Debates over the post-Second World War origins of Sino-American relations continue to inform – and daunt — policymakers and foreign policy experts in their effort to figure out a viable strategy to deal with Beijing. Writing in Foreign Affairs in 2018, Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner – Biden’s National Security Council Indo-Pacific Affairs Coordinator and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs respectively – branded the Truman Administrations’ various efforts to shape China’s behaviour as a failure. However, in commenting on the article James Curran – an Australian scholar on U.S. foreign policy – noticed that both this piece and the several respondents to it collectively failed “to acknowledge … the pervasive influence of American nationalist mythology on U.S.-China policy over the last seventy years.” In conclusion, Curran noted that “a critical but to date sadly neglected part of that process must surely involve taking a good, hard look at how the myths of American nationalism have influenced the course of U.S.-China policy since 1949.”
My newly published open-access article in The International History Review takes a fresh perspective and contributes to these debates. In it, I argue that between late 1948 and early 1949 Communist China and the United States might have been able to strike a more collaborative relationship had Truman applied more restraint to his nationalist colony image of China – a concept developed in-depth in the article – and been more willing to listen to Dean Acheson and advisors in the Division of Chinese Affairs, who promoted the “Chinese Titoism” strategy.
Co-organized by Christopher McKnight Nichols, Danielle Holtz, and David Milne, the conference at Oregon State University as a project is intended to bring international scholars together to investigate the profound ideas that have led to the production of U.S. foreign policies. The co-organizers are motivated by the notion that contemporary ideas about the sources and mechanisms of power need to be reconsidered with the lessons of history in mind, particularly regarding the relationship between domestic and international policy.
The events related to the conference are free and open to the public (with on-site registration) and will include public forums, scholarly panels, and a keynote address by James Lindsay (Council on Foreign Affairs), all confronting crucial issues in U.S. foreign policy, in both historical and contemporary contexts. Contributors from around the world, representing a diversity of approaches to the study of foreign policy, will explore the central ideas and ideologies as well as people and groups that have shaped U.S. involvement with the world. Panelists will engage with large public audiences in Corvallis and Portland over the course of several days. C-SPAN and History News Network also are expected to be covering the conference.
Successful presidents do not need to come through the political process, but whatever their background, they need to be able to lead intelligently and to make sense of and mould the coalitions of interest—both domestic and international—that provide the opportunity to ensure the implementation of policy. One of the most impressive non-politician presidents was Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican president elected in 1952 and re-elected in 1956. A self-styled moderate conservative, Eisenhower provided an effective hard-edged moderation.
Eisenhower benefited from, and helped to mould, the conservative ethos of the 1950s. His re-election in 1956 with a margin of nine million votes displayed widespread satisfaction with the economic boom and social conservatism of those years. There was an upsurge in religiosity as church membership and attendance rose, and Eisenhower encouraged the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on the currency. At the same time, Eisenhower left the New Deal intact and crucially extended it to incorporate African-Americans, even using federal forces to enforce the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The Eisenhower years were to be the background to modern America. In many respects, the new social and political currents of the 1960s were a reaction to this conservatism. Yet, to an extent that exponents of the “Sixties” prefer to forget, many of the developments of the 1950s had a lasting impact, notably the growing suburbanisation and car culture, the growing significance of the South and, far more, the West, and the willingness of government to challenge institutional Southern racism. Continue reading “Eisenhower and the Cold War”→
To experts on the history of U.S. foreign policy, the Dulles brothers’ service during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency marks an important watershed in the evolution of American interventionism. In the context of brewing conflict with the Soviet Union, Eisenhower’s administration aimed to protect developing countries of the “Third World” from being converted to Communism. However, as recovery efforts following World War II mobilized international diplomatic efforts to broker world peace, U.S. officials were reluctant to deploy troops abroad. John Foster Dulles was Eisenhower’s secretary of state during this time. His brother, Allen Dulles, served as director of the recently founded Central Intelligence Agency. Together, the Dulles brothers used this agency to eliminate perceived communist threats in the Third World through covert operations, establishing a powerful precedent for “regime change” as foreign policy strategy.
What fewer scholars and policy enthusiasts know is that the Dulles brothers were products of an elite political family with a strong internationalist tradition. John Foster Dulles’ personal papers, stored at his alma mater Princeton University, exhibit how the eldest brother’s upbringing and family network, consisting of diplomats, missionaries, and international lawyers, influenced his developing world view. This is particularly the case with his maternal grandfather, John W. Foster, a prominent patriarchal presence during Dulles’ childhood. Ideological continuity between Foster and his oldest grandson is evident in their comparable career paths, their methods of preparing subsequent male generations, and their published texts and speeches which analyze the role of U.S. foreign policy in international affairs.
Otto von Bismarck once remarked that the United States was blessed: “The Americans are truly a lucky people. They are bordered to the north and south by weak neighbours and to the east and west by fish.” Thanks to this geographic grace, George Washington could call for freedom from “entangling alliances” in his farewell address. This distance has also bred a strong undercurrent of parochialism and chauvinism in American culture. From these two impulses has emerged the conceptual DNA of American foreign relations in the form of two dichotomies—exemplarism versus interventionism; cosmopolitanism versus exceptionalism—lending form and structure to debates about how a democratic people should manage their affairs in an often unkind, even hostile, world.
In his sweeping and authoritative account of United States grand strategy in the Asia Pacific, Michael J. Green reminds us that Americans have long regarded this maritime expanse – from the Aleutians to Cape Horn in the Western Hemisphere across to Australasia and Sakhalin in the Eastern — as integral to defending their ‘empire of liberty’. Nineteenth-century policymakers from Thomas Jefferson and Matthew C. Perry to Henry Seward and John Hay sought to pry open these watery frontiers to American influence (and conquest) so as to stave off any threats that might overleap the Pacific Ocean. Their twentieth-century successors, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Teddy Roosevelt, George Marshall and Franklin Roosevelt, Dean Acheson and Harry Truman, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, George Shultz and Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, among others, have fought to keep the Pacific an American lake – for now. Continue reading “Rethinking American Grand Strategy in the Asia Pacific”→
The OUPblog has just posted a great reading list for scholars of the history of US foreign relations, in advance of the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). The list, some of which are below, includes blog posts, cutting-edge books, and the top five most-read Diplomatic History articles of 2015 (spoiler: one of them is mine). More than a few of the items on the list have an explicitly imperial history angle, including fresh-off-the-press books like Benjamin Coates’s Legalist Empire: International Law and American Foreign Relations in the Early Twentieth Century and Amanda Moniz’s From Empire to Humanity: The American Revolution and the Origins of Humanitarianism. Have a look! Continue reading “17 OUP-Recommended US Foreign Relations Histories That You Need to Read”→
Abstract: Franklin Roosevelt epitomized liberalism in America in the 20th century, and Ronald Reagan conservatism. Yet while they disagreed on nearly everything in domestic affairs, they agreed on the need for the United States to play the leading role in world affairs. This consensus among liberals and conservatives is at risk from the mediocre performance of the U.S. economy since 2008 and from a questioning at both ends of the political spectrum of the value to the United States of trying to solve the world’s problems. Continue reading “What FDR and Reagan Had in Common – A Talk by H. W. Brands”→
Amid the early decades of the twentieth century, critics of Western imperialism such as economist Joseph Schumpeter and sociologist Thorstein Veblen may have been correct to connect aristocratic tendencies with imperial expansion. And political scientist Louis Hartz may also have been correct when he proclaimed in The Liberal Tradition in America (1953) that, unlike Europe, the United States had no aristocracy. However, Hartz’s analysis will provide little comfort to the vast majority of the American public, who find their more pacific views are not reflected in US foreign policy making. Continue reading “Could Imperial History Help US Foreign Policy Makers?”→