A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

From the Persian Gulf War
to 9/11/2001: Confronting
a New World Order

George C. Herring

When the Cold War came to an end, millions of Americans reached the conclusion, perhaps understandably, that foreign policy issues no longer would dominate American political discussion and decision making. For fifty years, the bipolar vision of the Cold War world had shaped American foreign policy. Now the situation was dramatically different. What criteria would the country use for determining its policies toward other nations? Would the United States maintain its military presence in Europe? Was a large military still necessary? In cases of civil strife, starvation, or ethnic rivalry, by what standards would the United States define its response? Was self-interest the key? But how was self-interest defined? Did morality matter? But who defined what was morally correct in disputes between warring ethnic factions?

There was only a decade between the end of the Cold War and the terrorist attacks that precipitated the war in Afghanistan. That decade, as George Herring demonstrates in his analysis of post–Cold War foreign policy, was far from peaceful, and the foreign policy issues facing the United States were far from easy. What is the logic behind American foreign policy since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? Does it demonstrate continuity with previous approaches, or dramatic change? Herring points to unintended consequences from U.S. interventions and foreign policy decisions. What are the key unintended consequences that shape current foreign relations? What does the emergence of non-state actors mean for U.S. foreign policy? Was the world more stable at the height of the Cold War?

For a fleeting moment in the early 1990s, peace and world order seemed within reach. The end of the Cold War and the subsequent

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