Well, I wrapped up the epic From Colony to Superpower, George Herring's epic one volume history of American Foreign Policy. It is a the only thematic book in the Oxford History of the United States. * Are a Oxford University History of the United States completist (guilty!) * Want a single volume treatment of American foreign policy that doesn't ignore the 19th century.
In From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1786, Herring gives a big-picture analysis of U.S. history from the vantage of its relationships with the international community. The result is a book that minimizes traditional historical highlights from a typical history textbook to instead focus on those occurrences like the assassinations of Presidents Garfield and McKinley received only brief mention while conflicts like the Barbary Wars and the Spanish-American War receive a more in-depth focus than you typically see in a U.S. history survey. I took a great deal of notes while reading this book, and here are a few of my thoughts and observations: Herring introduced the tension that exists in the U.S. regarding foreign relations. Jean Jules Jusserand, Frances Ambassador to the United States, observed in the early 1900s what an advantage the U.S. had with a weak neighbor to the north and south and fish to the east and west. While the dollars and treaties that emerged from the conflict are minor, Herring noted how much it affected the American psyche to stand up to the pirates and successfully land a figurative punch. Prior to the War of 1812, the United States and Great Britain had a critical difference in their definitions of citizenship. The War of 1812 transformed Indian relations from international affairs to domestic policy and contributed to tremendous U.S. growth. No foreign nation again allied with native Americans after the War of 1812. William Seward has brash tendencies but served as an effective diplomat during the Civil War. He was threatening enough to satisfy the citizenry at home but had the wisdom to compromise with foreign powers when needed. At the end of WWIafter the League of Nations had failedformer Secretary of State Elihu Root observed in 1922, Americans had learned more about international relations within the past eight years than they had in the preceding 80 yearsand they were only at the beginning of the task. Woodrow Wilsons efforts in international relations shaped this learning and the U.S. approach to foreign policy for decades to come. Wilson helped make the United States an international power, and this growth occurred just as America became a true economic power. One way that the Great Depression and WWII transformed the United States was the realization of how much the world had shrunk. It made Americans realize that isolationism was not enough to protect its interests andparticularly after France fell to Germanyit was in the countrys best interests to work with and defend allies. The United States, Great Britain, and USSR collaborated because of Hitler, but the three allies suspected each other. Though the Big 3 of the U.S., Great Britain, and the U.S.S.R. receive the thrust of attention when looking at U.S. foreign relations in WWII, Herring noted that the United States took broad and diverse action on many fronts during the war. The country focused on defeating the Axis, but there were post-war eyes set on strategy and economic interests, which led to efforts in Latin America, China, and the Middle East. Herring spent time analyzing the U.S. role on the international stage after WWII, as the country shifted focus from winning the war to securing the peace. Herring criticized Hurley as a clown (using other officials own words)one whose lack of diplomacy and respect toward other cultures had meaningful effects of setting back U.S.-China relations. Going back to my observation on the struggles of securing peace, you cant help but wonder if the U.S. shifting attention away from international relations after it wins a battle ends up causing more long-term damage than the initials conflicts. It caused large numbers of the population to travel abroad; the returning soldiers subsequently believed the United States had a role to play in global leadership. This pre- Cold War tension led to the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which created the CIA and ushered in an era of agency leadership in the international arena for years to come. It seems the Korean War had as much to do with the U.S. becoming a perpetual military state as did WWII. The United States, however contributed to the Cold Wars tensions. The Suez Crisis and the conflict in the Middle East was a minor note for me in American history. What is significant to the countries we affect is insignificant to our nations history. At the end of the book, Herring notes the shift of power from military to economicciting the EU and China as technology and economic rivals to the U.S. Such a focus makes for a significant shift compared to the vast majority of his book which painted the U.S. as an independent country departed by oceans after the American Revolution. But the unique perspective of focusing primarily on the policy effects in relation to other nations makes American history seem fresh and worthy of continued exploration.
I thought it might be a good time to take a run through the entire history of United States foreign policy. And what better way to do so then the forthcoming edition of the Oxford History of the United States series- From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. More than anything else, the President of the United States is responsible for this countries' foreign policy. If there is one thing that's clear from this book: as the United States has grown as a nation, presidents have gained more power over foreign relations and they've done more with that power. In fact, at times this book read more like a history of the President and his impact on foreign relations. My take is that we should elect a President who does not look back to the Cold War and Post Cold War period, but rather someone who can help the U.S. regain it's "soft power" with countries that we have previously maltreated and/or ignored.
In this book, a survey of American foreign policy from the late 18th century to the present day, Herring seeks to demonstrate the role international relations have played in shaping our nations history. After examining the policies that followed the attacks, Herring concludes by arguing for an abandonment of long-held hubristic ideals and the embracing of the pragmatic tradition as the best means of addressing the U.S.s concerns in todays rapidly changing world. Though his focus is on United States foreign policy, he addresses as well the broader relationship between its citizens and the world, a dynamic that both drives national policy and is influenced by it. With two-thirds of his text covering American foreign policy in the 20th century, some might quibble with his emphasis on the past hundred years, yet such a focus is understandable given Herrings background as a historian of post-Second World War policy and his narrative never bogs down in detail as a consequence.
Indeed, the chapter "To Begin The World Over Again" shows the new republic in a weak position, navigating its way through British, French, Spanish and native American interests west of the Alleghenies. Herring even shows how King Cotton ultimately worked against the Confederacy in this period. Herring does not neglect those interactions outside the State Department: he shows how American tourism and missionary work, starting in the Gilded Age, affected the outside world, and how immigration worked on the U.S. in turn. Indeed, Herring is at his best throughout his Cold War narrative.
The book really makes the point that the United States' natural state is interventionist - and only has had periods of isolationism. But it comes from the war with the Barbary Pirates against the nation of Tripoli in 1805 - the first land battle the United States fought on foreign soil. The "Halls of Montezuma" refer to the Battle of Chapultepec, in the Mexican-American war, where Marines landed in southern Mexico and marched straight to Mexico city, fighting insurgent warfare along the way (and in Chapultepec Castle - the Halls of Montezuma). Again and again you see that the mood that kept FDR from taking the USA to war against Nazi Germany was more anomalous than the natural state of the country.
They should recognize the historical truth that the United States in its dealings with other people and nations has not been uniquely innocent and virtuous. The nation cannot rid the world of evil, as it defines evil; it cannot impose its way on other peoples by military force or diplomatic pressures. The United States cannot dictate the shape of a new world order, but the way it responds to future foreign policy challenges can help ensure its security and well-being and exert a powerful influence for good or ill."
This book is divided into 10 chapters that break up the years but center on a theme during that time period to give the reader a context for the changing role the United States saw itself playing in those eras.
I appreciated the common approach: Nixon wasn't as terrible as he's made out to be, Reagan not so angelic, Bush 1 not so ineffectual, Teddy not so heroic, Taft not so bland, Washington not so removed, etc.