Hit & Run

Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner: U.S. Foreign Policy Must Combine Soft Hearts With Hard Minds



The furor over the CIA Torture Report is only the most recent illustration of an enduring challenge facing U.S. foreign policy: maintaining a "soft heart" toward the problems of the world while bringing a "hard mind" to the debate about the solutions. The recent history of U.S. foreign policy abounds with examples of how difficult it has been to strike the proper balance, write George Mason University professor Trevor Thrall and doctoral student Erik Goepner. Policy makers with too much empathy risk falling prey to this "soft mind" problem—allowing their empathy and idealism to override the pragmatism necessary to conduct successful foreign policy. The worst of all worlds, however, is when U.S. policy combines hard hearts with soft minds, as in the case of the CIA's torture program. The result, argue Thrall and Goepner, has been to further a policy that was not only grotesque, but ineffective and unwise.