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Us Evolution of Foreign Policy

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History Unfolding

A historian's comments on current events, foreign and domestic.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Evolution of American Foreign Policy

One of the great dramas of the twentieth century involved the redefinition of the United States’ role in the world. The US had isolated itself from European quarrels from 1815 to 1915—although the Northern victory in the civil war had an enormous influence upon the advent of democracy in Britain in 1867, and probably in Germany and France as well. In 1898 the US joined the imperialist scramble after the war with Spain, acquiring the Philippines and proclaiming influence over Cuba and new, special rights in Latin America. But as late as 1915, when the sinking of the Lusitania first threatened to draw the US into war with Germany, the issue remained violently controversial. When President Wilson announced that he would hold the Germans to a “strict accountability” for any further such outrages, his Secretary of State, three-time Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, resigned. Wilson’s stance, he said, would inevitably draw America into the war, and the government should instead simply tell American citizens that henceforth they could travel to Europe at their own risk.

Already, however, as Charles A. Beard pointed out during the 1930s, some American politicians—mostly Republicans—had laid out new principles that would give the United States a kind of dominion over the entire globe, based on our economic needs. One such was Senator Albert Beveridge, a famous Progressive, who essentially adopted approvingly the same thesis that the liberal J. A. Hobson and the Bolshevik Lenin were developing from a critical perspective—that the demands of capitalism required economic expansion. Around the turn of the century Beveridge stated the case thusly:

“American factories are making more than…...

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