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American Foreign Policy – 2017 Forward Paul Birdwell PA 555 – Contemporary Issues in American Foreign Policy Fall I - 2017 Professor Dr. Gary L. Guertner University of Arizona October 18, 2017


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Future American foreign policy will most certainly be shaped by many of the forces that Stephen M. Walt writes about in his piece, The End of the American Era (Walt, 2011), but instead of the “Off-Shore Balancing” approach that Walt advocates it will be important for America to return to its most successful periods of foreign policy in the Post-World War II era that combined the strategies of “Selective Engagement” and “Cooperative Security” that dominated during the President Eisenhower (1953 – 1961), President Reagan (1981 – 1989), and President George H. W. Bush (1989 – 1993) Administrations. At times during the Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Clinton, and Obama Administrations American foreign policy was somewhat similar to what was practiced under Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and GHW Bush, but the overall approach of these three Presidents in the Post-World War II era produced the best outcomes for the American Republic, American People, and the world as well. It is practical for Americans to recognize even twenty-five-plus years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and disintegration of the Soviet Union that America stands alone today as the lone superpower in the world, but that power has its limits because the American People would not tolerate the kind of wars and sacrifices it would take to settle every dispute through military action, and thus America’s power is checked both by a few other powerful countries and domestic reality. With that in mind a rational American President should steer a course between using the ultimate stick of a superpower which is the use of its military forces adjudicating an outcome to every issue, and staying out of world affairs as many isolationists and the “American First” crowd wishes. It was Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan and GHW Bush who recognized the limits of American power and wisely decided that a balanced foreign policy that included both “Selective Engagement”


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and “Cooperative Security” was the best way to keep America strong, its economy resilient, and as much as possible the country out of military actions which as America has witnessed first-hand since 2003 can bog down the nation and have massive negative consequences around the world. On the heels of leading American and Allied military forces in Europe to victor y in Europe Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President in 1952 with a promise to get America out of the war in Korea and a continued commitment to counter the surge of the Soviet Union and its particular brand of Communism. Eisenhower rightly saw that a strong and unified Europe working under the banner and security of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was the best way to confront the threat that the USSR and aligned Eastern Europe block countries posed to democratic Europe. In his eight years in the White House Eisenhower both delivered on his promise to get America out of the land war in Korea, and he dealt directly with the threat posed by the Soviet Union which allowed the U.S. economy to perform at a very high level without the hindrance or worry about foreign wars. President Kennedy beginning in 1961 continued the Eisenhower policy of directly confronting the Soviet Union while keeping America out of foreign wars for three years until his untimely assassination in November 1963. Kennedy’s death ushered in Vice President Lyndon Johnson to the Presidency and the expansion of the war in Vietnam which became one of America’s greatest military quagmires until the Iraq War was launched in 2003. President Johnson was followed by President Nixon in the White House in January 1969 which were both periods of American foreign policy where the massive egos of Johnson and Nixon often drove policy decisions with how a policy was portrayed in the media being the primary interest of White House regardless


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of the actual outcome to the policy. It took Watergate, Nixon’s resignation, and four years of a feckless foreign policy under President Jimmy Carter before sanity was restored to American foreign policy in January 1981 with the preceding seventeen-plus years between President Kennedy’s assassination and President Reagan’s swearing-in being a time when U.S. foreign policy was reckless, adrift, ego driven, and often nonsensical. Almost immediately with the election of President Reagan in 1980 America’s allies and foes around the world realized that the U.S. was again going to practice a strong foreign policy on the world stage tied to the principles that the American Republic was founded upon of Liberty, Freedom, Democracy and Self-Determination which by default both gives America great power in the world and limits its desire to impact events around the globe. America at its heart is a country founded and populated by a people that would like to see the rest of the world live in freedom and at peace, but Americans also inherently know the limitations of its power and the best Presidents have always understood this basic quirk of the American character. Ronald Reagan declared that America should have the most powerful military in the world to counter any potential aggression by the Soviet Union or other bad actors while at the same time Reagan was reticent to get America directly involved in military action exemplified the essential nature of the American People who wish what they have for the world but at the same time are often too busy chasing their dreams to worry about what’s happening elsewhere. President Reagan and then President George H. W. Bush’s approach to American foreign policy of both “Selective Engagement” and “Cooperative Security” when formulating and implementing their policies provided twelve years of safe space for the American


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economy to recover from the shocks of the 1970s and set the stage for what is now twenty-five-years-plus of a successful America economy. President Clinton for the most part continued the foreign policy of Presidents Reagan and GHW Bush which led to minimal military action in the 1990s and a strong U.S. economy, but the election of President George W. Bush in 2000 and the 9/11 attack in September 2001 led to a sharp reversal in the foreign policy that had worked so well under Eisenhower, Reagan and GHW Bush with the result being the disastrous 2003 Iraq War and never-ending American occupation and war in Afghanistan. To some extent the Presidency of Barack Obama was eight years of trying to clean-up the foreign policy disaster left behind by George W. Bush and his gang of neo-cons, but Obama also purposely allowed American power to recede which set the stage for the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the Presidency who seems intent on totally unhinging American foreign policy from most if not all of its successful moorings of the past. American foreign policy in the future would ideally be centered around a rational U.S. President recognizing both the power of the American idea to transform the world, and also the limitations of American power in a world where they are now several competing power centers vying to control world events. China poses the most immediate threat to America hegemony in the world, but the leaders of China also recognize that America plays an important role that in many ways that has allowed the Chinese economy to expand so much without fear of being attacked since the U.S. military has had such a strong position in Asia for the past seventy-plus years. Russia to a lesser but still significant extent based upon its continued propaganda operations poses a threat to the safety and security of the American Republic and its People, but a President that was


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willing to directly confront Russian President Putin, not Presidents GW Bush, Obama or Trump, could quickly shutdown Putin and the small threat he poses well short of military action by using offensive U.S. intelligence operations. Recognizing that China, Russia and to a lesser extent a few other countries in the world pose some level of threat to America a rational U.S. President would thus craft an American foreign policy that would embrace a combination of “Selective Engagement” and “Cooperative Security” emulating the foreign policies of the great American Presidents of the past one-hundred years. “Selective Engagement” is an important piece of that future American foreign policy as set by a rational U.S. President which is well-defined in the course lecture as the following (Guertner, 2017): 1. Focus on the Vital Interests & the Dynamics Among the Major Powers 2. Finite Resources = Cannot Afford Leadership in an Unipolar World 3. Case by Case Assessment and Public Debate 4. Interventions Must Be Related to Vital Interests and be Cost-Effective The only changes that a rational U.S. President would change from the above parameters of “Selective Engagement” is to be much like Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan and GHW Bush who all used the power and “bully pulpit” of the Presidency to direct and help guide the affairs of the world as best an American President can leveraging the power of the U.S. Military and the powerful forces within the U.S. economy. “Cooperative Security” is the second piece of a future American foreign policy that a rational U.S. President would include in his/her approach to the world which many U.S. Presidents have embraced over the years with Presidents Obama and Carter


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embracing it the most and Presidents Johnson and GW Bush the least in the post-World War II era. “Cooperative Security” would include the following items as described in the course lecture (Guertner, 2017): 1. Peace is Indivisible and Affects U.S. Interests 2. Multi-Lateralism: Use Collective Security & Collective Defense 3. “Rogue States” Managed by U.S. & High-Tech Military 4. Favors Humanitarian Interventions 5. Leans in Favor of Missionary Model 6. Cautions on Over-Extension & “Mission-Creep” Perhaps the two best example of U.S. Presidents combining the policies of “Selective Engagement” and “Cooperative Security” in American foreign policy were President Reagan in the early 1980s rallying America and democratic Europe including NATO against the threat posed by the Soviet Union, and President GHW Bush putting together a multi-lateral coalition to evict Saddam Hussein’s Iraq forces from Kuwait in 1991. In both instances Presidents Reagan and GHW Bush used the “bully pulpit” of the American Presidency to send direct messages to both allies and foes that America was going to stand strong against tyranny and that it was going to use all of its military and economic might to ensure success against the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It is impossible to overestimate the power that the United States held in the world at the end of the Cold War which included the defeat of the Soviet Union and victory in Desert Storm in 1991. This was a time when America’s word was at an all-time high because what American Presidents said was going to be done was done which in the early 1990s


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put America’s enemies on the run who were rightly fearful of an America that did indeed fulfill its promises and commitments. It is an ironic fact of life that power is often at its strongest when it is feared but not yet used since often the use of power at the nation-state level sometimes reveals that a powerful country is nothing more than a paper tiger, and such was the fate of America in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade-plus. America’s inability to quickly bring both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to a successful end bared to the world the weaknesses of America which Alexis de Tocqueville saw as one of the great challenges to a democracy when he wrote in Democracy in America (Tocqueville, 1838) that: “There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult - to begin a war and to end it.” China and Russia rightly saw with America’s irresponsible management of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that America was not the almighty superpower that many in both countries had previously believed, which led to both countries becoming more aggressive with little fear of an American reaction since if a superpower cannot handle wars against tribal countries in the Middle East there is little chance it will directly confront large and powerful nation-states.. In the end it was the hyper-aggressive foreign policy of the George W. Bush Administration focused on flexing American military power and pushing democracy overseas that has in fact weakened the power and influence of America around the world, which is not something that would have surprised anyone that has studied American foreign policy from the end of World War II forward when power tied to restraint has led to the most successes for America overseas.


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In many ways the failures and even impotence of the Presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama were a straight-line to the election of Donald Trump to the White House with many Americans seeing the failure of the U.S. to successfully execute wars in the Middle East and concurrently manage the affairs of the world as a signal that America needed something dramatically different with Trump riding that desire for change to Washington D.C. in one of the greatest election upsets in American history. There is no expectation that Donald Trump will bring any sort of rational foreign policy to the American Presidency, and Trump’s first nine months in office signal that indeed a madman with little concern for anything beyond the man in the mirror is now occupying the Oval Office. One day in the future though there will be another opportunity for an American President to craft, create, and execute a rational foreign policy that combines the best parts of “Selective Engagement” and “Cooperative Security” in forging an American foreign policy that calls on the best approaches of past U.S. Presidents in the Post-World War II era including Eisenhower, Reagan, and GHW Bush that will again bring stability and security to the world while giving the U.S. economy and the American Republic the best chance to perform at its most optimum level.


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Works Cited Guertner, G. L. (2017, October 14). Future American Power. Lecture presented at University of Arizona, School of Government and Public Policy. Online. Tocqueville, A. D., Reeve, H., & Spencer, J. C. (1838). Democracy in America. New York: Walker. Print. Walt, S. M. (2011). The End of the American Era. The National Interest, November – December, 2011: Washington D.C., Online.

Profile for The Jefferson Century

American Foreign Policy – 2017 Forward  

American Foreign Policy – 2017 Forward  

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