Fifteen of His Book Arsenal of Democracy Journal

Pages: 5 (1693 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 30  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History

¶ … fifteen of his book Arsenal of Democracy, Julian Zelizer discusses the United States' national security decisions following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War (Zelizer 355). One line in particular stands out for the way it demonstrates how Zelizer's own political interests creep into his analysis. Following his observation that "the end of the Cold War stimulated debates within both parties over whether to reduce defense spending, limit military interventions, or make use of the 'peace dividend' for domestic programs or tax cuts," Zelizer goes on to single out Republicans, saying "but the basic instinct of most Republicans was to remain hawkish" (Zelizer 356-357). While it is undoubtedly true that Republicans largely opted to continue the United States' imperialist stance even after the end of the Cold War, Zelizer seems reluctant to apply the same critical tone to the actions of Democrats, even as he acknowledges that, for example, "Clinton and Gore accepted many of the basic premises of conservative internationalism in the wake of Reagan's presidency -- including a willingness to use military force and threats of force" (Zelizer 379). Taking into account Clinton's actions in Kosovo, as well as the calculated decision to allow up to a million Iraqi children die of starvation and disease in order to maintain sanctions on Saddam Hussein's regime, it would seem from an outside observer that American foreign policy did not change substantially between the Republican-led 1980s and the Democrat-led 1990s (Zelizer 423). Furthermore, Zelizer himself notes that "in speaking about the challenges of national security, Clinton often sounded more like a child of Reagan than of FDR" (Zelizer 396). Yet, in the next chapter Zelizer focuses on the acrimonious relationship between Clinton and Congressional Republicans, almost as a way of papering over the fact that while American domestic policy was undergoing a raucous discussion, American foreign policy continued unabated (Zelizer 386). In fact, the title of chapter itself is called "Fighting Conservatism on Capitol Hill" (Zelizer 386). This leads one to wonder if Zelizer's focus on the ostensible political differences between Democrats and Republicans during the 1990s actually plays into the myth of a genuinely bipartisan political sphere in the United States, a myth that seems to have been central to the perpetuation of the United States' Cold War, imperialist stance in the aftermath of the Cold War.

Question 2

Continuing on from the above discussion, as Zelizer gets further into the 1990s, his discussion seems to err due to his ultimately credulous acceptance of what would otherwise seem to be political talking points. Specifically, Zelizer seems intent on portraying Clinton as a reluctant heir to Reagan and Bush I's aggressive military stance, and on portraying the Democratic party as somehow resistant to the rapid expansion of America's military empire (Zelizer 396). At the same time, Zelizer seems to recognize that it is impossible to truly claim that the any of the major players in the United States' political establishment during the 1990s were actually against the post-Cold War expansion of the American empire, but he still feels the need to include language that obscures this fact, or else feigns surprise at this reality (Zelizer 396). In addition to the aforementioned line about Clinton being a child of Reagan, in reference to Bush II and Al Gore, Zelizer writes that "the overall differences between the two candidates on national security issues seemed small," rather than openly acknowledging that the overall differences were actually small (Zelizer 396, 428). In other words, Zelizer's description, while presenting an air of objective, distanced reporting, ends up engaging in a discussion of optics and the framing of issues rather than objective facts (Zelizer 396-397). This is not to suggest that Zelizer's analysis is entirely biased or unhelpful, but rather to acknowledge that he seems to suggest that American foreign policy in the Cold War era could have progressed in any other way, when the facts seem to suggest that the fate of America's national security posture following the Cold War was almost entirely decided by the architects of the Reagan and Bush I administrations even before the Cold War ended (Zelizer 350-354). What, then, is the possible evidence that American foreign policy could have turned out differently in post-Cold War era?

Question 3

In his essay "Reinventing the American State: Political Dynamics in the Post-Cold War Era," Peter Gourevitch discusses the intersection between domestic and international affairs, and particularly the way this intersection reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the American political system (depending on which side of the "insufficiency-capacity"debate) (Gourevitch 301). While Gourevitch's discussion of the debate is instructive in that it illuminates how the political institutions of a democratic republic ultimately constrain (for better or worse) the ability of an executive to manage international affairs, his analysis seems to ignore a pertinent fact concerning American political realities following the Cold War (Gourevitch 302). Namely, his analysis of the intersection between international and domestic affairs does not take into account the fact that by and large, the United States has functioned as a democratic republic domestically while operating as a despotic empire abroad, propping up dictators and overthrowing democratically-elected leaders (Gourevitch 302). While he is entirely justified in rejecting "a purely realist line of reasoning which treats the state as a unitary actor in which there are no internal considerations shaping response to external forces," he seems unable to account for the fact that the imperial wing of the American state, constituted by its foreign military bases and clandestine services, does in fact function as a unitary actor largely unresponsive to the internal domestic considerations of the state (Gourevitch 303). While Gourevitch acknowledges that the end of World War II was remarkable precisely because it did not see the kind of massive demobilization one might expect, and instead saw an increase and expansion of defense spending in response to the Cold War, he fails to acknowledge that despite changing domestic concerns regarding international intervention, the military-industrial complex has continued along practically full-speed ahead, regardless of whatever particular point of foreign policy contention might constitute the Republican-Democrat debate of the day (Gourevitch 310). Thus, one must wonder if, instead of focusing on the intersection between international and domestic concerns, a more profitable and revealing analysis would address the apparent gap between international and domestic concerns as it relates to the maintenance and expansion of the United States' global military presence.

Question 4

In a similar fashion to his analysis of the intersection between international and domestic concerns as it relates to national security and military spending, Gourevitch's discussion of the United States' position on trade following the Cold War seems to take at face value the domestic debate without comparing the statements of this debate with the actual observable behavior of the United States (Gourevitch 317). In particular, Gourevitch focuses on the advent of "free trade" in the 1990s and the way this shifted the positions traditionally held by both the Democratic and Republican parties, but he does not seem interested in the dissonance between the United States' position regarding free trade as it applies to the rest of the world and its own domestic support for specific industries, such as corn, oil and gas, and weapons (Gourevitch 317). Even as the 1990s saw the imposition of free trade of the poorer countries of North America, the United States continued to protect certain of its own domestic industries in a kind of extremely limited Keynesian economics aimed only at those industries with the most well-established lobbying wings (Gourevitch 318, 320). Thus, once again one must Question the actual relevance of domestic debates to the United States' actions on the international stage, because although there are genuine differences in approaches to trade, the fact remains that these differences remain… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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