A Literature Review and Overview of US Foreign Policy

Chapter 1:


America’s1930s foreign policy was based on the realist school of thought. It emphasised international trade in order to achieve economic rejuvenation, whilst its security strategy demonstrated the practical restraints of Hans Morgenthau’s classical doctrine of realism through withdrawing its military’s international presence.

Post-WW2 America’s role within the world hierarchy altered significantly as a direct result of internal structural and technological developments that led it to being a world superpower. American foreign policy encompassed both realism and liberal internationalism in its attempt to defeat communism.

The 1970s signified a dramatic change in the foreign policy decision-making process; no longer were Presidents able to operate imperialistically making policy decisions without consulting Congress. Despite being internationally recognised as the victor of the Cold War, America lost its international footing somewhat.

Political analyst Kenneth Waltz supports this assertion and argues in the article ‘Is Anybody Still a Realist?’ that foreign policy in a pre-9/11though post-Cold War era, aside from the widely accepted notion that States “at a minimum, seek their own preservation,” (Waltz, Kenneth. 1999: P.14), realism no longer played a leading role in foreign policy and national security decision-making.

Roger Burbach and Jim Tarbell argue that US foreign policy and National Security Strategy since 9/11 has mirrored that of former powers on a colonisation mission. A key example used to demonstrate this was Bush’s desire to install a National Missile Defence (NMD) system in Europe. They ascertain that it was part of the regimes neoconservative, imperialistic agenda to impress upon the world American exceptionalism through attempting to colonise the globe by having a military capability world-wide under the notion of ‘national security.’ (Burbach, Roger & Tarbell, Jim. 2004).

The US government opposes such a claim maintaining that its actions are part of an assertive-realist security strategy – seen previously within the Cold War era – which confronts threats to America. They argue that like America’s proactive response to the attack on Pearl Harbour, the last time America had suffered such devastation on US soil, that 9/11 warranted a similarly aggressive response.

Benjamin Frankel supports this and argues in ‘Realism: Restatements and Renewal,’ that it is neo-realism, not neo-conservatism which recognises “the ultimate concern of states is not for power but for security…states seek maximum security not maximum power.” (Waltz, Kenneth. 1988. in Frankel, Benjamin.1996: P.91).

President Roosevelt’s description of the attack on Pearl Harbour as a “date which will live in infamy,” (Roosevelt, Franklin D.A Date which will live in infamy: FDR ask for a Declaration of War), have been echoed since 9/11. Bush proclaimed the “world has changed” (Cramer,Jane K. & Thrall, A. Trevor. 2012: P.30) as a direct result of 9/11 and therefore had to adapt his leadership style and policies accordingly.

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Literature Review

This dissertation has used many sources to gain valuable information such as facts, figures, diagrams and the opinion and analysis of distinguished politicians, historians and authors. US foreign policy is a broad and complex subject which can be approached from multiple angles. Due to the restrictive word limit, this thesis has confined itself within certain boundaries which specify what direction this thesis is going to approach the title.

Through critically analysing these sources, it has been possible to develop a deeper understanding of the topics examined and have helped greatly in contextualising the arguments found within the background and contemporary research. This has played a crucial role in the final conclusion reached. These boundaries are that the time scale used will be between the 1930s to the end of the George W Bush presidency. This time frame has been selected because of the opposing military policies that were used and the economic, social and international implications that such directions were to have; one being isolationist and the other being expansive. Chapters two and three have also been divided in a two-part manner. Chapter two addresses the mentality behind the decision-making process as well as the actions taken in the years preceding Bush’s presidency. Chapter three examines the mentality and actions taken during Bush’s reign. These boundaries have been drawn up in such a way that allows for analysis of events in a chronological order. Additionally, the ‘mentality’ has been chosen because it allows for the thesis to address multiple arguments and through thorough analysis determine if the mentality behind the decision-process has been altered and if so, has this affected the actions taken. These boundaries provide a clear sense of structure which is augmented with the aid of the many sources examined.

There are a select few sources which will now be addressed due to their crucial role in initiating key arguments and theories throughout the thesis.

In his article ‘The Stability of a Unipolar World,’ William Wohlforth provides an important analysis regarding the impact of the structural and technological advancements experienced in the US. Wohlforth argues that it is because of “a decades-old policy of harnessing technology to the generation of military power…The US combination of quantitative and qualitative material advantages is unprecedented, and it translates into a unique geopolitical position.” (Wohlforth, William C. 1999: P.17-18). This thesis supports this assertion and uses it as a key argument throughout to provide explanation behind America’s actions and the mentality with which such actions were conducted with.

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This dissertation comprises a variety of theoretical debates, all attempting to provide clarity and reasoning behind America’s actions both pre and post 9/11. Richard Rose’s ‘The Postmodern President: The White House Meets the World’ is used to provide support and elaborate on this thesis’ suggestion that after 1991 the “United States has lost its former position of dominance in the international system.” (Rose, Richard.1988:P.237). This was primarily because it could no longer justify having an expansive foreign and security policy to develop its sphere of influence through either hard or soft means as there was no longer an apparent enemy.

Craig Snyder provides support for this assertion and further adds a theoretical argument in his book ‘Contemporary Security and Strategy’ that the influence of realism endured a significant decline during this period of relative peace in its use in international relations as well as national foreign policies. (Snyder, Craig A. 1999: P.65).

No thesis which incorporates political theories and realism in particular, would be academically justifiable without the thoughts of world-wide acclaimed political analysts Kenneth Waltz and Hans Morgenthau being examined. Morgenthau’s work has been used when analysing the traits of classical realism to see how, if at all they relate to Bush’s actions. This thesis has paid particular attention to the work of Waltz, the founder of the concept of neo-realism, to argue that as opposed to the realist based expansive foreign policy agenda that existed during the Cold War era, States have since pursued neo-realist policies in which they aim to achieve: a sense of continuity in long-term goals, policies which are compatible with the ever-globalising international arena, clear objectives with simple directions to achieve them whilst maintaining a certain degree of flexibility to allow for adaptation to the fluid nature of the international stage. (Waltz, Kenneth.1999).

Post-9/11, US foreign policy has often been interpreted as some of the most controversial around the globe. This is because they have been perceived as part of America’s apparent neoconservative agenda devoted to establishing an Imperial America. Roger Burbach and Jim Tarbell are two academics who support such a notion and argue in their ‘Imperial Overstretch: George W Bush & the Hubris of Empire’ that the impact of 9/11 provided Bush’s regime with the fuel to pursue his extreme neo-conservative goal of creating a US Empire. The critical and negative wording of the title is such that even without reading any of the actual book, Bush is already portrayed as a leader who has been corrupted by the desire to create an empire. Therefore, in order to maintain academic legitimacy, this thesis recognised that Burbach and Tarbell are obviously biased against the Bush administration. This is not to say that their work should be dismissed, because it shouldn’t, but rather caution should be – and has been – applied when selecting what information to use from their book in this dissertation.

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Particular attention has been given to George C. Herring’s ‘From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations since 1776.’ This is because this book provides a great insight into US foreign policy history and does so whilst exhibiting thorough analysis of events throughout this time. It has helped this writer significantly in developing a deeper understanding of events that have occurred and placing them in the relevant context.

Articles, quotes, resolutions and speeches by Bush’s administration and even himself are all examined in this thesis. This is because they provide raw clarity and reasoning behind the decisions made post 9/11.As president of the world super-power, the American people looked to Bush to act and respond to this terrorist assault. In an address to the nation on 9/11th he stated that America “will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them.” (Bush, George W. quoted in Kean, Thomas H. 2004. P.326. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.). Such a statement sets the rigid and uncompromising tone with which Bush was to significantly adjust his foreign and security policies to deal with the situation. Understanding the mentality behind Bush’s decisions is of vital importance to this thesis because if the mentality is proven to have affected the manner in which foreign policy was decided and implemented, and if this is different to the various American administrations, then this will playing a determining role in answering the dissertation question. It is for this reason that Bush and his teams’ speeches, articles and resolutions are analysed in great depth throughout this thesis.

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