If you click on the link in this entry's title, you can read a very interesting article that appeared online at www.AmericanDiplomacy.org . The author of the article argues that American foreign policy tends to veer between pragmatist and idealistic goals in foreign policy. He also argues that America gets into trouble when its resources, both human and financial, don't match its idealistic goals.
He points out, for example, that initially American foreign policy was to limit the containment of communism to Europe where America had troops stationed and where it had allies for such an effort. Then, after China went communist, Truman began to expand the zone of American resistance to communist expansion. He expanded it to include Southeast Asia. This led to American involvement in the Korean War, and the beginning of assistance to the French, who were fighting communist backed guerrillas in Indochina and assistance to the Filipino government, which was fighting a guerrilla movement of its own.
When Eisenhower was elected, however, it meant that there was a return to a more realistic foreign policy. Eisenhower decided not to try and liberate North Korea; decided not to get involved in the French war in Indochina; and decided not to make any attempts to overthrow the Chinese government. In fact, by stressing nuclear weapons in its defense policy, Eisenhower was trying to cut back on defense spending, which actually went down under Eisenhower.
And on it went, Kennedy-Johnson representing a more idealistic side to American foreign policy, Nixon representing a more realistic side; Carter shifted toward idealistic side with his emphasis on human rights; and Reagan represented the idealistic side with his desire to overthrow communist governments.
Clinton came into office without any foreign policy experience, with a world where the Soviet Union no longer existed, and with apparently no grand vision of how American foreign policy should be conducted. During his administration, however, the neo-cons began to put together a foreign policy based on idealistic goals. Goals that, as we have found out, did not match the resources of the United States.
What happened after 9-11-2001 was a perfect storm combining a president who didn't have any vision of his own; a public that was traumatized by what happened that day; and a group of influential neo-cons who had a vision of what they wanted to accomplish, especially in the oil rich Middle East. This combination led to the Iraqi War, which has cost hundreds of billions of dollars; over 3,000 American lives; thousands wounded; and a unknown number of Iraqis.
Democrats need to start talking about a "realistic" foreign policy. We need to have a vision of what we indeed to accomplish and how that vision matches up with our resources, both human and financial. Americans are going to be ready for a foreign policy that is based on realistic goals because the foreign policy we have had recently will have left a very sour taste in their mouths.