Much of what seems confusing and contradictory about American foreign relations can be understood better if one uses certain techniques of study. Such a toolbox of ideas will not provide an answer for every question nor a solution for all the difficulties of the present and the future. But just as a great many useful and beautiful objects can be built with a few carefully selected tools--if the craftsman knows how to handle them-- so also can much be learned about foreign affairs if the available information is organized and interpreted in the proper manner. In studying the history of American foreign relations, then, it is helpful to look at a series of events or any given policy from four different points of view.
First, there are various broad aspects of a nation's foreign relations: the economic, the political, the military, and what may be called the ideological. By the ideological, more is meant than merely propaganda. A nation's cultural value system--what it holds important and with what intensity --is an integral part of its foreign policy. Though these values may be merchandised as a "way of life" in the form of slogans, and by such means as the Voice of America, they make themselves known in far more subtle and penetrating ways to all those who deal with a given nation.
Each of these different sides of a foreign policy can be studied separately, as in evaluating America's foreign economic policy, but it never should be forgotten that a decision made in one of these areas will of necessity affect the others. They are always interrelated. A political treaty may grow out of long-term economic ties and lead to the construction of bases by one country in another, which in turn creates little islands of foreign influence. But the different aspects of foreign policy do not maintain the same importance with relation to each other at all times. During a war, for example, military policy is of primary significance. In years of peace, economic expansion may be the most striking feature of a country's foreign affairs.
If these facts are kept in mind, it becomes easier to understand how confusion sometimes has arisen concerning American foreign relations. For by concentrating exclusively on the study of political action one might come to the conclusion that the United States was isolationist in a given period, while in fact the country might have been conducting a very vigorous program of foreign trade and investment. Or, in another case, a nation may export nothing but a great quantity of propaganda, which might, nevertheless, give the impression of an aggressive political policy. The first job, then, is to remember that foreign relations are influenced by economics, politics . . .