Foreign policy expert Polk to discuss U.S. in the post-imperial world

Author William R. Polk
William R. Polk

William R. Polk, a veteran foreign policy consultant and author, will give a series of three lectures in February on “America Confronts the Post-Imperial World” for the Henry L. Stimson Lectures on World Affairs at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale.

The lectures will focus on three themes: “Snow White’s Mirror: What We See and What Others See. How Both War and Altruism Shaped American Image of Ourselves and Set a Pattern of Foreign Policy,” on Thursday, Feb. 1; “How, from Our Earliest Days, We Have Been Beset by Fear of Violence and Have Increasingly Put Our Faith in Military Force” on Monday, Feb. 5; and “Is Our Quest for Affordable World Security Feasible and What Can We Do To Make It More Likely?” on Wednesday, Feb. 7. 

All three lectures begin at 4:30 p.m. in Rm. A002 of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies building, 77 Prospect St. They are free and open to the public. The lectures are sponsored by the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and the Yale University Press.

Polk taught history and Arabic language and literature and helped to found the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, where he served from 1955 until 1961, when President Kennedy appointed him as a member of the Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle East, Central Asia and much of Africa. 

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he served as one of three members of the Crisis Management Committee. During this period, he was asked to become deputy commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

In 1965, Polk resigned from government service to become professor of history at the University of Chicago. There he established the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and was a founding director of the American Middle Eastern Studies Association. In 1967, he became the founding director (later president) of the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs, which hosted the 20th Pugwash Conference on nuclear weapons and did much of the planning for the United Nations Environment Program, among other ventures.

Polk was called back to the White House briefly during the 1967 Middle Eastern war to write a draft peace treaty and to act as assistant to the former director of the National Security Council and then the President's special assistant, McGeorge Bundy. In 1970, at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, he successfully negotiated with President Nasser of Egypt to declare a ceasefire on the Suez Canal.

He is the author of many books on world affairs, including “The United States and the Arab World”; “The Elusive Peace, the Middle East in the Twentieth Century”; “Understanding Iraq; Out of Iraq” (with Senator George McGovern); “Understanding Iran”; “Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency and Terrorism”; “Neighbors and Strangers: The Fundamentals of Foreign Affairs”; “Humpty Dumpty: The Fate of Regime Change”; and “Distant Thunder: Reflections on the Dangers of Our Times.” His latest work, to be published by the Yale University Press, is titled “Crusade and Jihad: The Thousand-Year War Between the Muslim World and the Global North.” A number of his articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, Harpers, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and Le Monde Diplomatique.

The funding for the lecture series comes from an anonymous donor, in honor of Henry L. Stimson, Yale College 1889, an attorney and statesman whose government service culminated with his tenure as secretary of war during World War II.

Since 1998, the MacMillan Center and the Yale University Press have collaborated to bring distinguished diplomats and foreign policy experts to the center to lecture on their books that are published by the Yale Press.

Previous Stimson Lectures have included “Political Order in Changing Societies” by Samuel P. Huntington; “Financial Crises in Emerging Markets” by Alexandre Lamfalussy; “Arms and Influence” by Thomas C. Schelling; “The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation” by Ambassador Marwan Muasher; “Beyond the Democratic Maze” by John Dunn; “What Happened to National Liberation” by Michael Walzer; “The Imprint of Congress” by David Mayhew; “FDR’s Third Hundred Days” by Susan Dunn; and “Liberal Ideals & International Realities” by John J. Mearsheimer.

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Media Contact

Marilyn Wilkes: marilyn.wilkes@yale.edu, 203-432-3413