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Nye concluded that while "transformational" presidents like Wilson and Reagan changed Americans' perception of their place in the world and forged new policies, "transactional" presidents - who were more interested in managing the nation's existing positions - were at times more efficient and ethical.

The approximately 45-minute lecture was followed by a wide-ranging question-and-answer session that touched on climate change, events like Pearl Harbor and the Boston Marathon bombing, and even Sigmund Freud's theory of "the narcissism of small differences" in the context of cultural radicalism.

In response to a question about the partisan "blockage" in Washington, Nye argued that much of the issue is rooted in the Constitution, which was designed to limit the growth of government.

"It is rare when you get the kind of consensus that can overcome checks and balances to get things done," he said. "This bitterness and divisiveness is not new."

Nye is a Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and former dean of the Kennedy School of Government. From 1977-79, he served as deputy undersecretary of state and chaired the National Security Council Group on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. From 1993-95, Nye served in various positions that included: chair of the National Intelligence Council, which prepares intelligence estimates for the president, and assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

In a 2008 poll of 2,700 international relations scholars, Nye was listed as the most influential scholar on American foreign policy. Another poll, in 2011, rated him the fourth most influential scholar in international relations over the past 20 years, and Foreign Policy magazine named Nye among the "Top 100 Global Thinkers."

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