Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Did the USA have a foreign policy during the Cold War?

I said no. In fact, I spent four pages writing in very small letters, how the answer to this question was actually no. That was the better part of my History of US Foreign Policy final.

The instructor gave us 5 questions ahead of time, and said the exam would be two questions of the five, which she selected, and we would not have a choice. Surprise! The exam, in fact, was actually all five questions, and we had to select two ourselves which we wanted to answer (except for undergrads, who all had to answer the first question and only got to choose one other of the remaining four.) The first question I had to answer (being undergrad and all) was to say whether George Kennan (Long Telegram, X article) or Walter Lippmann was right about the Cold War and containment. Now, my plan to prepare for this question, if I should encounter it on the exam, was to read the paper I wrote at the beginning of the semester comparing the two arguments. Unfortunately, I saved this task for last, and was unable to find said paper, and thus relied on my memory from several months ago. And in the end I wrote a horribly weak essay filled with generalities. I finished in 38 minutes.

In order to make up for it, the next question I chose to answer allowed me much more freedom to dive into specifics, at least in comparison to the topic, and give a wide range of concepts and philosophies we had studied over the semester. The question, as the title of this post, was to determine whether the United States had a real "foreign policy" or responded haphazardly to events which came up.

On first glance, to be honest, I think it looks like more haphazard responses than anything consistent at a policy level. Exhibit A: Henry Kissinger. He, for one, was completely preoccupied with superpower relations (that would be American-Soviet relations) and only would deal with the Third World as necessary... often reacting with a tardy and poorly thought out response--like coaxing South Africa into invading Angola.

But there were major themes and objectives which presidents and their advisers used to construct policy. These were mostly consistent throughout the period, and to some extent have been ubiquitous since the birth of the American nation in affecting policy--from continental expansion, to the Monroe Doctrine, to Containment and the Cold War and even in the War of Terror. I described those themes which I asserted stemmed from ideology as the glue holding the policies together, but not policy itself.

I am sad my history class is over now. It was tough, but I learned so much (when you know nothing, it's easy to learn a lot.) And in fact, what I learned was useful... unlike what I learned in my networking or controls engineering classes.

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