American Foreign Policy Since Its Inception Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1508 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History

American Foreign Policy

In his farewell address, given to Congress on September 17, 1796, the father of the country, George Washington warned his fellow Americans against "the insidious wiles of foreign influence, & #8230;since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government." (Washington) When discussing American foreign policy since the inception of the nation, one must take into account that the United States of America has been an ever-expanding nation; territorially, politically, and economically. As a result of the continually change in American power and influence in relation to other nations, there has been a continual evolving foreign policy. When George Washington warned about foreign entanglements, the United States was a small and weak nation, but as America grew its foreign policy grew with it. While the nation may have begun its existence as a weak nation, with a weak foreign policy to accompany it, as the nation became more powerful, its foreign policy expanded to a point where the United States is the most powerful and influential nation on the planet.

As J. Martin Rochester stated in his book Fundamental Principles of International Relations, there is a problem with the definition of foreign policy, or international relations. While many see this as simply the political interaction between different nations, Rochester points out that economic relations are every bit as important as political ones. (Rochester 23) Washington's warning seemed to indicate an aversion to international political relationships, but did not apply to commercial activities. In fact, one of the reasons the Americans fought the Revolutionary war was to be allowed to expand trade into areas of the world that Britain had declared off limits to American ships.

But at first, American heeded the warning of the father of their country and concentrated their foreign policy on regional matters. In other words, the westward expansion of America across the continent was the driving principle of American foreign policy. Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase reflects the view of American foreign policy at this time. While Jefferson wanted to remain neutral in any European conflicts, he was more than willing to conclude an agreement with France to double the size of the United States. Manifest Destiny, or the belief that Americans had a destiny to expand across the continent, was the focus of American foreign policy from the beginning of the nation to the close of the 19th century. This regional view of foreign policy was limited by not only the immediate need to deal with problems associated with westward expansion, but also the fact that in world affairs, the United States was still a relatively small and weak nation. Much of the practical purpose behind American expansion was the idea that America as a nation needed to break free of the encirclement of the country by foreign powers. For instance, the territory gained through the Mexican-American war served "by ensuring that the United States was no longer surrounded by foreign powers and by asserting it primacy over its own lands…" (Kaufman 39) the regional nature of American foreign policy reflected the regional power that the United States had developed during the 19th century.

It was the Spanish-American War of 1898 that marked the first time American foreign policy broke from its traditional international isolationism to become actively engaged in an international war, far away from the American homeland. While there are as many causes of the war as there are historians, there is no discounting the fact that by the end of the 19th century, the United States had expanded from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, developed into an industrialized nation the equal of any on Earth, and had a population that was beginning to exceed most European nations. This newly developed power; political, economic, and military, allowed the United States to expand its world view to include things that it had never considered before. While in the past the United States was too weak to involve itself in other parts of the world, by the end of the 19th century, American was poised to begin flexing her muscles in international relations.

It was the involvement of the United States in the first World War that ushered in an era of the American rise to international prominence. America had developed into a first-rate nation in all aspects; and felt that it had a destiny to take its place among the great powers. This was reflected in President Wilson's inauguration given in 1913 when he stated "we have built up, moreover, a great system of government, which has stood through a long age as in many respects a model for those who seek to set liberty upon foundations that will endure against fortuitous change, against storm and accident…" (Kaufman 48) the United States was beginning to see itself as the beacon of freedom in the world, and as such had a responsibility to other nations to be a model for them. This responsibility would gradually expand to include the idea that the United States also had an obligation to give aid, even military aid, to other nations if they were struggling for freedom and democracy. When the United States entered the First World War, Wilson presented the conflict to the American people in terms idealistic and moralistic terms; specifically stressing the American role in aiding in the spread of democracy throughout the world. This was a major change of course for American foreign policy; going from a policy of unilateralism to one of active international engagement.

The massive casualties and destruction left behind by the First World War, as well as the failure of most of Wilson's "Fourteen Points," temporarily forced American public opinion back into a more isolationist view, but the rise of Hitler and the beginning of a second, more destructive World War would force the United States to assume the role of defender and liberator of the world. Throughout the war American foreign policy was concentrated on winning the war at all costs, but afterward, President Franklin Roosevelt had planned for the United States to be one of the leaders of a new world order which would be governed by the new United Nations. However, international realities soon came to prominence and the United States found itself involved in a new "Cold War" with its former ally: the Soviet Union. As the world seemed to be falling into another era of chaos, the United States developed a new foreign policy known as the "Truman Doctrine" which committed the United States to political, economic, and even military aid for those nations whose freedom was threatened. One manifestation of this idea was the "Marshall Plan," which invested millions of U.S. dollars for European recovery projects, while another was the United States first permanent international alliance which created NATO. NATO represents a complete turnabout from Washington's ideal of not having international entanglements, as well as the assumption of the leadership of the free world by the United States.

Since its rise as an global superpower, the United States of America has exercised its strength in a number of ways. Politically, the United States is one of the leaders of the United Nations Organization which has its headquarters in New York City. Through the United Nations, America has exercised its influence, and desire to export freedom and democracy throughout the world, through it leadership in such international disasters and calamities as earthquakes, famines, and other such things. It has also exerted its military strength both through United Nation's authorized missions, as well as unilateral international missions. For instance, the American military intervention in Korea in the 1950's, or the First Persian Gulf War of the 1990's, were both authorized by the United Nations. But the United States has also exerted unilateral foreign policy decision by… [END OF PREVIEW]

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