Pursuing the National Interest: Moments of Transition in Twentieth-Century American Foreign Policy

Pursuing the National Interest: Moments of Transition in Twentieth-Century American Foreign Policy

Pursuing the National Interest: Moments of Transition in Twentieth-Century American Foreign Policy

Pursuing the National Interest: Moments of Transition in Twentieth-Century American Foreign Policy

Synopsis

The history of twentieth-century American foreign policy presents an indictment of classical and structural realism and systemic theories of international relations more generally. Examining five crucial movements of transition in American foreign policy making - before and after each of the world wars and the end of the Cold War - Shonberg argues that the national interest resides mostly in the eye of the beholder, and that the idiosyncratic perceptions, beliefs, and values of individuals are of vital importance in the policy process. Thus, America's recent experiences in global politics, interpreted through the lens of national ideology, has defined and created the ultimate shape of a new foreign policy.

Excerpt

September 11, 2001, it was often remarked at the time, was the day that everything changed. After coming to grips with the shock and horrific reality of what had occurred, millions of Americans struggled to understand what it meant, what it should be interpreted to say about their nation's place in the world, in the past and in the future. Like the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor in the last days of 1941, it seems likely that for at least a generation September 11 will be a seminal moment for American society, the event and the image that are taken as the starting point for understanding the appropriate purposes and means of American foreign policy in the years ahead.

And yet the world did not really change on September 11, at least to the material extent that it did at Pearl Harbor or with the end of the cold war. What did change was the way in which Americans saw the world and understood the threats and opportunities that it presented. Pearl Harbor altered the military balance of power in the Pacific, but its greatest historical importance resulted from the change in perception that it came to represent for U.S. citizens. For a generation, the images of destroyers burning became a shorthand for understanding what to do in the world and how to avoid the mistakes of the past. September 11 will likely come to play the same role in the psyche of a new generation of Americans, though in both cases the experience of the events and the nature of their causes will likely be far more complex than the lessons distilled from them.

Pearl Harbor is remembered to mean that the United States must be strong, engaged in the world, and intolerant of aggressors—but the emer-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.