Meet Author/Trustee John Stempel at Homecoming Book-Signing Event

One of the College’s newest trustees – John D. Stempel – is among the dozen authors with strong Georgetown connections who will take part in our newest Homecoming tradition, Book-Signing Saturday.

The line-up includes seven current professors and one emeritus (Paul Redditt); three alumni, including the Director of our Capital Campaign (Eric Fruge); and Stempel. They’ll be stationed outside the Hall of Fame Room in Cralle Student Center to autograph their recent works from 9:15-11:15 a.m on Oct. 25.

Dr. Stempel, who had a major role in shaping Georgetown’s newest Program of Distinction – the Global Scholars, is Senior Professor of the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce where he was director from 1993-2003. With his 23 years in the U.S. Foreign Service and the country’s standing in the world today, his “Common Sense and Foreign Policy” is bound to be a popular choice at the signing event.

The author says: “This book describes the requirements for applying common sense to foreign policy issues to build effective judgments for the future. Key elements are effectively expanding our knowledge and cultural understanding of others to reason inductively from experience rather than trying to apply doctrines a priori without understanding complex situations.” (For a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, see BELOW.)

Stempel received his A.B. from Princeton and his MA and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. His years in the U.S. Foreign Service included postings in Guinea, Burundi, Zambia, and Iran plus a three-year tour as U.S. Consul General in Madras, India. His service in Teheran included being principal liaison with the opposition groups and Deputy Political Chief at the U.S. Embassy in February 1979 when it was taken over by student revolutionaries for the first time. He helped to negotiate the release of a U.S. Marine who was taken hostage in that incident. His embassy experience in Iran before and during the events of the Iranian Revolution provided material for his first book Inside the Iranian Revolution. From 1981-83 he was Director of the State Department’s world-wide crisis center. Stempel joined the Patterson School in 1988, and served as the school’s director from 1993-2003. He is a member of the NY Council on Foreign Relations and has been in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World for some years. His current book, Common Sense and Foreign Policy, examines historical examples both where the United States has chosen a “common sense” approach to Foreign Policy problems, and those where it has not. He suggests pragmatic solutions to some of our current issues, especially Iran.

What other notable foreign policy experts are saying about John Stempel’s new book:

In this brilliant critique of U.S. foreign policy, John Stempel places everything from religion to arrogance and organizational dysfunction into historical context, arguing for the pragmatic approaches that have worked during most of American history…Diplomats will find this book a useful guide, and officials in the next administration, whoever they may be, should read, above all, the chapter on Iran before they decide to do anything.

Mary Smith, Retired USIA Officer and award-winning author


With verve and insight, scholar/diplomat John Stempel provides us with an invaluable introduction to a complex and timely subject.

George C. Herring
Professor Emeritus of Diplomatic History at the University of Kentucky


As this country undertakes its quadrennial constitutional privilege of choosing its new leadership, here is timely and practical counsel for both the public and its foreign policy practitioners from someone who has walked the talk. John Stempel writes with personal experience in places like watching Iran’s Islamic Revolution become reality and in years of teaching of students aspiring for future leadership roles in the conduct of American foreign policy…Stempel gives the reader looking for some direction in the critical years of foreign policy that lie ahead a book that is a healthy mix of idealism and realism in forging policies, as we face what is probably as challenging a foreign policy agenda as any over the past fifty years. And it’s a good and easy read.

Amb. Bruce Laingen, Last Chief of Mission in Iran, 1979, Iranian hostage and
Former President of the American Academy of Diplomacy


John Stempel has been an astute practitioner and student of American diplomacy for four decades. His Common Sense and Foreign Policy is a guide for policy makers and interested citizens engaged in crafting a new set of policies in a “period of fundamental change, great emotions and enormous consequences” for our country and the world. Not only has Professor Stempel crafted a history of post-Cold War U.S. diplomacy, but he has sagely shown the need for future administrations “to create balanced and moderate foreign policies.”

Robert W. Pringle, Jr.
Former diplomat and later CIA officer, winner of the agency’s Career Excellence Medal

Common Sense and Foreign Policy

By John D. Stempel

Chapter I – Common Sense, Judgment and Knowledge

Describes the development of public dialog between the public and government professionals. Traces reasons why foreign affairs are now more complex and how this makes common sense harder to come by, and hence builds a political debate that is divisive and symbolic. Argues the we need to examine our knowledge, clarify our values, focus on getting reliable information, and move away from divisive politics. Concludes with six guidelines to help do this.

Chapter 2 – American Primacy and Diplomacy

Argues that American primacy in the world is not overwhelming and neither good nor bad, but that a policy of maintaining primacy at all costs (unilateralism) is seen as a policy of aggression by most others. Outlines how such a policy has created a very negative situation for the United States since 2003. Reviews history of American nationalism from 1898 to the Iraq war. Analyzes how our policy in Iraq has created greater issues in the Middle East and has put the U.S. in significant peril.

Chapter 3 – Error, Folly and Intelligence

Describes the problems of getting accurate national intelligence and gives examples of errors. Discusses how policy makers will persist in error until the level of folly, and also how such activities often have bad long-term results even if the short-term ones are good. Assesses the problems of obtaining effective intelligence in the future, and ways to avoid being deliberately deceived.

Chapter 4 – Religion and Diplomacy

Traces the role of religion in diplomacy and how it has unfortunately been ignored or misunderstood by the erroneous belief that modern nations become less religious. Show how religion affect beliefs and helps people set goals. Reviews issues of Just War, Just Peace, and morality in foreign policy.

Chapter 5 – Terrorism and Insurgency

Shows how terrorism and insurgencies disrupt both political and diplomatic processes. Demonstrates how insurgencies and terrorists can often astutely turn a nation’s strength against itself. Suggests that much of America’s problem with terrorism and insurgency is related to its own hubris and arrogance, and suggests that the U.S. need to learn how to use its own capabilities to fight them more intelligently.

Chapter 6 – Iran: What Next for America?

Outlines the collapse of American relations with Iran since 1979 and the subsequent political evolution of Iran. Assesses the problems of diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran, and the need to be more astute in managing Iran’s fears and our own opportunities. While our choices are hard, they are not impossible and do permit a mixture of diplomacy and force—if handled carefully.

Chapter 7 – Diplomacy and Organization

Describes organizational problems inherent in foreign affairs—the State Department is often blamed for most problems and has no constituency (hence is generally under-funded); U.S. deals with a bewildering number of cultures. Other organizations sometimes dominate foreign policy—Defense Department, National Security Council. Strong, savvy leadership needed.

Chapter 8 – Keeping America Safe for our Grandchildren

Common sense involves creating balanced, moderate policies with consensus and then carrying them out competently and consistently. Suggestions made for improving performance and rejecting the imperial mission in favor of the basic deductive, pragmatic strategy the country followed from 1945-2002. The U.S. and all countries need to: 1) make a serious effort to develop a foreign policy consensus base on widely accepted values; 2) minimize hubris and arrogance; 3) relearn diplomacy; 4) accept the fact of and deal with America’s democratic attention deficit. Suggestions for citizen activities to do this, objectives we might seek.

Links to previous TV Interviews with Dr. Stempel

  • Interview from “Kentucky Newsmakers” show July 2006
  • CNN Interview challenging claims about Iran by Ross Perot from May 1992
  • Today show interview about Iran from January 1982