“The Blue Ribbon Cook Book is one of the iconic texts in Kentucky’s illustrious cookbook history—and few states have produced as many fine collections of recipes. In this sparkling lineup of food stars, none outshone Miss Jennie. She had it all: the kitchen touch, the business sense, the communication skills, the personality. Kentucky is renowned as a fountainhead of superior cookery in no small part because of Jennie C. Benedict’s impact in the food world generations ago. [… ] A timely collection…. Comprehensive, concise and easy-to-use recipes [offer] more than just a bit of Kentucky flavor.” —John Egerton, author of Generations
“For home cooks who like a cookbook that tells stories as well as it instructs, this is an excellent work. Both effective and entertaining, Bourbon Desserts is highly practical—welcoming to the amateur cook while challenging enough for the skilled cook.
A delicious and evocative exploration of the delights of Bourbon and all it’s many culinary uses. Ms. Hulsman speaks from the heart with a passion for her subject that only a true Kentuckian could. The recipes are as mouthwatering as they are informative and had me heading for the kitchen, bourbon in hand, after the very first chapter.” —Michael Harwood, The Guild of Food Writers (UK)
“A classic selection of dessert recipes from Duncan Hines’ private collection, ranging from cakes and biscuits, to soufflés, puddings, and cheese desserts.” —Maggie Green, author of The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook
Amanda Cooper, Marketing Intern, University Press of Kentucky
It’s the first Saturday in May, which means it’s Kentucky Derby Day! To celebrate the 148th Run for the Roses, the University Press of Kentucky is proud to present four titles that delve into the history and the grand tradition of Thoroughbred racing.
“Many books have been published about the Kentucky Derby that deal with elements of the race such as the horses, jockeys, owners, and trainers. This book is much more than that—it places the Derby within the history of the Commonwealth and in the broader context of American culture.” —John Kleber, editor of The Kentucky Encyclopedia
“Nicholson has done a masterful job of researching the historical events that made the Derby the enthralling and significant event it is. You may never get to experience the thrill of entering the winners’ circle and smelling the wonderful aroma that emanates from the garland of roses that signifies the greatest achievement in the sport of Thoroughbred racing, but this wonderful book will take you on a journey that gets you as close as any piece of writing possibly could.” —Chris McCarron, two-time Kentucky Derby winner and Hall of Fame inductee, from the foreword
“Nickell gives us the history and lore of the beverage as well as a travel guide to Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail. He adds plenty of recipes, both traditional and modern, and even a page for writing your own.” —Bloomsbury Review
“Presents information you will find nowhere else… The recipes run from the basic to fancy ones using champagne or added flavors, making it a great resource for entertaining. Any fan of the derby or mint juleps will find this book a charming addition to their shelf.” —Horse-Races.net
“James Nicholson’s Racing for America is a captivating exploration of a critical moment in American racing and how a match race run nearly a century ago influences our era of horse racing. He weaves together the disparate forces and personalities that come together to bring post-war America the diversion of the Old World versus the New, and, in the process, creates a portrait of a sport overcoming its near-death experience to rival baseball for America’s favorite sport. Come for the story of this legendary horse race and stay for an engrossing examination of how modern spectacles like the Breeder’s Cup came to be.” —Jennifer S. Kelly, author of Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown
“Nicholson once again has discerned and described the many ways the sport of Thoroughbred racing can respond to, reflect, and perhaps even advance American attitudes and ambitions. He provides another highly intriguing and lively narrative which will grasp and entertain readers, whether new to the subject of racing or already familiar with the historic sport.” —Edward L. Bowen, author of 22 books on Thoroughbred racing
“We have waited a long time for a scholar to pull together the story of Isaac Murphy and nineteenth-century American and Kentucky life with the exquisite interpretation that Pellom McDaniels offers in this manuscript… This work is path-breaking for the detailed study it offers into the texture and layers of life in Lexington, particularly black Lexington, during the post-Civil War decades and into the Gilded Age.” —Maryjean Wall, author of How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders
“A persuasive blend of storytelling and historical analysis, this is an enlightening account for horsemen, sports lovers, and historians of post Reconstruction-era American race relations. Pellom McDaniels’ success is that he brings into sharp relief the devolving social and cultural context of African-American jockey Isaac Burns Murphy’s childhood, apprenticeship, and career. The author convinces the reader of Murphy’s personal discipline and singular achievements—enabled despite an increasingly hostile environment by the support of family and the larger African-American community’s commitment to the project of self-advancement.” —Myra Young Armstead, Bard College
Amanda Cooper, Marketing Intern, University of Kentucky
May 3rd is Teacher’s Day! The University Press of Kentucky would like to thank teachers everywhere for all that they do to educate and inspire our kids. None of us would be where we are today with the teachers in our lives.
To celebrate, here are a few titles focused on the history (and future!) of education in Kentucky.
“Comprehensive and scholarly in scope, this tome is a model for future single-volume reference works about African Americans…. This work will be the standard on the subject and deserves consideration not only in Kentucky libraries but also in any setting where there is interest about African American history.” —Library Journal
“Drawing inspiration from an African American teacher in Logan County, KY, who when called upon to teach a Kentucky history class in the 1930s lamented that not one of the textbooks referenced the contributions of African Americans, series editors Smith, Karen Cotton McDaniel, and John A. Hardin spent over a decade bringing this rich collection to print…. This is an important reference source that other states should emulate.” —Library Journal Best Print Reference
“One-room schools once provided education to a majority of Kentucky citizens, and Montell’s book relates the characteristics and attitudes of those involved. It’s entertaining collection of memories allows the individual voices of the teachers to be heard once more.” —Freda Klotter, teacher and co-author of A Concise History of Kentucky
“With the memories of one room schools fading as the number of individuals who experiences them first hand decreases, Tales from Kentucky One-Room School Teachers preserves a meaningful record for future generations of education’s evolution and life in general during this unique time.” —Manchester Enterprise
“A History of Education in Kentucky is a comprehensive guide to the history of Kentucky schools, delving into the social, economic, and political factors that shaped their development. Ellis’s volume is a needed addition to literature on Kentucky’s history, providing a valuable account of events and decisions in Kentucky education, but also serving as an important resource for future educators and administrators.” —Kentucky Retired Teacher Association News
“Supplemented by published scholarship, oral history interviews, and personal experiences as a Kentucky educator, Professor William Ellis has provided a valuable history of the achievements and challenges connected with the Commonwealth’s schools and colleges from 1770 to the 21st century. A thoughtful, scholarly narrative with informed commentary, this study provides a long-needed, thorough and perceptive understanding of the history of Kentucky education.” —John A. Hardin, author of Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904–1954
“Baker and Bilbro have written a thoughtful treatise about conceptualizing and implementing education as grounded, embedded wisdom formation rather than as instruction in dislocated knowledge acquisition. The primary enticement of this text is the interweaving of Wendell Berry’s poetry, fiction, and non-fiction writings into the process. This is a text for educators and citizens willing to take a hard look at current higher education’s pedagogical proclivities and ask whether we might not often be increasing socio-cultural harm rather than promoting good when we do not encourage that learning be tied to the particularity of place. Baker and Bilbro have written this work hoping to increase focus on learning that emphasizes social stability over social itinerancy.” —International Journal of Christianity & Education
“Amasterful argument. Baker and Bilbro have given us a brilliant companion to Berry’s work that will guide readers—students, parents, professors, and administrators—to rethink educational values and institutional trajectories.” —Morris A. Grubbs, editor of Conversations with Wendell Berry
“The Olmsted Parks of Louisville will take its place as an important contribution to the botany of the region, spotlighting the flora of a biologically and historically rich set of municipal parks, researched and presented by one of the very best botanists in the state.” —Rob Paratley, curator of the University of Kentucky Herbarium
“I admired Pat Haragan’s desire to awaken in others a love of plants—’key it, know it, name it and understand why it grows here. Then come back next year and notice how it’s grown, how far it’s spread. And most importantly why is it here? Tell me about the environment.’ She’s at it again with her botanical guide of the Olmsted Parks. It will be used far and wide among all ages of budding botanists. Pat continues to be a great teacher. Congratulations to photographers Susan Wilson and Chris Bidwell as well. Your photographs capture details that give amateur plant lovers confidence in sharing plant names they’ve learned using this incredible resource.” —Mary Witt, University of Kentucky Horticulturist
“While deeply grounded in science, this book is written with a general audience in mind. It is easy to understand and filled with interesting information and stories, plus useful maps, illustrations and dozens of Kimmerer’s beautiful photographs of the trees… Venerable Trees will likely become a classic among books about Kentucky’s natural history and environment, because it covers so much new information in such an accessible way…[T]his book will give you a greater appreciation of Kentucky’s oldest living residents.” —Lexington Herald-Leader
“This beautifully illustrated book offers guidelines for conserving ancient trees worldwide while educating readers about their life cycle. [It] is an informative call to understand the challenges faced by the companions so deeply rooted in the region’s heritage and a passionate plea for their preservation.” —Greater Louisville Sierra Club
“Lit up and melancholy, these poems inhabit and reanimate the old songs, the ballads and fiddle tunes of the original mountain music that has no beginning and shows no sign of ending soon. Murder ballads, roaming, and redemption are all here with pining refrain. But then the book opens like a dogwood blossom to capture the music of childhood and family, as if a life of learning and wonder, love and loss is bounded by song. And so it is. These poems hit the ear like rain on a tin roof and summon a world that’s heartfelt and true, because the things of that world, from the human music right down to the birds, belong to each other and to the wondrous world itself.” —Maurice Manning, author of Railsplitter and One Man’s Dark
“The Girl Singer is a praise song, love song, rage song, ballad, recitative, and lament for early country music singers costumed, renamed, packaged, and sold; for the poet’s mother, who filmed a teenage Dolly Parton singing in a gas station parking lot; the poet’s father, caught in paralysis and a fading mind; for the musicians—country and soul—who were the soundtrack of her growing up; and for the glory of being in the audience at the Ryman when Bobby Bare kissed Marty Stuart. Worthington reclaims these beloveds, along with her “maternal people” and her grandmothers, with whom she is “encircled now, all / living together.” She restores her parents to their beginning—and hers—as we go with them to the Opry on their honeymoon. Through multiple forms—fixed and invented—she renders these moments. And by turns her singing words dazzle and cleave our hearts.” —George Ella Lyon, former Kentucky Poet Laureate (2015–2016) and author of Back to the Light
“Poetry is obliged to prove again and again that beauty may arrive from moments that are not pretty, just as grief may lead us to discover profound love. These are truths I’ve always taken from Jane Gentry’s poetry, and now, in this final collection of her work, one sees her long effort has been one of discovery and candor, to push through ordinary loss and the stinging shortness of life, in order to find the moments that endure or flash-out trying to endure. Here, without decoration or fanfare, is a gorgeous body of work wholly integrated to tell it like it is, without—and this is the heart-rending grace note—complaint. As Jane Gentry observes in one of the Late Poems in this collection, ‘A poem is a bird that flies on many wings.’ She’s right about that, and here is a lovely book filled with many birds and their poignant flights. What a treasure this is.” —Maurice Manning, author of One Man’s Dark and The Common Man, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
“Reading through her collected poems, I am again reminded that Jane Gentry was not only a master poet—but also a master teacher. The poems here, each sophisticated, precise, carefully composed, teach us how to be in the world, no matter if walking among Kentucky flowers or the fountains of Jardin du Luxembourg. In this collection, Jane continues to hold the lantern, leading us to dark well of the past, urging us to look down so that we may see our authentic lives shimmering on the water’s surface.” —Kathleen Driskell, author of Next Door to the Dead: Poems
“Rachel Danielle Peterson’s collection, A Girl’s A Gun, reads as part tall tale, part bildungsroman, part geode. These are poems meant to be enclosed in a palm and pressed against the heart. Peterson’s strengths are in her cinematic depictions of women, her vibrant imagery, and the precision with which she code-switches into the tongue of the mountains. The heady combination leaves the reader a bit breathless and we plummet with her into a line that feels like proverb, such as in ‘Birthday,’ ‘The heart is cruel/an organ with no song.’ These poems do not balk at their own content, circling around love that is tough or risky or absent or misplaced. They press on, lead the way, suggest that there’s no way around but through.” —Bianca Lynne Spriggs, author of Call Her by Her Name: Poems and The Galaxy Is a Dance Floor and coeditor of Undead: Ghouls, Ghosts, and More and Black Bone: 25 Years of the Affrilachian Poets
“With a mouth full of sticky mountain laurel, Appalachian soul liquor, exclamatory verve, iconoclastic Biblical gospel, and tender purchase, Rachel Peterson’s A Girl’s A Gun cross-talks with a prodigious and prodigal personal and poetic tribe that includes family members, figures from mythology, Jeanne d’Arc, Apollinaire, and a host of hymns and rock ballads. ‘Home is in the vocal chords— / the sound,’ she writes in ‘Harlan County.’ By turns vernacular and soaring with lyricism, Peterson’s foray into the emotional violence, Eros, and beauty of the places that hold us, and that we hold inside, evokes another American innovator, Emily Dickinson, who not only felt her life to be a loaded gun but who also, like Peterson, puts language under such unique psychological pressure that it almost seems to be its own tongue.” —Lisa Russ Spaar, author of Vanitas, Rough and Orexia
“When Winter Come is an astonishing collection of poems that ushers Frank X Walker into the company of other memorable poets like Roethke, Hugo, Clifton, and Dove but he also recollects the powerful narrative voice of Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter or Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Frank X Walker magically captures York, not the flat historical figure represented in Lewis & Clark’s journals—Walker has tapped into the true voice of York and conjured him on the page. This is not just a book of poems—this is a book of spirits and shimmering apparitions.”—Debra Magpie Earling, author of Perma Red
“Beginning with Buffalo Dance and continuing with the groundbreaking When Winter Come, Frank X Walker’s lyrical and stunning resurrection of York is an unparalleled creative discourse. The poet, in stanzas probing and revelatory, opens the slave’s life wide, not examining York as much as inhabiting him, laying bare the complications, frailties and triumphs that history dims and denies. There is much here that we do not know, and we are blessed that it is Walker who has taken on this chronicle of York’s ‘other life’—with the same unflinching passion, the same deft characterization and the same undeniable courage.”—Patricia Smith, author of Teahouse of the Almighty, winner of the National Poetry Series
“I’ve always loved Keats’s phrase “the mighty dead,” but I never understood it fully until I read Kathleen Driskell’s quietly explosive meditations on life and death. There’s a somber beauty to these poems; in them, the dead and living visit each other easily, singing of the rich mysteries on both sides of the divide.” —David Kirby
“With Next Door to the Dead, Kathleen Driskell has written her path to the Kentuckian sublime. And she has found her own access to the many ghosts of the south there, and has bodied those ghosts forth in poems that are heartbreaking, wary, and local in the best sense—she sees the world in the local, and communicates the world faithfully, one life at a time, giving a voice to everyone from a Egyptologist who has been abandoned in death by their soul, to Wanda, ‘who, were she still / living, might have said, / ‘if I hadn’t answered the call, / would I still be dead?'” —Shane McCrae, Spalding University and Oberlin College
As the year end approaches, we are looking back on the many moments of celebration of the 75th anniversary of the University Press of Kentucky, the nonprofit publisher for a consortium of fifteen universities, colleges, and two major historical societies in the state. We’ve been proud to host author readings, an open house, special events at regional conferences, and an exhibit of books and materials from the Press’s first 75 years. We’ve been fortunate to hire our first in-house book designer in 20 years and to establish a new trade imprint. More meaningful than anything else, however, has been the outpouring of support from citizens all across the Commonwealth. Your letters, emails, and phone calls sent the message that the Press has been doing something very special for 75 years—recording and uncovering Kentucky’s history, culture, and heritage for readers today and for generations to come.
At the moment of this milestone anniversary, we at the Press bring a renewed sense of energy and purpose to our role as a connector: each day we strive to connect people, ideas, institutions, and projects. We look outward to this evolving world of learning and communication, seeking the ways in which we can be a part of key conversations and the development of important ideas. Through the books we publish, we hope to document, inspire, and encourage exploration of topics and events, whether across the globe or on our native patch of soil.
This year we are delighted to be a part of Giving Tuesday. We ask you to celebrate #GivingTuesday with us by continuing to support the Press with a financial contribution to the University Press Enrichment Fund. As our anniversary year draws to a close, we are busily planning the books and projects that will shape our organization in the decades to come. There is so much exciting work ahead. And through your contributions, you will keep the University Press of Kentucky growing and thriving.
Birds follows four generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with—and sometimes surrender to—madness. The book hones in on the hopeful and sometimes tragic navigation of life as seen through the eyes of the Goode-Brown family. This marks the fourth award The Birds of Opulence has won, including the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, the Weatherford Award for Fiction, and the Judy Gaines Young Book Award. Wilkinson’s novel was also named the debut selection of the Open Canon Book Club, which was created by New York Times bestselling author Wiley Cash to introduce readers to varied voices and portrayals of the American experience.
Birds is not the only one of Wilkinson’s books that has gotten attention this summer. Her second short story collection, Water Street, has been selected as the One Book Read at West Kentucky Community and Technical College. The program is a community-wide effort to help eliminate illiteracy in the region, with faculty and staff at WKCTC collaborating with many local and college partners to promote reading.
Wilkinson’s work has earned her personal honors as well. The Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence Committee and the West Virginia Center for the Book selected her for the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award. Previous recipients include Henry Louis Gates, Charles Frazier, Frank X Walker, Denise Giardina, and Silas House. In conjunction with the award, she will be the One Book, One West Virginia Author for 2019, and Water Street will be read by students across the state.
In addition, Wilkinson has gained speaker representation from Authors Unbound, which will broker her events in the form of literary engagements, one book programs, distinguished lectures, keynote appearances, community visits, and a variety of signature events.
Pictured at the top is Wilkinson sitting on a book bench designed by Bowling Green artist Lora Gill. Book Benches: A Tribute to Kentucky Authors is a public art project that features book-shaped benches, each themed around a different work by a Kentucky author, that have been placed around Lexington as a way to encourage reading. Wilkinson’s bench will be installed along South Limestone Street in front of the University Press of Kentucky office in November.
In a few months, we’ll publish Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode. As the first comprehensive biography in English of the director of classic films such as Casablanca (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), and White Christmas (1954), this book highlights some fantastic stories about one of the film industry’s most complex figures.
Since it’s high summer and a number of us here at the press are devotedly tending home gardens, the following anecdote from the book really struck a chord. Curtiz was famously known for having a temper on set, but it seems that the legendary director did have great compassion for a garden’s most adorable scourge: bunnies.
The following is excerpted from the book:
The war years sped by for Curtiz. Long days at the studio were interspersed with leisure time on Saturday nights and Sundays at the Canoga Ranch. Though his dedication to polo began to taper off, Curtiz’s passion for shooting skeet remained constant. He wore a jacket around the ranch adorned with a sleeve patch that bore a “50” insignia, indicating that he’d successfully hit fifty consecutive targets without a miss.
World War II motivated everyone to support the Allied cause. John Meredyth Lucas [Curtiz’s adopted son] remembered “the war had gotten Mother out of bed.” Bess [Curtiz’s wife] became involved with the British War Relief Society during the early years of the war. She joined Virginia Zanuck and many other friends in supporting “Bundles for Britain.” Started in a New York City storefront, the wartime charity ultimately delivered $1,500,000 in clothing to a belt-tightened United Kingdom along with another million in cash.
Then there were the ubiquitous victory gardens championed by the government to support the war effort. Bess seeded a large plot adjacent to the main house to raise vegetables for the family table. Although she diligently tended the garden, it wasn’t productive; the local rabbit population became nighttime saboteurs. After an unsuccessful attempt to fence off the garden from the pests, Curtiz initiated an evening stakeout with his shotgun. After spotting a rabbit, Curtiz shot it in the leg, then experienced an epiphany as the injured creature piteously attempted to drag itself to safety. According to John Meredyth Lucas, the episode brought forth a compassionate side from Curtiz that was rarely witnessed on a film set:
Mike watched, horror-stricken. Then, calling for help, he carefully captured the wounded rabbit. We had a veterinarian we used for all our dogs. Mike had Mother get the vet out of bed and took the rabbit to the animal hospital. The rabbit made a slow but satisfactory recovery and was ultimately turned loose on the ranch again. “Why hell we need garden?” Mike asked Mother. “We doesn’t eat much vegetable.” Henceforth we bought our greens at the market. Mike had always loved rabbit cooked the French provincial way, but as far as I know, he never again ordered this dish.
For those headed to Arlington this week for the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) annual meeting, swing by our booth; say hello to our representative, Melissa Hammer; and browse a few of these great new titles!
“Nixon’s Back Channel to Moscow will become an instant classic. For all of the books that mention the back channels—Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s most important foreign policy tools—this is the first to exhaustively mine the archives to explain their origin, how they were used, and to what end. Lucidly written and superbly researched, future works on Nixon foreign policy will have no choice but to consult this essential work. It is a must read to understand the era.”—Luke Nichter, author of Richard Nixon and Europe: The Reshaping of the Postwar Atlantic World
Most Americans consider détente to be among the Nixon administration’s most significant foreign policy successes. The diplomatic back channel that national security advisor Henry Kissinger established with Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin became the most important method of achieving this thaw in the Cold War. Kissinger praised back channels for preventing leaks and streamlining communications. These methods, however, were widely criticized by State Department officials and by an American press and public weary of executive branch prevarication and secrecy.
Richard A. Moss’s penetrating study documents and analyzes US-Soviet back channels from Nixon’s inauguration through what has widely been heralded as the apex of détente, the May 1972 Moscow Summit. He traces the evolution of confidential-channel diplomacy and examines major flashpoints, including the 1970 crisis over Cienfuegos, Cuba, the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT), US dealings with China, deescalating tensions in Berlin, and the Vietnam War.
Employing newly declassified documents, the complete record of the Kissinger-Dobrynin channel—jointly compiled, translated, annotated, and published by the US State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry— as well as the Nixon tapes, Moss reveals the behind-the-scenes deliberations of Nixon, his advisers, and their Soviet counterparts. Although much has been written about détente, this is the first scholarly study that comprehensively assesses the central role of confidential diplomacy in shaping America’s foreign policy during this critical era.
“Even after the United States became a global superpower, some regions of the world remained peripheral to American interests. What set these areas apart? And why did the U.S. eventually become drawn into their affairs? In this smart collection of original essays, an all-star lineup of historians answers these questions, and more, and uncovers the powerful dynamics that have shaped America’s rise to globalism.”—Andrew Preston, Cambridge University
As American interests assumed global proportions after 1945, policy makers were faced with the challenge of prioritizing various regions and determining the extent to which the United States was prepared to defend and support them. Superpowers and developing nations soon became inextricably linked, and the decolonization of states such as Vietnam, India, and Egypt assumed a central role in the ideological struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. As the twentieth century came to an end, many of the challenges of the Cold War became even more complex as the Soviet Union collapsed and new threats arose.
Featuring original essays by leading scholars, Foreign Policy at the Periphery examines relationships among new nations and the United States from the end of the Second World War through the global war on terror. Rather than reassessing familiar flashpoints of US foreign policy, the contributors explore neglected but significant developments such as the efforts of evangelical missionaries in the Congo, the 1958 stabilization agreement with Argentina, Henry Kissinger’s policies toward Latin America during the 1970s, and the financing of terrorism in Libya via petrodollars. Blending new, internationalist approaches to diplomatic history with newly released archival materials, this book brings together diverse strands of scholarship to address compelling issues in modern world history.
Reagan and the World Leadership and National Security, 1981-1989 Edited by Bradley Lynn Coleman and Kyle Longley
Foreword by Jack Matlock Jr.
“Coleman and Longley have assembled a terrific line-up of contributors, and both are accomplished scholars whose reputations and skills enhance this valuable contribution to understanding a contested presidency.”—Richard H. Immerman, author of Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz
Throughout his presidency, Ronald Reagan sought “peace through strength” during an era of historic change. In the decades since, pundits and scholars have argued over the president’s legacy: some consider Reagan a charismatic and consummate leader who renewed American strength and defeated communism. To others he was an ambitious and dangerous warmonger whose presidency was plagued with mismanagement, misconduct, and foreign policy failures. The recent declassification of Reagan administration records and the availability of new Soviet documents has created an opportunity for more nuanced, complex, and compelling analyses of this pivotal period in international affairs.
In Reagan and the World, leading scholars and national security professionals offer fresh interpretations of the fortieth president’s influence on American foreign policy. This collection addresses Reagan’s management of the US national security establishment as well as the influence of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and others in the administration and Congress. The contributors present in-depth explorations of US-Soviet relations and American policy toward Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. This balanced and sophisticated examination reveals the complexity of Reagan’s foreign policy, clarifies the importance of other international actors of the period, and provides new perspectives on the final decade of the Cold War.
US Presidential Elections Candidates, Campaigns, and Global Politics from FDR to Bill Clinton Edited by Andrew Johnstone and Andrew Priest
“This book is part of an important trend in examining the connection between domestic policies and foreign policy. Its chapters will have enduring relevance.”—Elizabeth N. Saunders, author of Leaders at War: How Presidents Shape Military Interventions
While domestic issues loom large in voters’ minds during American presidential elections, matters of foreign policy have consistently shaped candidates and their campaigns. From the start of World War II through the collapse of the Soviet Union, presidential hopefuls needed to be perceived as credible global leaders in order to win elections—regardless of the situation at home—and voter behavior depended heavily on whether the nation was at war or peace. Yet there is little written about the importance of foreign policy in US presidential elections or the impact of electoral issues on the formation of foreign policy.
In US Presidential Elections and Foreign Policy, a team of international scholars examines how the relationship between foreign policy and electoral politics evolved through the latter half of the twentieth century. Covering all presidential elections from 1940 to 1992—from debates over American entry into World War II to the aftermath of the Cold War—the contributors correct the conventional wisdom that domestic issues and the economy are always definitive. Together they demonstrate that, while international concerns were more important in some campaigns than others, foreign policy always matters and is often decisive. This illuminating commentary fills a significant gap in the literature on presidential and electoral politics, emphasizing that candidates’ positions on global issues have a palpable impact on American foreign policy.
But we can look at the incoming Trump administration’s contacts with Russian officials in a different way. The Trump team may be taking a page from Richard M. Nixon’s 1968 playbook by using “back channels” to improve U.S.-Russian relations. Perhaps the incoming administration can achieve detente — a relaxation of tensions — through this more informal approach to diplomacy. If that’s what’s going on, the Trump team might wish to be mindful of this approach’s longer-term pitfalls.
Richard A. Moss is the author of Nixon’s Back Channel to Moscow
Nixon used two ‘back channels’ before taking office
Before his narrow victory in November 1968, Nixon used two back channels to get messages to the Soviet leadership. First, Nixon dispatched his longtime aide and personal friend, Robert Ellsworth, to contact Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and Soviet Charge d’Affaires Yuri Cherniakov. Once he did so during the campaign, Ellsworth conveyed the incoming Nixon administration’s views on a variety of issues, such as the ratification of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Middle East.
The second channel — one that would probably raise eyebrows today — involved Henry Kissinger and a KGB intelligence officer, Boris Sedov. This connection functioned informally during the presidential campaign when Kissinger was a foreign policy adviser to Nixon and petered out shortly after Kissinger became national security adviser. The Kissinger-Sedov contact added the dimension of Soviet intelligence seeking additional information about the main players in the incoming Nixon administration and corroborating the Ellsworth-Dobrynin-Cherniakov exchanges.
Both Ellsworth and Kissinger were assessing whether the Soviet leadership might be open to working through back channels. These contacts quickly led to the Kissinger-Dobrynin Channel, which came to define U.S.-Soviet relations during the Nixon administration and led to detente.
Many analysts consider “the Channel” to have been an effective tool. At a 2007 conference hosted by the State Department, Russian-born scholar Vladislav Zubok stressed that there was “a 90 percent chance . . . that there would not have been a summit in Moscow in ’72, and such a productive summit that it was, without the back channel.”
Back channels can convey messages more subtly than formal contact
The early back-channel forays also helped communication during the transition between Nixon’s election and inauguration. Nixon used both channels to kill the idea of an early U.S.-Soviet summit championed by his predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson. As Nixon explained later, he did not “want to be boxed in by any decisions that were made before [he] took office.” The Soviet leadership received Nixon’s intended messages via Ellsworth and Kissinger. The private exchanges kept the issue out of the spotlight and set a precedent of back channels as preferred communication mediums for both Washington and Moscow.
Because of an exchange between Kissinger and Sedov, Nixon added a line to his inaugural address. At the posh Pierre hotel in New York City on Jan. 2, 1969, Sedov told Kissinger that the Soviet leadership “was very interested that the inaugural speech contain some reference to open channels of communication to Moscow.” Kissinger recommended that a phrase be included, and Nixon initialed his agreement on a memo two days later.
“I was never clear whether this request reflected an attempt by Sedov to demonstrate his influence to Moscow,” Kissinger wondered years later, “or whether it was a serious policy approach by the Politburo. In any event I saw no harm in it.”
And so in his inaugural address, Nixon proclaimed, “our lines of communication will be open.” The gesture cost nothing but almost certainly established goodwill between the new administration and the Soviet leadership.
Why use U.S.-Russian back channels?
Nixon, Dobrynin, and Kissinger at Camp David in 1973. Source: NPMP
When used to supplement rather than supplant traditional diplomacy, back channels may offer a protected forum free from leaks to explore points of agreement, disagreement and potential conflict. For instance, on relations with Vietnam, Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev disagreed. The United States wanted the Soviets to cut aid and push Hanoi to negotiate, while Moscow wanted the United States to stop bombing North Vietnam and withdraw its troops from Indochina. Nevertheless, via back-channel exchanges, Nixon and Brezhnev eventually reached tacit agreement on broader issues, like the status and tone of U.S.-Soviet relations, and had a successful summit meeting in Moscow in May 1972.
If they choose, Russian and U.S. leaders may use back channels to clearly convey what they see as their core interests, to explore potential areas of cooperation, and to try to mitigate conflict or escalation.
Of course, U.S.-Russian relations are now strained. The two nations have been backing different sides in the Syrian civil war; Russia has invaded and annexed a portion of Ukraine, resulting in U.S. sanctions; NATO installed a missile defense site in Romania and began another in Poland; and the Russians have sent nuclear-capable short-range ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, to note a few issues. While there is no Cold War now, both countries remain nuclear powers. In the Internet era, when provocations and communications travel instantly around the globe, keeping back channels open could conceivably help prevent or minimize confrontation.
If the Trump team is indeed in informal contact with the Russians, which it denies, some observers may find comfort in the idea that diplomacy — even the back-channel variety — is underway.
But of course, Nixon — for all his accomplishments — isn’t usually held up as a president to admire, given his illegal actions in the Watergate scandal, leading to the only U.S. presidential resignation in history. Relying on back channel communications too exclusively means operating in secrecy while avoiding — or even disdaining — the news media. Circumventing the usual systems, his example tells us, has its risks.
Author’s note: The thoughts and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the U.S. government, the U.S. Department of the Navy or the Naval War College.