A Review on "The American Age, US Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad"

By admin ~ September 29th, 2010 @ 4:02 am

This book mainly covers three presidents of the United States in the 20th Century; starting with Roosevelt and ending with Wilson. What has happened during the first two decades of the century is narrated and presidents’ policies and international conflicts are discussed. There are some elements which are common among US presidents that we will go through it later.

Theodore Roosevelt was the most important and most acceptable president of the century. Roosevelt was from an aristocratic family and loved killing especially Indians. His justification was to remove inferior race and people, and he extremely believed that use of force by civilized people will improve human character; the idea that seems emerging again in US policies by George Bush. He meant war with less industrialized nations mainly to maintain order in different region even if they were far from the US. He was growing in the age of post- 1875 depression. He was very concerned about reactionaries abroad and was looking for order in Asian and Latin America. As one may understand, he was a racist and believed in the whites’ mission to civilize and rule over other people. To maintain order, he used to accept all option even war. We can say that he also practiced the savage wars of order. He was the president who declared and determined US foreign policy for the century that was “US wants no more land”, now, US seeks market abroad. His reputation is for his creative idea of “dollar diplomacy”. The point that is very interesting is that to justify US economic desire for dominance, he used to think and say that US goods and values make people of the world happy.

Roosevelt came to power when presidential power has increased over the congress abilities. He strongly insisted that only president can conduct foreign policy; thus this change in foreign policy and presidential power was fit for Roosevelt. In sending troops to Santo Domingo, TR easily ignored congress. This theme and notion is increasing again in the US foreign policy when President Bush thinks that he can send more troops to Iraq even if Congress do not cooperate US administration. Beyond the order that can define US foreign policy in this century, opportunity is another theme that can not be forgotten, especially economic opportunity, US was searching for places to invest and trade. Very much like today’s US president TR did not hesitate to use military force to achieve the goals and guarantee opportunity. Lafeber thinks that we can name 20th century the “imperial presidency” that I think even 21st century started with this imperialism but it will not continue as Bush has made so many mistakes that US political system will not bear anymore.

He did a great deal to the United States by constructing the Panama Canal. His main obstacle to do so was to break the treaty in which Britain had the chance of partnership in canal projects. Due to some conflicts in Africa and elsewhere, US-British relation enhanced greatly; US sided with British against Boers and British sided with US against Canada on Alaska. To begin the construction he was willing to have Panamanians revolted in 1903 against Colombia; a fight that US made greatly use of it with securing Panamanians independence.

Monroe Doctrine was another concern of him. There were two threats for Monroe Doctrine; first, Germany and its militarily and second; Revolutions in Caribbean. There was always a threat by Europeans to Roosevelt policies. To stop threats of revolution in Caribbean, he went to Central America. “Policing” was the term used by TR to keep order and to civilize people. It is necessary to add that this policing has repeated in the US foreign policy several times. TR gradually fell behind the Monroe Doctrine on Latin America for five reasons; Monroe doctrine supported Latin America revolutions, Monroe believed in nonintervention in Latin America, Monroe sees US economic traditional and at home, Monroe Doctrine sees no use of military power esp. in Latin America and Monroe urged abstention.

Among the policies TR perused, Asia had a significant status. To reach the peak of world power, US should address cheapest labor and greatest market of China. So US should build transportation to carry its goods to Asia. In foreign policy, TR supported Japan and suppressed Russia trying to control Korea and colonize Manchuria. In 1905 fight erupted between Japan and Russia; America tried to mediate the relation and helped them sign a peace treaty in September 1905. As a result of the treaty both Japan and Russia promised to respect China’s territorial integrity. At the same year, some Chinese boycott American goods as a result of American immigration laws; lots of uproars and economic challenges happened. Japan was the next US challenge after China; Japan closed off Korea to US interests and began to move to Manchuria itself. TR in order to manifest US power to especially Japan sent a fleet around the world. Finally, Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending Russo-Japanese war.

William Howard Taft came to presidency from 19019 to 1913. He was not an absolute follower of Roosevelt; thus a catastrophe happened in China and US interests. Lack of energy and personal character of being cool were the real causes of Taft‘s failure. He favored traditional policies in foreign policy; created Department of Labor, antitrust movements against big corporations and created income tax. Taft clung to open door in Asia, order in Latin America and dollar diplomacy claiming that enough money secures. He used to reject TR’s military forces using the growing capital resources in Asia and Latin America. Dollar diplomacy creates orderly societies by developing the unindustrialized nations and make profit of American investments. Taft’s successor, Woodrow Wilson, pulled out America out of consortium- Taft urged- in 1913.

During 1906, a debate on US need to go and find a market of Latin America emerged. It deals with an idea that America’s North and South are serving each other; south provides raw materials and north has the manufacturers. Fear that Cubans were acquiring revolutionary habits was assumed to be a point of concern for US administration. Dollar diplomacy failed in the north as well as the Far East. Generally we can say that US tries to apply its power outward in Asia and Canada with a focus to have open door policy in Africa. US arbitration movement could not prevent the outrage of stop WWI or prevent great powers like US from using force to put down revolutions. Most US presidents in early 20th century- McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson- desired order in Latin America, Africa and Asia and even Europe; revolutions began to spread around the world. US was going to replace Great Britain as the super power in the 20th century.

Wilson coming to power faced blasts of revolutions in different places of the world. His major policies include internationalism and moralism dedicated to democracy what is practiced and stated by US for implementing any policies in Middle East. Wilson was trained as a lawyer, turned to academic career and was the president of Princeton University. He was a stern Calvinist and belonged to Progressives. Wilson believed in the role government should play in business. Presidential power had increased after 1898 war; he implied some reforms in congress in 1913-16. He liked to decide before congress paying little attention to congress and public opinion. Democracy is an issue Wilson deals with enormously, he believes that people can not be given democracy, he doubt Filipinos were fit for self-government; American goods and ideas prepare them for democracy. This idea is not rare in the American mindset; Americans assume themselves as the source of democracy for other nations. An agreement in Wilson administration was made to make partnership with Britain and Germany to drive back Russia.

WWI ruined all Wilson’s dreams about America. US should control Japan in order to have both open door and freedom of action in China; not only by war but through financial agreements and cooperation. Like other US president especially George Bush, Wilson to prevent revolutions and achieve economic expansion used military interventions. In 1910- 1911, some riots in Mexico to overthrow Diaz- a dictator- with the help of Mederno happened. US intervened and planned a democratic election in order to prevent other revolutions in Latin America. Huerta in Mexico holds election with the help of British and won it and certainly it did not please Wilson. Overthrowing Huerta government and cutting foreign interests grow as the important aim of Wilson. Finally, Firing broke and Huerta removed and Carranza assumed the power. Interestingly, Wilson tried to remove Carranza as well. Nothing was gained by Wilson as he finally after harsh struggles was forced to come to terms with Carranza and tried to stabilize and democratize Mexican revolutions

WWI was a turning point in the history of the United State. US planned to pay little attention to Balkan events and there was a consensus that US should be neutral in this fight. US stayed officially neutral but Wilson advisors were supporting British in reality. Several attacks were made by Germans against US forces in the region but US did it best not to interfere and enter the war. US agreed on giving credits to Europe and gave it first to the Allies. The only thing US could do was to play the role of a mediator so that it can keep the balance of power in Europe. War discourse was spreading.

Wilson endeavored to conduct a very moderate foreign policy; to balance his policies, Wilson protested against British for interception of US mails. Meanwhile, Europeans fearing the US economic growth after WWI signed a treaty in which they agreed upon higher tariffs and controlling markets to fight US competition. Wilson being president for the second term attempted to end the war but it failed. Wilson felt that US is about to enter war; he went to congress to talk about postwar objectives and peace and announce US entrance in the conflict. War resolution was proved in congress on April 6, 1917. Finally US entered WWI.

This was the story of the United States in the beginning of its most important century. What is common among these three presidents and US administration as a whole is a desire to be the savior and superman for the world while benefiting its own political and economic interests. All believe in taking democracy to unindustrialized nations whether by the means of war as there is a belief that these inferior nations lack the capacity of gaining democracy. Policing is another common heritage of US foreign policy. US seeks economic power in the 20th century but now what is most important to Americans beyond the economic issues is the political and cultural hegemony which is sometimes interpreted as imperialism and now the victims are Middle Eastern nations and Muslims.
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