The United States after the World War

By James C. Malin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI
INTRODUCTION TO FOREIGN POLICIES

THERE has been a tradition in American history that the United States has had no foreign policy, or, stated in less extreme form, that there has been no continuity in foreign policy. Historians have persisted in writing American history from the standpoint of isolated and unrelated episodes rather than from the standpoint of development of ideas, policies, and movements. It is true that in most phases of its foreign relations the United States has placed relatively less emphasis upon basic principles of policy than some European powers; but the difference is primarily a matter of relative stress rather than an absence of policy. Even this distinction applies only to some phases of foreign relations, since few nations held more tenaciously to a line of policy than did the United States to the principles embodied in the so-called Monroe Doctrine or persisted with less deviation from a primary objective over an equal period of time.

Sustained public interest in public questions seems impossible in democracies. Each question as it impinges upon public consciousness tends to be registered as a relatively new or wholly new experience. With responsible public officials this is less true than is popularly supposed. In dealing with domestic questions it is possible to reverse public policy or to make a radical change in direction; it is much more difficult in foreign affairs, and frequently impossible. It is a basic principle in international law that obligations assumed by one administration or government are binding upon its successors until such obligations are honorably dissolved. Every incoming administration finds itself bound to a considerable

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