Importance of US Foreign Policy between 1890-1991 Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer

Ideology is the set of morals that the US Foreign policy is based on. Although some analysts believe that the ideology of American congressmen is forever changing, some believe that the ideology is changing to adapt to the modernization of the world and its politics. The key aspects of ideology are Isolationism, democracy, freedom, anti-Communism, Capitalism and Christianity. I believe that the ideology that the US holds is based on the wants and needs of the country rather than the beliefs of what is moral.

America’s first encounter with foreign policy was in 1890 with the Spanish American war. Before this time America had a strong policy of isolationism, but they also had the contradicting idea that they were the ‘The peace maker of the world’. Already from the beginning the ideology of the US was confused.

The various doctrines of ideology

The orthodox view on ideology has been ever changing. Before the Spanish American war, the USA had no interaction with rest of the world, the theme of isolationism was run through the senate, as time continued the intervention of America grew internationally, which Orthodox historians put down to factors such as the mood of the Americans, the perceived threat of the spread of communism (especially from the soviets) and the increasing influence from the military.

Revisionist ideology actually concerns itself with a re-examination of facts that have been in use over time. The US foreign policy has faced critical re-examination overtime. Sometimes back, the US foreign policy was clear to the point, but with time it has greatly shifted until there is some level of confusion as to what the US policy really is. Revisionist historians have over time, for instance, established that there is no such thing as established US foreign policy.

What is even more confusing to establish is the US foreign policy itself. This could rather be motivated by the fact that the challenges that were present at 1890s are not the ones that are faced in the1990s. The revisionist have, therefore set out to correct this notion by attempting to give the real picture of the U.S foreign policy, which somewhat, shifts from the traditionally held notions and assumptions.

The Post-revisionist view on ideology picked up ground in the 1980s. The view of Post-revisionists, through further analysis, saw the U.S foreign ideology after the cold war. They for example, argue that both Russia and U.S are to blame for the Cold War. For the U.S, they feel that its greatest intention was to spread its sphere of influence around Europe.

Different views on Ideology

Greatest suspicion of the US foreign policy took root especially after the Vietnam conflict. This question has generated a lot of debate among many analysts, philosophers and even historians, not forgetting the ordinary citizenry. Hunt (1988) asserts that the foreign policy of the US is based on “false assumptions, prone to misguided activism, and plagued by high and sometimes hidden costs”.

According to Hunt, many critics have factored in the ever changing trends that it is no longer tenable for the US policy makers to cling on the Cold War policies. Many have since criticized the way America engages in external engagements that eventually prove to be out of its interests and even, at times, too costly to the US government.

There is a problem of mindsets that motivates the present ‘ideology’ in the US. These mindsets are difficult to change for example that of the US, taking itself to be the world’s “policeman”. This is usually motivated by the myth that American “identify depends on a special responsibility for world order”.

Though this feeling goes to a greater extent towards uniting a people, I feel it is prudent that US realizes that the well being of other nations should be those nation’s responsibility and not US. The critics further expect that the US needs to give up its honorable pretensions and live modestly like other nations Hunt (ibid)

There are cases where some scholarly work has gone ahead to show the fine connection between foreign policy ideology and the morale of the nation. For instance, it is argued that nationalism is good since it projects cultural pride that has a lot to do with advancing the social cohesion.

However, this does not lack its flipside; nationalism is likened to liquor; it should be taken in small doses. Some critics have argued that blind nationalism can lead to unimaginable arrogance driven by such emotions that may lead to a feeling of caring less for the rest. Letting ideology to dominate the psyche of the nation can be counterproductive. Feinberg, a critic, avers that it is this attempted balance that proves a nightmare to the United States. What should be of utmost value should be values that build the nation and its institutions.

However the preoccupation with looking at the current flaws in policy by the critics could be a hindrance to coming up with new policy. I feel though the critics may be painted as impairing the development of new policy, their input should not be downplayed as they are just providing the requisite ingredients in the definition of the yet to be crafted clear policy.

Though critics’ adventures have been taken aback, many neo-conservatives feel that it is better for the American policy to remain stuck with concern for world leadership. I feel this could be partly appropriate as the world has diverse political thought into play. Sometimes it is good for some reliable big player to serve as a role model at the same time as a deterrent to some rogue regimes, which may have their sympathizers in the UN.

Historians have had a role that is of great benefit to foreign policy. Historians have actually given a detailed account of the policy with regard to international events. America has had a hand in international arena, and this has required that some level approach be advanced Brinkely & Ambrose (1998). But historians too have had their own trouble with policy issue.

George Kennan’s approach has been of important background, though it has had its flaws too. According to Hunt, Kennan for instance has been the father of containment doctrine. He was also a notable personality towards all that had to do with the Cold War. This policy, advocated using several strategies including military, economic and even some level of diplomacy to put a stop to the spread of communism. By this, it was believed, America could easily spread its influence abroad.

Many saw the soviet as having features of a river; it could trickle down into several other countries that seemed to lack the strength and stability to wade off such influence. It was against this fear that US decided to strengthen other nations around the globe, as a measure to defend democracy, while at the same time guarding the market that was accessible to the US Wolf (1997).President Harry Truman used this thought to defend himself when he intervened in the Civil War of Greece.

Soviets were believed to be supporting some leftists’ movement in Greece. For Turkey, it was believed that the Soviet Union was lobbying for some concessions, a situation that quite unnerved US. The US had to therefore adopt a plan to support these states to keep off the Soviet Union advances. Kennan is the one who proposed containment as an option for US in this situation.

He wanted US to firmly guard its spheres of influence that were crucial to its interest. To this end, he proposed a stronger counter force to amalgamate the specific areas that the Soviet Union was spreading its tentacles. Kennan actually was for the US to protect centers of military industrial power, for that case Western Europe and Japan. The only problem of containment policy towards the Soviet was that it lacked the limits, i.e. it was not clearly defined.

The US was urged to increase its powers in the military. Although Kennan did not envisage attacking them from several parts, the US has continued a policy of engagement everywhere, something which applied saw the Soviet Union collapse, as seen through by Ronald Reagan.

This policy was further used to dangerous levels as it led to the arms race that could have led the world in nuclear war. Equally the US has used the policy to engage in unnecessary conflicts around the world, in some involving supporting even vicious dictators who showed any sign of being anti-communism.

Critical observation showed that domestically the containment strategy made the US government expand due to the need to accommodate various departments such as the National Security Agency. It Kaufmann (2006) has also been established that instead of appointment of career diplomats, more political appointments took place since true diplomacy was not what the US was interested in. The military industry also expanded, and this meant that more arms were produced and distributed, even to rogue regimes. I can for sure conclude that though the containment doctrine was initially well intended, it has over a long period been used wrongly to expand an agenda that is detrimental to the image of the US.

Another flaw of the policy is that it has been obscure in its definition. So many thoughts have interfered with the American policy. These include both moralistic and legalistic inclinations which eventually got their way into the US policy making. It meant that moralism at that time referred to sticking to virtue yet you do not have the power and the will for its sustenance.

There was a feeling that such was perpetrated by policy makers as they bended to other short term pressure like public opinion and even just the attitude of the makers of policy themselves. This, it is argued, has led to obscuring the pursuit of finding what national interest really is.

I feel that public opinion might have contributed to building of sentiment that has motivated policy makers to explore war as a tool of policy to engage in despicable military adventures abroad. Hunt actually supports this when he says:

Americans had fallen prey to illusions that war as an instrument of policy could bring total victory or, alternatively, that peace could be had through world disarmament, arbitration treaties, and the outlawry of war, the action of international organizations, and other means that sidestepped the real substance of international affairs.

It is however argued that the US was faced with the daunting task of finding a new approach to international affairs after the isolationism was overtaken by the overriding challenges. Over time, especially after the World War II, it has been recorded that the US foreign policy had to take a major change. In other words, isolation was abandoned and interventionism adopted. It was so maddening that after some time many started requesting for US to deal with China, an only communist power that was surviving.

Foreign policy rollback

According to Bodenheimer and Gould (1989) this situation marked the advent of a global foreign policy rollback. They feel that nationalism and post-war rollback. We are further told of how the nationalists were opposed to alliances and preferred that US goes it alone in expanding its sphere of influence. Interestingly, we are told of the economic interests of the nationalists. They actually preferred expansion with a mindset on the economic gain that the US was going to accrue from such endeavors.

To expand the influence the nationalists believed that the only way to make it was through military might of the US. They felt that since communism did not value private property, it had to be fought at all cost. It is against such embedded gain that the US had its hand in Asia through Cuban Revolution of 1959 and even that of Nicaragua in 1979.

However, the US military rollback in Russia led to casualties on the US side until US had to eventually withdraw from direct military engagement in Russia. This did not in any way deter the US from having covert deals in other states, including Chile, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Brazil etc.

Examples abound of how America has over the time advanced issues with economic considerations taking the front seat. During the global industrial imperialism period between1890-1914 the US has had a great appetite for its business expansion abroad, and actually control of the markets. This kind of need has over time influenced those who define policy as earlier discussed.

Though not all Americans have supported such wanton control of other states and even possible take-over as a trend that goes against America’s tradition value of self determination, this has been the order of the day as even different regimes come to power. It is such a disturbing trend that despite such criticism many pro-conquest have always won and their decision followed. Kinzer (2006) has greatly delved into how this unofficial policy has been executed over time.

In most cases America has gone to war under the pretext of morality or bringing ‘freedom’ but deeper analysis reflects another thing: motivation for natural resources, markets’ control and many other business opportunities that are present in the countries to be conquered.

The US and foreign Interventions

Noam Chomsky (2002) has expressed his deep concern for the US foreign policy. In fact, he says that he finds the US foreign policy as simply ‘horrifying’. He feels that the policy has in it a lot of destructive aspects that really need remedying. He feels that power rests in those who dominate the “ideological” instructions of policy making.

He does not only criticize the US policy but he equally found equal horrifying aspects in the U.S.S.R policy at the time. Ideally, the US policy perpetrates atrocities in many states abroad. For instance, on which moral pedestal did the US foreign policy stand, by supporting the Argentine generals who committed atrocities of unimaginable proportions to their own people?

The effect of a foreign intervention leading to a catastrophe is clearly recorded. The US had intervened in Cuba and Turkey. But, after the discovery of the presence of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba US launched a blockade of Cuba which, according to the Kennedy, was to prevent U.S.S.R from further accessing the Island.

But the trouble here can be gleaned from how this almost brought the powers to a near nuclear war, whose results no one can fathom. However, the issue was resolved by USSR dismantling the missiles while the US made a private undertaking to remove its missiles in Turkey and to promise never again to invade Cuba. The trouble with the situation is that even though the trouble was resolved peacefully, it still escalated an arms race between the two powers still.

For this one would ask why the US invaded Cuba at all. Sometimes before missile standoff we are given an account of how the US had made its presence felt in other countries, including Puerto Rico, Iran, Grenade and even Cuba. For the case of Cuba, America was interested in business, specifically tourism, which was thriving in Cuba then Hook (2008). To achieve this, it had to participate in installing a regime that was friendly to allow its businesspeople to venture in Cuba.

It therefore, engineered a mutiny with the intension of deposing the Cuban Machado dictatorship. U.S actually supported a general in the army by the name Batista to do its dirty job. So immediately after assuming power Batista invited American investors to invest in the lucrative tourism industry. Long afterwards Fidel Castro assumed power and swore never to make America the master of Cuba again. This revolution has tested as the Cuban people came to see that what America was interested in was just business and not moral duty.

My feeling is that the American intervention abroad has been viewed with a lot of skepticism due to lack of genuine moral grounding. In most cases the US has been driven by undefined self interest, that many host countries have been quick to notice. Such a trend should be reversed to reduce the kind of hostility that America may cause in the mind of many across the globe.

However, it could be good if national policy is crafted to promote genuine peace as Kennedy summed up in his inaugural address after the resolution of the crisis thus: “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal”

National security has been of great concern to the US. After the World War II the United States was faced with the responsibility of taking a keener look at its national security Christie (2008). It is by good luck that US emerged out of the war unscathed, since both its military and even economy was intact.

Kennan, a senior member of senior State Department said that US was now headed towards being “the object of envy and resentment” as it was the richest i.e. at least a third of the world’s wealth. It is against such awareness that Kennan advised that US policy should be that which deals with clearly established measures that could warrant security of the whole nation. Look here, the threat to the US was appearing to be real and that is why it was necessary that a proper framework be put in place Campbell (1992)

Remember U.S had several interests across the globe and this called for a policy that could put all these factors in perspective. According to Kennan US was actually doing well and needed serious policy to defend itself in case it was under siege from some of its powerful enemies. Such interests therefore played a role in the policy that US adopted. Congress then suggested the establishment of new institutions to tackle this concern. These included NSC and CIA.

But threat to national policy is not just through arms attack it could, according to Eisenhower, it could be a threat to national security if people went without food. It is only ironical that America has continued to support military dictators as long as they protect the interests of the US. This has been the case in Latin America. Many analysts have discovered the agencies that have been established to protect the national interests have ended up misusing such power.

The President was not wrong when he warned in his farewell speech of 1961 thus: “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex”. It is clear here that sometimes the policy makers may come up with a policy that eventually gets bigger than already envisaged due to lack of proper demarcation of its boundaries. It is my view that foreign policy formulators stick to well researched suggestions that do give clear boundaries, such that no one can misuse them.

Reagan referred to the Communist Soviet as an ‘evil empire’. By this he rallied the public mood against such an empire. Yet it is not lost to many how the Iran Contra issue painted a picture of disrespect to national ideals. The law was quickly flouted through a set of covert deal making. Yet in as much as Reagan wanted to prove to the world that the Soviet was up to no moral good, we later on discover that the US on the other hand had done covert deals in the Iran contra affair just to save hostages.

This Iran contra scandal came up in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan was in power. As records have it, Iran was then facing arms embargo. There was a plan to sell arms to Iran, though indirectly.

He did this to actually appease hostage takers who had links to Iran, with the hope that Iran could convince the separatists (who it had control over) to release the hostages. Arms were therefore to be sold from Israel so as US could replace to Israel the arms transferred to Iran. The shroud of secrecy that this deal was struck was unimaginable.

My take to this is that US has had to put its selfish interests first against any moral or even legal obligation facing it.


It is indeed true that the ideology that the US holds is based on the wants and needs of the country. The issue of the Iran contra scandal clearly illustrates this. Besides, there are many more instances where the US has projected one picture when actually what it means is quite the reverse.

The several attacks in several countries have shown that the U.S is not usually driven by the desire to emancipate but to exert its power to achieve some gain. For example, we saw how it engineered regime change in Cuba so that a new leader whom it would influence was installed. This leader eventually allowed American business to thrive there.

Another issue that the paper found is that much as the US continues to play double standards many countries are becoming aware that the US is not sincere, and this may lead to a situation where contempt and hostility could be directed towards it.

Though policy making is a complex issue given the ever changing circumstances around the globe, the US should relinquish its self proclaimed role of policing other nations as such a position has led to even more conflict.

What needs to be done is actually to empower the UN body so that international issues and conflict resolutions are not only genuine but seen to be so.

Sources Analysis

Brinkley and Ambrose (1998) source was quite useful to this study. It provided general knowledge about foreign Policy of the US. It for instance provided inkling into the foreign policy based on the need for international connection that is prevailing. It was quite helpful in showing the budget the US spent on its armed forces, not forgetting its invasion of Grenada, Central America and even the Persian Gulf, among others.

Christie (2008) was quite useful too. It provided some background study to the essay. It actually gave an incisive account of US politics in relation to international relations.

Campbell D (1992) talked about security and the politics associated with it. Quite a useful source.

Noam Chomsky (2002) has was quite useful in that it showed the way power has been misused by those who have the power to use it. It was also crucial in showing the atrocities perpetrated by those with power.

Steven W. Hook (2008). To be sincere, this source was quite intuitive as it explained everything so clearly. It showed the dilemma that faces the US while faced with the ever changing demands and challenges of the globe.

Hunt M. H (1988) was equally an important source. It provided proper grounding argument on the ideology and foreign policy. It was the most useful book in this essay as it provided the pertinent detail for the initial argument.

Kaufman (2006) was not quite useful but it really helped me in the general background information for the study.

Kinzer’s ‘Overthrow’, though radical in nature, provided the relevant material that unmasked what the US does in pretext of moral obligation.

Wolf provided material for the proper view of politics as intertwined with economic considerations. It was useful to the study still.

Lastly the website source provided good material on the roll back adventures as advanced by US. It was quite useful, as it had more material which could have touched all the aspects of the essay. Such a useful source it was.


Brinkely D. & Ambrose S. (1998). Rise to Globalism, Penguin, USA.

Campbell D (1992) Writing Security: United States Foreign policy and the Politics of Identity. Manchester University Press, UK.

Christie K. (2008). United States Foreign Policy and National Identity in the 21st Century.Taylor and Francis, USA.

Chomsky, N. (2002). Understanding Power. The Indispensable Chomsky. The New Press.

Hook S. W. (2008). The Paradox of World Power. CQ Press, California.

Hunt M, H. (1988) Ideology and US Foreign Policy, Yale University Press.

Kaufmann J. (2006). A Concise history of US foreign Policy. Rowman and Littlefield. USA.

Kinzer. (2006). Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change. Times Books.

Wolf. (1997). The Economic Pivot in a Political Context. Transaction Publishers USA. Web.

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