American foreign policy
American foreign policy covers the foreign relations and diplomacy of the United States since 1775. Responsibility is held by the president, the Secretary of State and the U.S. Department of State, the National Security Council, and other agencies such as the departments of Defense and the Treasury.
- 1 American Revolution to 1789
- 2 Early National Era: 1789-1860
- 3 Civil War
- 4 Late 19th Century
- 5 1898-1945
- 6 Coming of World War II
- 7 1945-1969: Cold War
- 8 1969 to 1989
- 9 Ronald Reagan 1981-93
- 10 1989 to present
- 11 See also
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 Online resources
American Revolution to 1789
- American Revolution, 1775-1783
- Treaty of Alliance with France (1778)
- Treaty of Paris (1783)
- Benjamin Franklin
- John Adams
- Thomas Jefferson
- American Empire
The main achievements were a military and financial alliance with France (which brought in Spain and Hollad as well to fight the British), turning the American Revolution into a world war in which the British naval and military superemacy was neutralized. The diplomats—especially Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson secured recognition of American independence and large loans to the new national government. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 was highly favorable to the United States.
American foreign affairs from independence in 1776 to the new Constitution in 1789 were handled under the Articles of Confederation directly by Congress until the creation of a department of foreign affairs and the office of secretary for foreign affairs on January 10, 1781. The cabinet-level Department of Foreign Affairs was created on July 27, 1789, by the First Congress. Because of the need to provide for the administration of "home affairs," and the reluctance of Congress to add a fourth department, Congress in September 1789, changed the name to the Department of State and changed the title of secretary for foreign affairs to secretary of state.
Early National Era: 1789-1860
When the French Revolution led to war in 1793 between Britain (America's leading trading partner), and France (the old ally, with a treaty still in effect), Washington and his cabinet decided on a policy of neutrality. Washington supported the Jay's Treaty, designed by Hamilton to avoid war with Britain and encourage commerce. The Jeffersonians vehemently opposed the treaty, but Washington's support proved decisive, and the U.S. and Britain were on friendly terms for a decade.
The French were openly seizing American ships, leading to an undeclared war known as the Quasi-War of 1798-99. President John Adams tried diplomacy; it failed. In 1798, the French demanded American diplomats pay huge bribes in order to see the French Foreign Minister Talleyrand, which the Americans rejected. The Jeffersonian Republicans, suspicious of Adams, demanded the documentation, which Adams released using X, Y and Z as codes for the names of the French diplomats. A wave of nationalist sentiment overwhelmed the U.S. Congress approved Adams' plan to organize the navy. Adams reluctantly signed the Alien and Sedition Act as a wartime measure. Adams broke with the Hamiltonian wing of his Federalist Party and made peace with France in 1800.
- Jay's Treaty, 1794
- Louisiana Purchase, 1803
- Embargo of 1807
- War of 1812, 1812–15
- Treaty of Ghent, 1814; ended war of 1812
- Manifest Destiny
- Mexican American War, 1846–48
- Monroe Doctrine, 1823+
- Quasi-War, 1798-1800
- George Washington
- Alexander Hamilton
- John Adams
- Thomas Jefferson
- John Quincy Adams
- John C. Calhoun
- Henry Clay
- James Monroe
- James K. Polk
- Daniel Webster
The only hope for Confederate victory in the Civil War was military intervention by Britain and France. It was a serious possibility if British or French leaders thought it was to their long-term advantage to have two antagonistic powers in North America to neutralize each other.
Paris was building an empire in Mexico, with its puppet "Emperor" Maximilian propped up by French bayonets. Washington saw this as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, but avoided any confrontation until the war was over. The French navy was building up ironclad strength, but not as fast as the US Navy. Furthermore, the French people would never support such a war with the US, and if one broke out France might be attacked by Prussia (as happened in 1870). France would not move alone, but it would join Britain in a war. London, however, realized that the British people would never support such a war. Furthermore, the long-term economic prosperity of Britain depended on friendly commercial and financial ties with the US. Idle speculation about intervention always came crashing into the bottom line: Washington would declare war immediately on any nation that so much as exchanged ambassadors with Richmond. Not one nation did so; Confederate diplomats had only deuces to play.
Crisis with Britain: the Trent Affair
A grave blunder by the United States almost precipitated war with Britain in late 1861. On November 7, a US Navy warship under command of hotheaded Captain Charles Wilkes, intercepted on the high seas the "Trent," a British merchant ship steam making a routine run from Havana. After firing a shot across the bow, Wilkes sent heavily armed Marines aboard and seized two passengers aboard, James Mason and John Slidell, the Confederate ambassadors to London and Paris. Wilkes released the ship but took the prisoners to Boston, where he received a jubilant welcome as the hero of the hour. The seizure was a clear violation of Britain's rights as a neutral, and London protested vehemently. More practically, it drew up war plans, mobilized the Royal Navy, and sent 13,000 regulars to Canada. British strategists realized that in a war with the US, Canada would be quickly captured. The regiments were sent as a gesture, and as an indication Britain would win Canada back at the peace conference. The large, well-trained Royal Navy, now being rebuilt around heavily armed ironclads, was ready for a major fleet battle, as the American blockade squadrons were not. Should war break out, the British fleet would swoop down on the blockaders and sink or capture them. After that the fleet would sail into New York harbor and either capture Manhattan or at least close down the leading American city. New York could then be traded for Canada at the peace conference. The British war plans had a reasonable chance of success, especially if the French joined in. Their capabilities made known, the British invited Washington to negotiate the release of Mason and Slidell. Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward saw the danger. Thanks to the intervention of Queen Victoria's husband, a showdown was avoided. Although the seizure of the rebel diplomats had been wildly hailed in the States as a naval triumph and a tweak of the lion's tail, they were released and an apology was given London. The war scare passed.
By 1862 it was clear that the Confederates were on the defensive. The announcement of the "Emancipation Proclamation" by Lincoln in September, 1862, made the end of slavery an explicit war goal, and ruined any Confederate hopes of intervention from Europe.
The Confederates did manage to purchase warships from neutral Britain and use them to destroy much of the U.S. merchant marine. Britain violated its neutrality in so doing. The US held Britain accountable after the war, and arbitration gave the US a large cash award of $15 million for the damage done.
Late 19th Century
In 1889 GOP President Benjamin Harrison appointed party leader James G. Blaine as Secretary of State. During three years of service in this office, helped open the nation's engagement with the outside world. Blaine focused on relations with Latin-American and Britain. He pushed for an canal across Panama, built, operated, and controlled by the United States; he secured Congressional legislation resulting in the Pan-American Conference which met in Washington in October, 1889. Blaine's set up the Bureau of American Republics in Washington. As an early environmentalist he used diplomacy to protect the seal herds in the Pribilof Islands of Alaska. He tried to annex Hawaii (which almost succeeded in early 1893, but was postponed to 1898). Indeed, the permanent influence of Blaine on American life was through his foreign policy. Although Blaine concluded tariff reciprocity agreements with eight Latin American nations, reciprocity negotiations with Canada stalled in 1891-92. Harrison and Blaine feared a political backlash from American farmers and lumbermen if concessions were made to Canada. Blaine's Anglophobia also influenced the outcome of the negotiations, and Canada's negotiators to the end resisted the inclusion of reciprocity on manufactured articles in any treaty. The two most important reciprocity agreements were signed with Brazil and with Spain for Cuba and Puerto Rico.
In foreign policy Blaine was a transitional figure, marking the end of one era in foreign policy and foreshadowing the next. Blaine brought energy, imagination and verve to the office in sharp contrast with his somnolent rivals, inspiring his activist twentieth-century successors. He was a pioneer in arbitration treaties, tariff reciprocity, and American administration of Latin American customs houses. to avert civil wars over the revenue stream. Blaine wanted the U.S. to be the protector and leader of the Western Hemisphere, even if the Latin America countries disagreed. He insisted on keeping the Americas away from European control while favoring peaceful arbitration and negotiations rather than war. Blaine forcefully argued for the national interests of his country. He kept the big picture firmly in mind, seeking long-term programs and not simply short-term fixes for the matter at hand.
War with SpainAmericans, angered at Spain's cruel suppression of Cuban freedom fighters, demanded immediate reforms. Spain delayed—even as the explosion of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor escalated tensions. President William McKinley, faced with Spanish obstinacy, was unable to stop the public demands for war. The U.S. declared war and speedily defeated the Spanish. Cuba became an American protectorate and the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam became American possessions. Anti-imperialist, led by William Jennings Bryan, (the Democratic nominee for president in 1896 and 1900) supported the war but rejected the Philippines annexation. McKinley easily defeated Bryan in 1900, and quickly suppressed a local insurgency in the Philippines. After a decade or so, the Republicans lost interest in empire building, and by the 1920s the Philippines was on the road to independence.
Open Door Policy
The Open Door Policy called for equal foreign commercial access to China, as opposed to closed spheres of influence. It came as the major powers were scrambling for special privileges in China. Its three interrelated goals were equality of commercial opportunity, territorial integrity, and administrative integrity. The Open Door policy was formally announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Hay in 1899 and 1900, who asked all foreign powers agree to have commercial access to China on equal terms, while at the same time they were to respect China's territorial integrity. Britain, which controlled 80% of China's foreign trade, approved the new policy. The other countries had hoped for exclusive trading rights in ports they controlled, but were stymied by the success of the open door policy. All the major powers agreed on the American proposal. Anti-foreign sentiment in China almost ended the policy, as diplomats were threatened; the international powers sent armies that seized Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, and Hay ensured that the open policy was adhered to. The policy was reaffirmed by the Nine Power Treaty in 1922. China finally gained some strength in the 1920s under the KMT and leader Chiang Kai-shek. Japan in the 1930s decided to circumvent the open door by occupying Manchuria (1931) and coastal China in 1937, leading to war between the U.S. and Japan in 1941.
Roosevelt and Big Stick Diplomacy
Roosevelt's administration was marked by an active approach to foreign policy. He followed four basic principles: 1) promoting broadly defined American interests worldwide, 2) building American military and naval power and control over strategic points (especially the Panama canal and its approaches), 3) cooperation with the British, and 4) there was a social contract between the nation's citizens and its government, such that civilized nations had a right of intervention in cases in which such a contract had been broken. His foreign policy was well suited for the challenges of the world; he anticipated later attitudes and developments well into the 20th century and even the 21st century, as exemplified by John McCain in 2008. He combined a credible realist and internationalist approach with great attention to detail and full appreciation of the importance of diplomatic finesse.
Roosevelt saw it as the duty of more developed ("civilized") nations to help the underdeveloped ("uncivilized") world move forward. In Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Panama Canal Zone, he used the Army's medical service, to eliminate the yellow fever menace and install a new regime of public health. He used the army to build up the infrastructure of the new possessions, building railways, telegraph and telephone lines, and upgrading roads and port facilities.
Roosevelt Corollary and Panama Canal
The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was a substantial expansion in 1904. Roosevelt asserted the right of the United States to intervene to stabilize the economic affairs of small nations in the Caribbean and Central America if they were unable to pay their international debts and were at risk of intervention by European powers. The new policy primarily prevented intervention by Britain and Germany, which loaned money to the countries that did not repay. The catalyst of the new policy was Germany's aggressiveness in the Venezuela affair of 1902-03. The intervention took the form of takeover of the customs collection, and disbursement of the funds to the debtors and claimants. The policy was unpopular abroad.
Inspired by Alfred Thayer Mahan's extraordinarily influential book The Influence of Sea Power upon History (1890), Roosevelt believed that American security and geopolitical power could be secured only through naval supremacy. This was particularly important in the Caribbean because of its proximity to the United States, European interest in the area, and its status as a critical juncture of trade routes. Roosevelt was able to maintain US dominance of the Caribbean without resorting to major military action.
In particular, Roosevelt stressed the strategic necessity of the Panama Canal, which opened up the Pacific Coast and Asia to cheap shipping, and made it possible for the Navy to move rapidly between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.Roosevelt modernized the U.S. Army, with the reforms of Elihu Root. Previously it had many small garrisons scattered in the western states to control Indians (which were not needed after 1890), and small coastal defense installations near port cities (which were never used). Now it had for the first time a general staff and advanced training schools to professionalize the officer corps. Even so, the army was amazingly small in terms of world comparisons, as the graph demonstrates for 1906.
Tensions with Mexico, then in the throes of a violent civil war, escalated almost to the point of warfare. The U.S. sent military forces to chase Pancho Villa and to control the port of Vera Cruz. In 1917 both parties pulled back, and by 1920 the civil war was over.
More serious was the worldwide Great War (now called World War I) that began in 1914 and was killing millions of soldiers to no apparent end. Proclaiming neutrality, President Woodrow Wilson tried repeatedly to broker peace in 1915-1916, but the adversaries in Europe were both planning to win and did not want a negotiated settlement. After Germany started sinking American merchant ships in 1917, and tried to entice Mexico into going to war with the U.S. Wilson in April 1917 asked and received a declaration of war from Congress. Wilson argued persuasively that it was now necessary to fight against militarism and for democracy in the world. He set up a draft and trained millions of soldiers, sending the American Expeditionary Forces to the Western Front in France under the command of General John J. Pershing. The Americans and the Allies defeated the Germans in late 1918—the so-called "armistice" was in effect a German surrender.
Wilson, aided by his top advisor Colonel House, played a dominant role in ending the war with his Fourteen Points and played the central role at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference that set the peace terms. Wilson failed to obtain Senate approval for the Treaty of Versailles because it required American entry into the League of Nations, and Republicans led by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge demanded amendments (called "reservations") to protect American sovereignty, which Wilson rejected. The League went into operation but was ineffective; the U.S. never joined it.
Wilson's idealistic foreign policy, called "Wilsonianism" sought to end militarism as a force in world affairs, vigorously promote national self-determination, create international bodies to head off serious disputes, and use American resources to promote democracy. Wilsonianism (and "idealism" generally) is opposed to "realism" in foreign policy, which stresses a concern for American self-interest, especially in economic and military terms. Wilsonianism has been a major feature of the foreign policy of George W. Bush (2001-2009).
- Open Door Policy, opens China
- World War I, 1917–18
- Zimmermann Telegram, 1917
- Fourteen Points, 1918
- Treaty of Versailles, 1919
- Wilsonianism, idealism 1914+
- Paris Peace Conference, ends WWI
- Kellogg-Briand Pact, world peace agreed to
- McNary-Haugen Bill, 1920s; (never passed)
- Jane Addams, peace leader in 1920s
- Edward M. House, top WIlson advisor
- Alfred Thayer Mahan. naval strategist
- Theodore Roosevelt, president
- Woodrow Wilson, president
- Charles Dawes, plans European recovery
- Charles Evans Hughes, Sec. State 1920s
- Herbert Hoover, president
- Harry Hopkins, FDR's top aide
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, president
- Wendell Willkie, GOP candidate in 1940
- Charles A. Beard isolationist historian
The rejection of the League of Nations treaty in 1919 marked the dominance of isolationism from world organizations in American foreign policy. Despite Roosevelt's Wilsonian background, he and Secretary of State Cordell Hull acted with great care not to provoke isolationist sentiment. Roosevelt's "bombshell" message to the world monetary conference in 1933 effectively ended any major efforts by the world powers to collaborate on ending the worldwide depression, and allowed Roosevelt a free hand in economic policy. The main foreign policy initiative of Roosevelt's first term was the Good Neighbor Policy, which was a re-evaluation of U.S. policy towards Latin America. Since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. American forces were withdrawn from Haiti, and new treaties with Cuba and Panama ended their status as protectorates. In December 1933, Roosevelt signed the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, renouncing the right to intervene unilaterally in the affairs of Latin American countries. The rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1933 aroused fears of a new world war. In 1935, at the time of Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, Congress passed the Neutrality Act, applying a mandatory ban on the shipment of arms from the U.S. to any combatant nation. Roosevelt opposed the act on the grounds that it penalized the victims of aggression such as Ethiopia, and that it restricted his right as President to assist friendly countries, but public support was overwhelming so he signed it. In 1937, Congress passed an even more stringent act, but when the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, public opinion favored China, and Roosevelt found various ways to assist that nation.
Coming of World War II
Starting in 1933 with the World Economic Conference, American public opinion and national policy policy was to minimize the risk of entering another war by isolationist laws, such as the Neutrality Laws. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, started in late 1937 to reverse the isolationist policies. When World War I began in late 1939, the U.S. was officially neutral but gave significant military aid to Britain, France and China. It was only after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that the United States abandoned its isolationism and entered the war. See America First Committee for the 1940-41 debate on avoiding American entry into World War II in Europe.
In October 1937, Roosevelt gave the "Quarantine Speech" aiming to contain aggressor nations, that is, Japan, Germany and Italy. He proposed that warmongering states be treated as a public health menace and be "quarantined." See for text Meanwhile, he secretly stepped up a program to build long range submarines that could blockade Japan. In the summer of 1938, sensing war would come, Roosevelt began preparations for hemispheric defense and arms production; he asked for far more airplanes than the Air Corps had envisioned.
When World War II broke out in Europe in September, 1939, Roosevelt rejected the Wilsonian neutrality stance (of being neutral in thought and deed), and made it clear that America detested Nazi aggression. Isolationist sentiment remained strong, however, forcing FDR to find new ways to assist Britain and France militarily. The great majority of Americans opposed Japan and agreed with FDR's efforts to provide military aid to China. Roosevelt turned to Harry Hopkins for foreign policy advice; Hopkins became his chief wartime adviser. Bypassing the State Department, FDR and Hopkins sought innovative ways to help Britain, whose financial resources were exhausted by the end of 1940. Congress, where isolationist sentiment was in retreat, passed the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941, allowing the U.S. to "lend" huge amounts of military equipment in return for "leases" on British naval bases in the Western Hemisphere. In sharp contrast to the loans of World War I, there would be no repayment after the war. Roosevelt was a lifelong free trader and anti-imperialist, and ending European colonialism was one of his objectives. Roosevelt forged a close personal relationship with Winston Churchill, who became Prime Minister of Britain in May 1940. In May 1940, a stunning German blitzkrieg overran Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and finally France, leaving Britain vulnerable to invasion. Roosevelt, who was determined to defend Britain, took advantage of the rapid shifts of public opinion. A consensus was clear that military spending had to be dramatically expanded. There was no consensus on how much the U.S. should risk war in helping Britain. FDR replaced his cautious war and navy secretaries with pro-war interventionist Republican leaders, Henry L. Stimson and Frank Knox, as Secretaries of War and the Navy respectively. The fall of Paris shocked American opinion, and isolationist sentiment declined. Both parties gave support to his plans to rapidly build up the American military, but the isolationists warned that Roosevelt would get the nation into an unnecessary war with Germany.
FDR successfully urged Congress to enact the first peacetime draft in American history in 1940 (it was renewed in 1941 by one vote in Congress). Roosevelt was supported by the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, and opposed by the isolationist America First Committee. Roosevelt used his personal charisma to build support for intervention. America should be the "Arsenal of Democracy," he told his fireside audience. In August, Roosevelt's "Destroyers for Bases Agreement" traded 50 old American destroyers to Britain in exchange for base rights in the British Atlantic islands. This was a precursor of the March 1941 "Lend-Lease" agreement which began to direct massive military and economic aid to Britain, the China and the Soviet Union. After reelection in 1940, with much of Europe under German domination, Roosevelt cautiously prepared for war by extending the Atlantic neutrality zone, pushing the Lend-Lease Act through Congress, and drawing plans for an enlarged army. Roosevelt used the German submarine attacks on the American destroyer "Greer" on 4 September 1941 and the U-boat torpedoing of the destroyer "Kearny" on 16–17 October 1941 as pretexts to extend naval warfare in the Atlantic without congressional approval or the repeal of neutrality legislation. Through the fall of 1941, Roosevelt continued to plan and assemble the necessary military force to combat Hitler, although he never terminated diplomatic relations with Germany and never intended to appeal to Congress for a declaration of war.
World War II
While there were miscalculations as to where Japan woulds strike, Roosevelt did not provoke the attack on Pearl Harbor as a means of getting into war with Germany. Roosevelt's third term was dominated by World War II, in Europe and in the Pacific. Roosevelt slowly began re-armament in 1938 since he was facing strong isolationist sentiment from leaders like Senators William Borah and Robert Taft who supported re-armament. By 1940, it was in high gear, with bipartisan support, partly to expand and re-equip the Army and Navy and partly to become the "Arsenal of Democracy" supporting Britain, France, China and (after June 1941), the Soviet Union. As Roosevelt took a firmer stance against the Axis Powers, American isolationists—including Charles Lindbergh and America First—attacked the President as an irresponsible warmonger. Unfazed by these criticisms and confident in the wisdom of his foreign policy initiatives, FDR continued his twin policies of preparedness and aid to the Allied coalition. On December 29, 1940, he delivered his Arsenal of Democracy fireside chat, in which he made the case for involvement directly to the American people, and a week later he delivered his famous Four Freedoms speech in January 1941, further laying out the case for an American defense of basic rights throughout the world. Germany and the Soviet Union had been allied in 1939-41, so American Communists demanded neutrality and no aid to Britain; they opposed FDR's reelection in 1940. Increasingly the conservative Republican business and professional community in the Northeast rallied behind Britain, and supported Roosevelt's efforts to aid the British war effort. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Roosevelt extended Lend-Lease to the Soviets.
During 1941, Roosevelt agreed that the U.S. Navy would escort British convoys as far east as Britain and would fire upon German ships or submarines if they attacked Allied shipping within the U.S. Navy zone. Moreover, by 1941, U.S. Navy aircraft carriers were secretly ferrying British fighter planes between Britain and the Mediterranean war zones, and the British Royal Navy was receiving supply and repair assistance at American naval bases. Thus, by mid-1941, Roosevelt had committed the U.S. to the Allied side with a policy of "all aid short of war." Roosevelt met with Churchill in August 1941, to write the Atlantic Charter in what was to be the first of several wartime conferences. The War Department's "Victory Program," provided the President with the estimates necessary for the total mobilization of manpower, industry, and logistics to defeat Germany and Japan. The program also planned to dramatically increase aid to the Allied nations and to have ten million men in arms, half of whom would be ready for deployment abroad in 1943. Roosevelt was firmly committed to the Allied cause.
1945-1969: Cold War
- see Cold War
- Central Intelligence Agency, chief US spy agency
- Containment, stopping the expansion of Communism
- Détente, trade and friendly relations with Soviets
- Rollback, destruction of Communism
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, President 1953-59
- Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet dictator 1953-64
- Korean War, stalemated war, 1950–53
- Marshall Plan, aid to Europe 1948-51
- NATO, military alliance with Europe, 1949+
- NSC-68, key planning document for Cold War 1950
- Truman Doctrine, aid to Greece and Turkey to contain Communism 1947
- Berlin Wall, Communists keep their people locked inside East Germany, 1961–89
- Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviets send nuclear weapons to Cuba but forced to retreat, 1962
- Vietnam War, 1965–73
- Dean Acheson, key State Department official under Truman
- Lyndon B. Johnson, President 1963-69
- John F. Kennedy, President 1961-63
- George Kennan, diplomat who designed Containment
- Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of FDR; liberal human rights and UN activist
- Robert Taft, conservative leader in Senate
- Harry Truman, President 1945-53
The Republican party had an isolationist wing led by Senator Robert A. Taft. During World War II, the internationalist wing of the GOP gained strength, as former isolationist Arthur Vandenberg switched sides. The leaders of the anti-isolationist or "internationalist" wing were Dwight D. Eisenhower (president 1952-60), and Richard Nixon (president 1968-74). Conservative leader Barry Goldwater in 1964 rejected isolationism and called for an aggressive Rollback strategy to defeat Communism, a policy followed by Ronald Reagan (president 1980-88).
Meanwhile, isolationist sentiment grew in the Democratic party, largely in reaction to the failure of the Vietnam War. the chief spokesman was Senator George McGovern, whose 1972 presidential campaign had the isolationist slogan, "Come Home America".
The American homefront responded in many ways to these external threats. The success of the wartime alliance with Britain, China and the Soviet Union led Americans to reject the isolationism of the interwar years. Victory in 1945 and the demobilization of the world’s armies and navies brought a general sense of confidence that the wartime alliance would continue and form the leadership of the new United Nations, Hopefully the UN would provide the basis for international law and the solution of all serious problems, but it never lived up to expectations. Instead in 1947 the wartime alliance collapsed. The basic reason was an incompatibility of two systems that each sought to remold the world, either in American terms of democracy, liberal government, and capitalism, or else the Soviet goals of dictatorship of the Communist party as the mechanism to destroy capitalism. In immediate terms the issue was the independence of Poland, Czechoslovakia and other central European countries that had been taken over first by the Nazis, and after 1945 by the Soviet army.
Harry S. Truman had no knowledge or interest in foreign policy before becoming president in April 1945, and depended on the State Department for foreign policy advice. By 1946 he had two valuable aides Clark Clifford and George Elsey. Truman shifted from FDR's détente to containment as soon as Dean Acheson convinced him the Soviet Union was a long-term threat to American interests. They viewed communism as a secular, millennial religion that informed the Kremlin's worldview and actions and made it the chief threat to American security, liberty, and world peace. They rejected the moral equivalence of democratic and Communist governments and concluded that until the regime in Moscow changed only American and Allied strength could curb the Soviets. Following Acheson's advice, Truman in 1947 announced the Truman Doctrine of containing Communist expansion by furnishing military and economic American aid to Europe and Asia, and particularly to Greece and Turkey. He followed up with the Marshall Plan, which was enacted into law as the European Recovery Program (ERP) and pumped $12.4 into the European economy, forcing the breakdown of old barriers and encouraging modernization along American lines.
On May 14, 1948, Truman announced recognition of the new state of Israel, making the United States the first major power to do so. After his surprise reelection in 1948, Truman brought in Dean Acheson as Secretary of State, and promoted the Point Four program of aid to underdeveloped countries. The policy of containing Communism was operationalized by the creation, in 1949, of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to oversee the integration of the military forces of its member nations in Western Europe and North America. A further step was taken in 1951 with the establishment of the Mutual Security Agency to coordinate U.S. economic, technical and military aid abroad.
In 1947 Truman, a Democrat, convinced the Republican-controlled Congress to support the Truman Doctrine by sending massive aid to the small country of Greece, threatened by a Communist takeover. The rest of Europe was still in economic ruin, which Washington feared would help the spread of Communism, so the Marshall Plan was proposed to help restore the European economies. When Stalin engineered a Communist takeover of democratic Czechoslovakia in early 1948, and forbade his satellites to accept Marshall plan moneys, Americans realized that Winston Churchill’s warnings about an “iron curtain” had come true. The strategy of isolationism had failed in 1941. The strategy of friendship (or détente) with Communism had failed in 1948. Some argued for a strategy of direct confrontation or “Roll-Back”—but that was considered too dangerous, especially when the Soviets tested their first nuclear weapon in 1950. Washington decided on a strategy of containment, as embodied in the NATO military alliance set up in 1949. The plan was to prevent further Communist expansion, hoping that the internal weaknesses of the Soviet system would soon lead to its collapse. The problem with containment was that it meant fighting wars against Communist expansion, especially in Korea in 1950-53, and in Vietnam 1963-73. Containment had the basic flaw that the enemy could choose the time and place of movement, while America and its allies had to defend everywhere at all times. In 1949 Mao ZeDong and his Communists won the civil war in China showing the failure of containment in Asia.
Korean War: 1950-1953
The Korean War began at the end of June 1950 when North Korea, a Communist country, invaded South Korea, which was not under explicit American protection. Without consulting Congress Truman ordered General Douglas MacArthur to use all American forces to resist the invasion. Truman then received approval from the United Nations, which the Soviets were boycotting. UN forces managed to cling to a toehold in Korea, as the North Koreans outran their supply system. A counterattack at Inchon destroyed the invasion army, and the UN forces captured most of North Korea on their way to the Yalu River, Korea's northern border with China. Truman defined the war goal as rollback of Communism and reunification of the country under UN auspices.
In late 1950 China intervened unexpectedly, drove the UN forces all the way back to South Korea. The fighting stabilized close to the original 38th parallel that had divided North and South. MacArthur wanted to continue the rollback strategy but Truman arrived at a new policy of containment, allowing North Korea to persist. Truman's dismissal of MacArthur in April 1951 sparked a vehement debate on American Far Eastern policy, as Truman was blamed for a high-cost stalemate with 37,000 Americans killed and over 100,000 wounded.
Cold War Policy
In 1950 Truman approved NSC-68, a top-secret policy paper that formed the grounds for escalating the Cold War, especially in terms of tripling spending on rearmament and building the hydrogen bomb. The integration of European defense was given new impetus by continued U.S. support of NATO, under the command of General Eisenhower.
A vast foreign aid program supplemented a network of military alliances stretching around the globe. The services contained about 3 million soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines at all times. The military stressed mechanization and electronics, with elaborate support mechanisms and a huge training program in technical skills; fewer than 20% of the servicemen were in combat roles. The necessary hardware was supplied by the “military-industrial complex” of big corporations and labor unions. The media provided a steady drumbeat of support for the Cold War, with spy themes popular in movie theaters and bookstores. A peaceful race to the moon, won by the Americans in 1969, was played out against rapid advances in size and accuracy of rockets by both sides.
For its manpower, because of low pay scales the military relied on a combination of volunteers and the draft. Every year from 1950 to 1970 the Selective Service system drafted from 100,000 to 300,000 18-year old men for 24 months of active duty in the Army. The peaks came during the Korean War (525,000 drafted in 1951) and the Vietnam War (382,000 drafted in 1966). In all Selective Service drafted about 25% of all young men for two-year tours; an even larger number volunteered for three years in the Navy or Air Force, where conditions were better. After active duty, the servicemen were required to join reserve units. Many were not drafted because they did not meet high physical standards, or were fathers or college students. The chances of getting drafted varied dramatically from year to year and place to place in unpredictable fashion. The system not only provided soldiers at low cost, it gave the nation millions of veterans with highly useful technical and organizational skills, along with financial benefits for mortgages, health care and college education.
Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson: 1953-1968
President John F. Kennedy called for youth, dynamism, vigor and an intellectual approach to aggressive new policies in foreign affairs. The downside was his inexperience in foreign affairs, standing in stark contrast to the vast experience of the president he replaced, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower. Kennedy's rashness and inexperience caused a national humiliation in 1961 as he sent CIA-trained Cuban exiles into an ill-prepared attack on Castro's Cuba. At the Bay of Pigs, all Kennedy's invaders were killed or captured, and he was forced to ransom them for cash. Kennedy's supporters blamed the fiasco on Eisenhower. Russian boss Nikita Khrushchev, seeing for himself Kennedy's inexperience at a summit conference, threw up the Berlin Wall as the Soviets escalated the Cold War regarding the status of Berlin, predicting correctly that Kennedy's response would be weak. Khrushchev went too far in 1962 when he sent nuclear missiles into Cuba aimed at the U.S. For the first time since Washington and New Orleans were attacked in 1914-1815, the U.S. was vulnerable to a major attack by an enemy power. Kennedy and Khrushchev reached a compromise whereby the Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba publicly (giving Kennedy a public relations triumph), while Kennedy secretly removed American missiles from Turkey aimed at the Soviets, and also promised that America would never invade Cuba—a promise still in effect in 2009. Vietnam proved a trap for Kennedy as he sent in 16,000 military advisors to prop up an ineffective regime in South Vietnam. Historians are uncertain whether or how Kennedy would have avoided the failures of Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, for Kennedy himself had no definite plans of what to do.
1969 to 1989
Nixon and Kissinger: 1969-77
Kissinger's first priority in office was the achievement of détente with the Soviet Union and China, and playing them off against each other. Recognizing and accepting the Soviet Union as a superpower, Nixon and Kissinger sought both to maintain U.S. military strength and to inaugurate peaceful economic, cultural, and scientific exchanges to engage the Soviet Union in the international system. This policy flourished under Kissinger's direction and led in 1972 to the signing of the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I). At the same time they successfully engineered a rapprochement with Communist China, leading to the astonishing news in 1971 that Nixon would visit China, which he and Kissinger did in 1972. Aware that China and the Soviet Union were at sword's point, with rival claims to be the true Communists, Nixon and Kissinger used the "Soviet card" to win over Chinba by playing up the Soviet threat to the Chinese as a way of promoting closer relations with China. He even hinted at a US-China alliance to oppose the Soviets, and, with Nixon's trips to Moscow, hinted that China had better come to terms lest the US form an alliance with Moscow. The tactics worked, resulting in a friendly relationship with both Beijing and Moscow. As part of the détente, both powers reduced or ended their aid to North Vietnam, thus allowing a settlement of the Vietnam War.
Nixon and Kissinger worked to achieve a disengagement of U.S. forces fighting in Vietnam. Balancing a policy of "Vietnamization," aimed at returning the burden of actual combat to the South Vietnamese, with repeated shows of U.S. air strength, notably in the bombings of Cambodia and Hanoi, Kissinger met secretly with North Vietnamese leaders in Paris from 1969 on, finally concluding a cease-fire in January 1973, for which he and chief North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho were awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize.
One challenge to détente came with the outbreak of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Faced with a threat of Soviet intervention, Nixon put U.S. military forces be placed on worldwide alert. He then employed shuttle diplomacy to secure cease-fires between Israel and the Arab states and to restore U.S. Egyptian diplomatic ties, broken since 1967.
The Nixon administration sought to protect the economic and commercial interests of the United States during a period of heightened Latin American nationalism and expropriations, 1969-74. Though the administration initially adopted a flexible policy toward Latin American governments that nationalized American corporations' assets, the influence of Nixon's economic ideology, domestic political pressures, and the advice of his close adviser, Secretary of the Treasury John Connally, led to a more confrontational stance toward Latin American countries. As the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, and Henry Kissinger had warned, however, Latin American countries took an even more anti-US stance and expropriated even more assets. Nixon's "get tough" stance, therefore, had a negative effect on US credibility and influence in the hemisphere. Kissinger and Nixon permitted covert CIA operations designed to destabilize the anti-American Allende regime in Chile
During the South Asian crisis in 1971, the White House, stood firmly behind Pakistani president Yahya Khan and demonstrated a disdain for India and particularly its leader, Indira Gandhi because of India's tilt toward the Soviet Union. Many analysts believed that Pakistan's role as a conduit of rapprochement with China and Kissinger's focus on geopolitical concerns greatly influenced the American policy decision in 1971. These claims have now been confirmed by recently declassified documents. The US undertook at least three initiatives to dissipate the Bangladesh movement but which backfired and contributed to the bloodshed instead of bringing it to an end. Nixon and Kissinger were "realists" who deemphasized idealistic goals like anti-communism or promotion of democracy worldwide, because those goals were too expensive in terms of America's economic capabilities. Instead of a Cold War they wanted peace, trade and cultural exchanges. They realized that Americans were no longer willing to tax themselves for idealistic foreign policy goals, especially for containment policies that never seemed to produce positive results. Instead Nixon and Kissinger sought to downsize America's global commitments in proportion to its reduced economic, moral and political power. They rejected "idealism" as impractical and too expensive; neither man showed much sensitivity to the plight of people living under Communism. Kissinger's realism fell out of fashion as idealism returned to American foreign policy with Carter's moralism emphasizing human rights, and Reagan's rollback strategy aimed at destroying Communism.
Nixon resigned in 1974 under the threat of impeachment and was succeeded by Gerald R. Ford, who kept Nixon's policies. The US was not involved in 1975 when North Vietnam invaded and defeated South Vietnam, except to rescue Americans and some Vietnamese supporters. Over a million Vietnamese refugees, and many Hmong from Cambodia, eventually came to the U.S. In 1976 Ford was challenged by Ronald Reagan for the GOP nomination. Ford won, but the détente policy was the focus of Reagan's attacks, as the GOP moved to the right. Jimmy Carter continued the détente policy until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 destroyed that policy and reopened the Cold War at a more intense level.
Jimmy Carter 1977-81
In his inaugural speech Carter stated that "our commitment to human rights must be absolute." He singled out the Soviet Union as a violator of human rights and strongly condemned the country for arresting its citizens for political protests. However, he was criticized for not doing enough to promote his proclaimed human rights foreign policy stance in his administration, such as continuing to support Indonesia even while it was implicated in the commission of acts of genocide in the occupation of East Timor.
Carter also tried to remove the U.S. image of interventionism by giving Panamanians control of the Panama Canal. He was strongly opposed by conservatives but won, and gave back the Canal. The result was disaster and the US invaded Panama in 1989 to overthrow a nasty dictator named Noriega.
Détente with China continued successfully.
Détente with the Soviet Union collapsed in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, setting off a long war that the Soviets lost. President Carter responded by giving military aid to the rebels, imposing an embargo on the sale of grain to the Soviet Union and boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow. The policy of détente that was established by President Nixon had ended.
Carter's only triumph while in office was a historic peace treaty known as the Camp David Peace Accords, between Israel and Egypt, two nations that had been bitter enemies for decades. The treaty was formally signed in 1979, with most middle eastern countries opposed to it, bit it remains in effect in 2009.
Iran Hostage Crisis
In 1979, a new radical Islamic regime lead by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran overthrew America's close ally Shah. Thousands of modernizers were arrested, expelled or executed. In November 1979 student revolutionaries stormed into the American embassy in Tehran and captured 52 United States diplomats as hostages. They refused to negotiate and the government refused to intervene. The US seized all Iranian assets and tried to bargain, a process that dragged on for 444 days. Carter tried to use the US military action to rescue the hostages, but it was a total failure. Fearful of what President Reagan might do, the Iranians released the hostages were released minutes before Reagan was inaugurated on January 20, 1981.
The result was a major humiliation for the United States, and a consensus that the country was now an underdog and needed new leadership to claw its way back.
Ronald Reagan 1981-93
Reagan defeated Carter in 1980 by stressing the failures of both foreign and domestic policy, warning America had become weak at home and abroad. Rejecting détente he called for rollback of the decrepit Soviet Empire, whose only strength was in missile power but which was falling apart in terms of economics, politics and society.
Reagan restructured American politics in a manner reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt' New Deal Coalition. Reagan built entirely new electoral coalitions using fresh issues, such as opposition to taxes, opposition to economic regulation, and support for moral issues (like right-to-life) promoted by Catholics and especially evangelical Protestants. In foreign policy the Cold War resumed with renewed intensity. The defeatism of the late 1970s sparked a new determination among the Reaganites. In the 1970s the Soviets had rejected détente, expanded Cold War operations into Africa, Asia and Latin America, enlarged their long-range missile forces, and invaded neutral Afghanistan. Washington had learned a lesson from Vietnam, and succeeded in turning Afghanistan into a quagmire for the Soviets. Reagan’s tax cuts and a national commitment to computers and high tech reenergized the American economy (at the cost of long-term national debt). Although racial and gender inequality diminished, economic inequality grew. The Soviet economy proved utterly incapable of handling the transition from the industrial age of mechanical devices to the new information age. Reagan convinced the nation to fund a vast “Star Wars” missile defense system as part of a gigantic high-tech military buildup that stunned the Soviets. They did not have the money or technology to compete in the renewed Cold War, and they realized defeat was looming. Moscow turned to Mikhail Gorbachev who made desperate attempts to salvage Communism. Reagan cut a deal—give up the Cold War and Gorbachev could have arms deals that would allow him to cut military spending and save his economy. Gorbachev went along, abandoning Afghanistan and other overseas adventures, and finally releasing control over the European satellites. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November, 1989, marked the end of the Cold War with a stunning American victory. Gorbachev’s reforms, meanwhile, made the Soviet economy worse, and he and the entire Communist system was overthrown in late 1991, as Russia started on the difficult transition to democracy and a capitalist economy..
Ending the Cold War
What scholars label the "orthodox view" of the end of the Cold War is that "the Soviet Union's capitulation and the Cold War victory for the forces of freedom and democracy were ultimately due to the relentless application of the West's military superiority and the dynamism of its ideas and economic system. These factors revealed communism's moral illegitimacy and highlighted its economic stagnation." Salla and Summy, p 3 It is broadly endorsed by both Republicans (who emphasize Reagan's role), and by Democrats (who emphasize the containment policies of Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson. European leaders of the 1980s give credit to Reagan for winning the Cold War. Lech Wałęsa, leader of the Solidarity movement in Poland, said in 2004, "When talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty. This can't be said often enough by people who lived under oppression for half a century, until communism fell in 1989." Helmut Kohl, chancellor of West Germany, said, "He was a stroke of luck for the world. Two years after Reagan called on Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall, he noted, it fell and 11 months later Germany was reunified. We Germans have much to thank Ronald Reagan for." Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said, "President Reagan was a determined opponent of Communism and he played an important role in bringing an end to Communism and to the artificial division of Europe imposed after the Second World War." Václav Havel, who became the Czech president in 1989, said, "He was a man of firm principles who was indisputably instrumental in the fall of Communism."
Liberals were aghast at Reagan's foreign policy, because it pushed idealism and moralism in dangerous directions. Fearing that rollback would lead to war, one critic ridiculed it as "crackpot moralism." Liberals preferred a foreign policy that pursued the national interest—by pulling back from a preoccupation with the Soviet threat, reducing military expenditure, relying on increased cooperation with our allies, establishing more constructive links to the Third World, restricting the freedom of multinational capital, deemphasizing nuclear weapons, and deepening détente with the Soviet Union.
Relations with Britain
Relations with Britain had been strained since the Suez crisis of 1956. Now both countries were led by like-minded leaders who collaborated closely, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Reagan. Their collaboration was based on a striking convergence of ideologically driven conservatives who shared similar domestic agendas and a common foreign policy. Both led domestic political revolutions—supply-side economics, increased defense spending, privatization, deregulation, and an overall conservative agenda. Reagan was the "Great Communicator", Thatcher the "Iron Lady". The two became personal friends. Reagan and Thatcher's mutual trust strengthened Reagan's hand against the Soviet Union.
Thatcher wanted to cooperate with Gorbachev and convinced Reagan that it was possible. That assessment shifted Western political rhetoric from East-West confrontation to conciliation and support for internal democratic reform in the Soviet Union. Reagan adopted Thatcher's view, and when Gorbachev started to dismantle the Soviet Empire Reagan largely abandoning his own harsh depiction of the Soviet Union as the "focus of evil in the modern world." The collapse of the Soviet Union, however, lessened U.S. military need for a trusty friend in Europe. Thus, American relations with Britain turned more to trade and economic issues.
1989 to present
The collapse of Communism in Europe in 1989 and in Russia in 1991 ended the Cold War and left the United States the only superpower in the world. Military sepending was cut by a third.
The years since 1991 comprise a new era. Fears of cataclysmic wars faded, to be replaced by new threats, especially those arising in the Middle East. When Iraq under Saddam Hussein invaded its neighbor Kuwait in 1991, the United Nations demanded that Iraq withdraw. When it refused the United States led a broad coalition that pushed Iraq out, but which left Hussein in power under UN supervision. In 2001 Al Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States, leading America into a war on terrorism. America was the world’s only superpower, with military strength much greater than everyone else combined, and economic muscle and high technology to back it up. The overwhelming strength of the United States, and the absence of any countervailing force like Communism, meant that fears and hatreds came to focus on America, widely seen as a new empire. Americans meanwhile and to adjust to heightened levels of security at home, and were ill-disposed to listen to foreign critics. The ways to which society and culture of the American homefront would adjust to the new Age of Terror became a central issue of the new century.
Peace appeared to be at hand—even “an end to history.” So it seemed. However fundamentalist Moslem groups, enraged at American support for Israel and humiliated by the encroachment of western, especially American values and culture, fought back with terrorism, dealing sudden death and injury to unsuspecting civilians. A series of airplane hijackings and hostage taking marked the late 1970s. In 1979 a militant fundamentalist movement in Iran toppled America’ ally, the Shah, and seized American diplomats. For over a year America was frustrated and humiliated. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the small oil-rich ally of the United States in 1990, President George H. W. Bush mobilized the UN to demand withdrawal. Saddam refused so American-led coalition forces liberated Kuwait. Saddam stayed in power but had to abide supposedly strict UN controls. When he threw out UN inspectors in 1998 it was only a matter of time before the unresolved crisis exploded. Quite separate from Saddam, an extreme group of fundamentalists calling itself Al Qaeda meanwhile organized attacks on American interests in the Middle East. On September 11, 2001, they launched a stunning attack on New York City and the national capital. America, more united than any time since 1945, declared war on Al Qaeda. A quick invasion of Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Afghanistan was successful. Pakistan, a major nuclear power that had been supportive of the terrorists switched and became a key ally of the United States. President George W. Bush leveraged his public support to eliminate the long-term threat posed by Iraq, with an invasion in spring 2003. He moved in close cooperation with Britain and other allies, but without the endorsement of the United Nations. The warfare was short and decisive, but the occupation was met with violence and the goal of creating a democratic nation in Iraq proved much more difficult than expected. Public opinion worldwide turned hostile to America—the superpower-as-bully syndrome brought out the old clichés about the “Ugly American” that had been in circulation for decades, emboldening anti-American forces and causing Americans, in the 2004 presidential campaign, to take a hard look at the nation’s role in the world.
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- Bemis, Samuel Flagg. A Diplomatic History of the United States (1952) old standard textbook; by conservative scholar
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- After Appomattox, Washington sent tens of thousands of battle-hardened troops to the Mexican border. Paris finally pulled out; the Mexicans shot Maximilian. Richmond tolerated the French aggression. If somehow the Confederacy had become independent, it would have faced powerful enemies to its north and its south.
- Lynn M. Case and Warren F. Spencer, The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy (1970)
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- Serge Ricard, "The Roosevelt Corollary." Presidential Studies Quarterly 2006 36(1): 17-26. Issn: 0360-4918, online
- James R. Holmes, "Roosevelt's Pursuit of a Temperate Caribbean Policy." Naval History 2006 20(4): 48-53 in EBSCO
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- It is now public.
- Margaret Macmillan, Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World (2008)
- Evelyn Goh, "Nixon, Kissinger, and the 'Soviet Card' in the U.S. Opening to China, 1971-1974." Diplomatic History 2005 29(3): 475-502.
- Hal Brands, "Richard Nixon and Economic Nationalism in Latin America: the Problem of Expropriations, 1969-1974." Diplomacy & Statecraft 2007 18(1): 215-235. Issn: 0959-2296 Fulltext: Ebsco
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- Alan Wolfe, "Crackpot Moralism, Neo-Realism and U.S. Foreign Policy." World Policy Journal. 3#2 (1986) pp 252-75 online edition