The 20th century was the bloodiest in world history, and it is a moral imperative for humanity not to repeat the mistakes that made those hundred years so numbingly violent. In Wilson's Ghost, Robert S. McNamara, U.S. secretary of defense during the Vietnam War, and James G. Blight, an expert on international relations, look to Woodrow Wilson for inspiration. (Previously, McNamara and Blight collaborated on Argument Without End.) President Wilson, they say, "was one of the first leaders of the 20th century to sense that without radical political changes, the human race might destroy itself in ever greater numbers in what he called metaphorically the 'typhoon'--catastrophic wars of ever greater destructiveness." Wilson, however, "failed utterly" in his goal of making the United States and other countries "take a thoroughly multilateral approach to issues of international security."
McNamara and Blight offer advice on how to achieve Wilson's dream today. This makes them, to use the lingo of diplomats, foreign-policy idealists: "It seems to us that the realists are in fact unreal in their analysis of the world in the 21st century," they write. They call for "bringing Russia and China in from the cold," by which they mean Americans should treat the Russians and Chinese more like equals than they do currently. The United States, in short, must "not apply its economic, political, or military power unilaterally, other than in the unlikely circumstances of a defense of the continental United States, Hawaii, and Alaska." McNamara and Blight assert that developing antiballistic technologies will lead to "an increased risk of arms races, instability, and even nuclear war." Readers whose foreign policy runs left-of-center will appreciate the authors' efforts and find it a pleasing contrast to a recent right-of-center foreign-policy tome, Henry Kissinger's Does America Need a Foreign Policy? --John J. Miller