American Foreign Policy in the 20th Century

Conflicts have always guided the American foreign policy. From the World War 1 to the cold war, the 20th century was faced with different conflicts. The United States always found itself in the center of such conflicts. The U.S was not part of the WW1 until Germany broke its pledge to desist from bombing passenger and merchant ships. The U.S. could not just sit and watch as Germany slaughter innocent passengers, and traders. On ethical and moral grounds, this policy was a good call. America put its interest aside and joined the war to protect other people. Over the 20th century, the American foreign policy moved from the principles of the American founders (liberals) to the progressivism principles (realists).

Before the WW1, America practiced isolationism. The country secured its’ borders but stayed out of major international conflicts. Over the 20th century, America foreign policies decisions were aimed at spreading democracy. In 1917, when President Wilson addressed the Congress, his call was that for the sake of spreading democracy, the world had to be made safe. Since its’ founding, America has hoped to spread self-governance and freedom all over the world. This inspiration is what America considers as its exceptional calling. This decision though driven by ideology abstained from the emphasis made by the founders for the need to be cautious when applying such principles. This decision by the president was guided by a set of beliefs which were widely shared by the then Progressives. The progressive ideals are opposed to the principles of the founders. They tend to put more emphasis on the use of force to promote welfare and freedom of other people. This raises the issue of morality. Does using force to promote freedom and welfare ethical? Most of the 20th century conflicts between America and other countries were based on promoting freedom but they involved the use of force. At the expense of acquiring freedom and democracy, such conflicts led to the death of many civilians. The policy of using force to promote democracy then does not seem to be moral. Sacrificing others for the sake of freedom is not ethical. Over the 20th century, the Americans struggled with the decision of which approach to apply in guiding the foreign policy. This brought inconsistency, division, lack of moral clarity and confusion among the people.

During the Vietnam War, there was a change in the American thinking of how foreign policies should be formulated. The conflict in the Southeast Asia raised the issue of public opinion in the making of foreign policy. The war also raised the questions of the role played by human rights in Americans relations with its enemies and allies. After the Vietnam War, there were contested debates about the issues of human rights and the role of public opinion. The liberals argued that democracies are more peaceful because the public plays a role in constraining the policy makers. The realists on the other hand argued that successful diplomacy requires lasting visions on national interests and the capability to follow those interests with secrecy, flexibility, and speed. The public being led by short-term considerations and emotions can easily jeopardize these requirements. Most of the 20th century conflicts were guided by the realists’ principles. The progressives built their theory based on the ideals of historical and ethical idealism. The moral idealism was based on the idea of moral political life. The idea promulgated the concern that any action for one’s welfare, happiness, and interest is not moral rather a moral action should promote the welfare of others. Based on this theory, the progressives made the foreign policy decisions of forcefully attacking other nations for the sake of democracy.

Before the Spanish-American War, America stayed away from international conflicts. However, with the conflicts and the humanitarian issue surrounding the war, the American people used their civil rights to call for intervention in Cuba. The decision to join the war came after a long political debate. Though the then President McKinley saw the need to intervene in Cuba, the question of whether the intervention was justifiable to the people prevented him from making the decision. In the end, he made the decision with the argument that apart from securing American commercial interests in Cuba, the intervention would also put an end to the bloodshed, barbarities, horrible miseries, and starvation existing given that the involved parties were unwilling to mitigate such atrocities. This marked the change of foreign policy from the principles of the liberals to progressivism principles. In the WW1, America joined the war to protect its’ interest and to spread democracy. In the cold war, America was opposed to communism. America viewed communism as a system that was undemocratic and dictatorial. It hinders people from progressing since the society elites take advantage of the poor. With the progressivism ideas in mind, America had to prevent the Soviet Union from spreading communism. It is clear that the foreign policy of America moved far away from the Founders principles to the progressivism principles throughout the 20th century. In all these conflicts, America acted swiftly to protect its’ long term interests

The founders of America had the principles that due care and caution should be taken when making a decision affecting foreign policy. The founders wanted to ensure that America would not harm others in its pursuit for self-interest. The progressives, on the other hand, argued that there was a need to use force in making the world safe for democracy. Over the years, these ideals were labeled as selfish and isolationist. However, to date, the progressive ideals continue to guide the decisions made by America on foreign policy.

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