The Role of Foreign Policy as a Driving Force in American History
The highly influential status of the United States of America has always been a source of pride among Americans. The United States of America is widely regarded as a superpower among countries due to its military might and economic influence. America has the largest economy in the world and its national currency, the U. S. dollar, is widely used as an international currency all over the world. The United States of America is also known to have the most powerful and technological armed forces with a strong presence around the world.
It comes as no surprise then that America is a very influential country on the world stage and has the ability to influence other countries’ policies either through economic incentives or sanctions, or through its military might. Throughout history, America has played a very important role in international relations as it has been known to be a protector of democracy worldwide and has involved itself in international disputes among countries and even domestic disputes and matters in countries having problems with democracy and peace and order.
However the United States isn’t always viewed as a hero nation and this has been evident in the recent years with many countries criticizing Americas role in handling or rather mishandling different international issues, and even more Americans themselves are being more critical of America’s foreign policy with critics even going so far as to label the United States as a “hegemony”.
With the advent of globalization and the succeeding growing interdependence of nations and the blurring of economic and political boundaries between nations, foreign policy is all the more important these days as the United States tries to retain its dominance and influence among nations despite the growing criticism against it.
In order to fully appreciate the major role played by foreign relations in the history of the United States, we must take a look back in history starting with the involvement of the United States in World War II which allowed the United States to cement its role as a superpower among nations and to take a more active role in foreign policy. In 1939, as Germany invaded Poland thereby starting World War II, the United States of America under the Roosevelt Administration began to chart a course to help the Allies while distancing itself from actually entering the war.
In Roosevelts’ Four Freedoms Speech delivered in 1941 (Roosevelt 1941), Roosevelt chose to step away from the previous attitude of neutrality of the Wilson Administration and the Neutrality Act of 1937. This time, the Roosevelt administration allowed the transfer of military vehicles and arms to the British in order to help the British army.
Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill in 1941 which resulted in the Atlantic Charter which sought to establish a plan for Allied conduct during the war with both leaders agreeing that they would not seek to extend their borders or impose a government on the defeated nations in the event of a victory. The surprise invasion of Pearl Harbor however finally forced the United States to formally enter World War II. After Germany surrendered in 1945, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forcing Japan to surrender and thereby ending World War II.
This signaled the United States’ emergence as a leading nation in the postwar era and transformed the United States’ attitude towards foreign policy from a reactionary standpoint prior to World War II to the position of a superpower enabling it to craft its foreign policy from a position of leadership and instigator rather than as a reactionary policy. The Atlantic Charter and the Yalta Agreement (Yalta 1945) then set the foundations for a lasting peace throughout the world and the United Nations was created in order to ensure world peace.
In many ways, the United States’ involvement in World War II helped it become a superpower and take a more active role in international relations. Prior to World War II, the United States’ attitude towards foreign policy was that of detachment and neutrality as it focused more on domestic issues and development. The United States also adopted a rather isolationalist attitude to foreign relations during the Post World War I era characterized by its rejection in joining the League of Nations.
Economically, the United States was also more or less isolated from the world economically during the era of protectionism with high import duties enacted by the 1930 Hawley-Smoot Tariff. After World War II however, the United States was confronted with new challenges involving foreign policy. The United States became the center of an alliance that was formed to prevent the growing expansion of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe. President Harry Truman instituted a policy of containment in order to prevent the spread of communism after the Soviet Union’s entrance into Hungary, Poland and the Balkans.
The Marshall Plan of 1947 by then Secretary of State George Marshall outlined America’s plan for the European recovery. The main goal was the rebuilding of Western Germany in order to make it a strong ally of the United States to serve as a deterrent to the further expansion of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the creation of NATO or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization along with the strengthening of West Germany helped the United States’ aim in stemming the growing influence of communism.
However the United States’ battle against communism was dealt a big blow when communists overthrew the Nationalist leadership of China in 1949 thereby making China into a communist power. Further containment of communism became the main characteristic in the foreign policy of the United States during the Cold War era. Even though World War II and the succeeding Cold War helped in establishing the United States as a genuine superpower among nations, this new role that America found herself in also constrained the options the United States had in dealing with the rest of the world.
The Cold War situation required the United States to maintain a strong alliance with the Western world and the advent of nuclear technology helped in bringing about a changing face to foreign policy as the fear of a nuclear conflict between superpower nations helped in preventing an all-out military conflict with the threat of mutual destruction of rivals being a major deterrent to a world war III. The Cold war also drew America into extended wars in Asia against the communist forces of Vietnam and Korea. The United States army under the entity of the United Nations prevented the North Koreans from invading South Korea in 1953.
Similarly, the United States fought together with the South Vietnamese government against the Vietnamese communist forces from 1950 to 1973. These two involvements in wars by the United States achieved mixed results wherein South Korea was spared from communist invasion but the Vietnam war ended with the United States army pulling out and communists taking over Vietnam. These two wars however were very costly for the United States not only economically but also for its reputation as many were opposed to the involvement of the United States in the wars.
In many ways, the Vietnam War era serves as one of the greatest black eyes of United States foreign policy and serves as an emotional reminder until today for many Americans. The long drawn-out conflict and the resulting disappointing outcome disillusioned many Americans with regards to United States foreign policy. Moreover there was growing resentment among military officers for bearing the responsibility of waging a highly unpopular war which was fought not according to military strategy by civilian appointees which impeded the extended deployment of armed forces on overseas missions that could have won the war more easily.
When the high cost of the arms race between the United States and the U. S. S. R. finally became too costly for the U. S. S. R. resulting in an economic and political disintegration in 1991, the Cold War ended. This signaled the decline of the communist threat and was a success for America. This success however also posed an unusual dilemma for Americas foreign policy as it left them with no clear objectives in which to point towards unlike when there was an actual conflict like there had been previously during the world war and the cold war.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon opened up to the Chinese government in Beijing but this only brought about a limited and somewhat artificial relationship between both countries as America failed to influence China in embracing Western-style freedom and democracy such as the crushing of the pro-democracy dissidents in Tianamen Square in 1989. The succeeding Bush and Clinton administrations likewise struggled to cope with the fast-changing realities of the international scene.
Both administrations had to make tough and often controversial foreign policy decisions which had no clear congressional or popular consensus. Also, the end of the Cold War replaced the broad and limited differences and fights between large superpowers with a large number of ethnic and national clashes and armed conflict. The United Nations sanctioned U. S. intervention in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 under the Bush administration and the succeeding responses to the Bosnia and Kosovo crises under the Clinton Administration heightened the view of the United States acting as hegemony.
In the 21st century, the United States’ attitude towards foreign relations came mostly in the form of multilateral aid rather than military influence. The United States acted together with international and regional organizations such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The United States also influenced economic and trade relations between countries through the World Trade Organization. Further challenges were encountered by the United States in terms of foreign policy culminating in the September 11 terrorist attacks which had a huge effect on the stance of America’s foreign policy.
The 9/11 attacks prompted the Bush Administration to form a new set of principles that radically altered foreign policy which was outlined in The National Security Strategy of the United States released in 2002 and otherwise known as the Bush Doctrine. The Bush Doctrine emphasized the continuing focus of the military dominance of the United States which would pursue a policy of preventive war against unfriendly nations developing weapons of mass destruction and aiding in terrorist organizations and activities.
The doctrine also veered away from the previous attitude of multilateralism since the Bush Doctrine stated that the United States would act unilaterally if necessary. There were very important implications in the Bush doctrine which had very significant foreign policy effects such as the fact that although the United States usually had the right to wage a preemptive war in the face of a possible attack, the Bush doctrine of preventive war meant that the United States could use military force even if it did not face an immediate or direct threat.
The Bush Doctrine also cemented the focus of America to be a military superpower by announcing that it would maintain military supremacy by not allowing any other nation to emerge as a potential military rival. The application of the Bush doctrine 2003 went into effect when the United States and Great Britain invaded Iraq due to the fact that the Saddam Hussein regime was thought to possess weapons of mass destruction.
As we all know, this act was very controversial and marked a huge turning point in the view of foreign policy of the United States since it was an action that marked a unilateral attitude with regards to foreign relations as opposed to the previous accepted means of multilateralism and even in the face of the United Nations. The United States acted with few other allies because the United Nations Security Council rejected the use of military force in this instance.
This also led to the doubt and the questioning of the two main ideas of the Bush doctrine which were preemption and unilateralism after the invading forces failed to secure any weapons of mass destruction that were allegedly held in Iraq. However, those who defended the actions of the United States argued that the invasion of Iraq succeeded in toppling a dangerous dictatorship thereby succeeding in securing the safety of the region and opening it up to the possibilities of democratic and economic reforms to aid in the regions advancement.
In conclusion, through hindsight we can more easily see the ways in which United States foreign policy has evolved over the centuries influencing other nations as well as being influenced by the changing international environment. From an initial standpoint of ambivalence and neutrality in the pre World War I era, the United States has grown to be more and more influential and domineering towards foreign policy.
Its combined economic influence and military might give America the privilege to be an international leader in the foreign relations scene, however the recent actions and missteps of the Bush and previous administrations have earned much deserved criticism from not only outside countries but Americans themselves. As the trend towards globalization deepens and the inter-relatedness of countries becomes more and more apparent, foreign relations becomes less simple and more complicated trade-offs between military security, economy and domestic investment, and other human rights and cultural issues.
As I see it the driving force behind Americas foreign policy is not unlike other nations as it includes the emphasis on the self-interest of the nation as well as the interests of the influential populations and businesses of the country. The way I see it, this is why the role of foreign policy will always be a driving force in the United States’ history as it becomes more dependent on the economies of other countries in order to ensure its own survival in the rapidly changing international environment and as it competes with the rising dominance of other economic superpowers such as China as well as the growing terrorist threats.
References Johnson, Lyndon B. (1965) Why We Are in Vietnam. Speech at Johns Hopkins University Roosevelt, Franklin D. (1941) Day of Infamy Speech Sherwin, Martin J. (1945) The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War The Yalta Protocol of Proceedings (1945) Truman, Harry S. (1945) Announcement of Atomic Bombing Johnson, Lyndon B. (1965) Why We Are in Vietnam. Speech at Johns Hopkins UniversitySample Essay of EduBirdie.com