The goals and norms of American foreign policy can be traced over a number of centuries. Starting in 1776, foreign policy in the United States (US) has gone through a rollercoaster of competing strategies and schools of thought. Two competing strategies of Isolationism and Internationalism have taken their turns headlining the foreign policy principles of various American governments. Importantly, the reasons for the to and fro movement between these two extremes can not be linked to a single source but to a multitude of elements both internal and external shaping American thinking.
In the sections that follow, a historical path will be traced through American foreign policy starting in 1776 with a watershed period between 1900 and 1946, followed by the years 1946 to 1989, and the post - Cold War period. Importantly post 9/11 also needs to be discussed as a turning point not only in American foreign policy but global foreign policy. The main proponents of American foreign policy will be identified, along with the determinants at various periods of time that had an influence on American thinking. Finally an opinion of how US foreign policy has shaped the current world situation will be given.
The Introductory Years 1776 1900
America was colonised by people who felt the need to escape the European way of life and more particularly British rule. According to Kegley, Wittkopf and Scott (2003: 27) the need to develop a society free from persecution and embracing of civil and religious liberties laid the foundation of what would become the "nation's cherished political mythology", the fact that it was isolated from the rest of the world and an example to be followed. Between George Washington and John Adams, the first two presidents of the US, an impetus to remain uninvolved with European politics and alliances due to the fact that the search for power corrupted several European governments and the fear existed that this may spill over to the US (Kegley et al., 2003: 27).
With the arrival of Thomas Jefferson into the presidency, a new policy of Isolationism was seen as the best way to preserve the newly found freedom of the American people. Hill (2003:185) describes isolation as a reaction to the external and cultural influences which are seen as illegitimate' and threatening their existence and way of life. This strategy however requires strong centralised government and as Jefferson realised, favourable trade balances. As a result this period was marked by foreign policy goals requiring the ability to control and develop capabilities which would allow the US to take control over its connections with the old and new world (Kegley et al, 2003: 28).
Central to the Isolationism policy of the US was the fact that it was surrounded by the two great oceans. This expansion to both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts by the mid 1800s created a sense of invincibility in the minds of American leaders (Krauthammer, 2004). However this rapid expansion of the American state led to conflict based on several issues including slavery and resulted in a civil war lasting four years. This conflict delayed what Kegley et al.(2003: 28) refer to as Manifest Destiny, which was a sense that America, through isolationism, could best serve its perceived convictions that it had a higher purpose to serve in the world and not become involved in its conflicts.
These convictions were cemented through the Monroe Doctrine based upon the thoughts of President James Monroe. This doctrine is described by Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff (1981: 100) as maintaining the status quo of power balance in the Western Hemisphere, and an unwillingness to resist all change. This doctrine shaped America's foreign policy thinking in such a way that it turned its focus to the question of liberty and its maintenance. However Americas approach remained one of observer from afar, as John Quincy Adams stated that America will be with troubled...
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