US Foreign Policy in Action
eBook - ePub

US Foreign Policy in Action

An Innovative Teaching Text

Jeffrey S. Lantis, Patrick Homan

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

US Foreign Policy in Action

An Innovative Teaching Text

Jeffrey S. Lantis, Patrick Homan

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About This Book

This book represents a timely exploration of the dynamics of U.S.foreign policy development. It introduces historical developments and theories of U.S. foreign policy and engages students in the politics and debates of the foreign policy process (both directly and by proxy) through innovative learning exercises. This book offers a rich understanding of the politics behind clashing perspectives towards contemporary foreign policy challenges ranging from immigration policy controversies to COVID-19 pandemic responses, climate change to the China trade war. All of these issues are presented in dynamic ways that focus on activism and engagement in the policy process—and so this text speaks directly to a new generation of college students who have mobilized to political activism. The book is intended to serve as a core text for classes on U.S. foreign policy at the 200-level or above and will appeal to a broad audience.

New to the Second Edition:

  • Provides insights on contemporary foreign policy challenges facing the Biden administration and future presidents, such as climate change, the rise of China, sanctions and trade policies, and changing U.S. engagement in the Middle East.


  • Offers stronger theoretical foundations for the study of domestic constraints in the foreign policy decision-making process, including the power of interest groups and political polarization in Congress.


  • Explains pedagogical treatments of online and hybrid learning applications, along with presenting new exercises to engage students both in person in the classroom and online.


  • Presents more detailed and critical historical analyses of U.S. foreign policy, including greater attention to the U.S. as an imperial power and its implications for politics and society.


  • Creates new and exciting active learning exercises for instructors and students, including role-playing simulations of global public health crisis management and group research projects on cybersecurity and immigration policy.


  • Enriches the graphics and illustrations of foreign policy actors and processes in a full-color presentation.


  • Analyzes contemporary foreign policy issues in the Trump and Biden administrations.


  • Adds new web components and features, some authored by undergraduate students who are becoming experts in U.S. foreign policy.


  • Includes new writing exercises and assignments designed to promote creative and critical thinking about foreign policy actors and processes.


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CHAPTER 1Introduction to the Politics of U.S. Foreign Policy

DOI: 10.4324/9781003109570-1
The purpose of foreign policy is not to provide an outlet for our own sentiments of hope or indignation, it is to shape real events in a real world.
President John F. Kennedy (1963)1
America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy … American leadership must meet this new moment of accelerating global challenges, from the pandemic to the climate crisis to nuclear proliferation … but we can’t do it alone. We must start with diplomacy rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity … That’s our inexhaustible source of strength. That’s America’s abiding advantage.
President Joseph Biden (2021)2
Photo 1.1President Biden at G7 Summit
Source: Leon Neal/PA Wire URN:60304416 (Press Association, via AP Images).
U.S. foreign policy is a fast-moving, important, and exciting realm of political science that we all need to better understand. Anyone who tracks global news through newsfeeds or social media might reasonably conclude that we face a never-ending stream of developments that could impact the health, prosperity, and security of Americans. But in this world of seemingly perpetual motion, it is critical that we also take opportunities to pause and reflect, to learn more about the actors, factors, and conditions that shape U.S. foreign policy and global reactions to it, and to begin to understand them in a more systematic way. And through this learning process, we can become more engaged citizens in critical processes of policy-making.
One of those moments for reflection for people in the U.S. and around the world occurred on September 11, 2021, when they marked the 20th anniversary of the tragic terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. This was significant, not only for commemorating those who died in the attacks, but also for what it represented: a chance to try to come to terms with all of the difficult circumstances that have affected the U.S. at home and abroad. For example, at the very same time, U.S. military leaders were beginning to make sense of the lessons of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that had led to the deaths of more than 7,000 service members and injuries to tens of thousands more. The U.S. was also struggling under the weight of a devastating pandemic that fundamentally reshaped our society and economy. President Joe Biden and his advisors were working with Congress to change the nature and scope of U.S. foreign policy commitments around the world.
Think about how the world has changed just in our lifetimes. When you were born, the U.S. was leading a global War on Terror after decades of competition with the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Rapid economic globalization was under way, and many considered the U.S. to be the single dominant power in the world. But over the past two decades, everything seemed to change: China’s economic and political might has reordered the global balance of power, the Arab Spring brought both peaceful changes and intense conflicts to the Middle East, the evidence of climate change has become more acute, and immigration/refugee crises have pushed the limits of authority and legitimacy. U.S. soldiers also fought and sacrificed their lives to bring the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a close. Even as the U.S. tried to reckon with these and other challenges, new and dire threats arose in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic retrenchment, and social unrest.
America faces many foreign policy opportunities and challenges today, and how we make sense of them matters. Questions of how the U.S. will respond to them—and whether the country will even be a major player in global politics in the future—are more open-ended than one might think. Foreign policy issues often involve differing interpretations of primary values and interests, along with plenty of experimentation and adaptation to circumstances. This can be surprisingly divisive, and these issues demand that key players engage in struggles over allocations of government resources and commitments. Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI) knew this when he called for partisan disagreements to stop “at the water’s edge”. Only speaking with one voice could boost America’s image and power in global politics, many believe. But even if the U.S. government adopted a bipartisan approach to foreign policy issues during the Cold War, today skeptics wonder whether the country can ever again “speak with one voice” on such matters.
Debates over U.S. foreign policy typically involve actors with vested interests in determining policy scope and direction. The framers of the Constitution deliberated over which branch of government should have the most authority in foreign affairs, for example. After World War I, leaders in Congress and the White House debated whether the U.S. should retreat from engagement in global affairs. Later, events like the Vietnam War and immigration policy divided the American people and their elected representatives in Washington. More recently, officials and large segments of the private sector have questioned U.S. commitments to treaties, free trade, and the future of U.S.–China relations.
Foreign policy is defined as the actions and strategies that guide government relations with the rest of the world. Foreign policy includes actions taken by states, such as providing aid, making official statements of support for another democracy, or even deploying military troops. Foreign policy is also shaped by strategies behind this behavior, such as official doctrines or policies formulated to achieve key national security interests. These actions and strategies are typically developed by elected representatives, especially the president and members of Congress. They are also influenced by unelected actors ranging from civil servants in government agencies and lobbyists to bloggers and average citizens who share information or participate directly in the process. This broad definition underscores how foreign policy is the product of a complex mix of actors and actions. It also highlights the degree of surprise, drama, and unpredictability in the foreign policy process.
Most foreign policy decisions are the result of elaborate decision-making processes. These processes can be noble, such as when government officials respectfully disagree over the best path for future policies and patiently exchange views in an effort to find reasonable compromise. They can be also complicated, like when players consider both short- and long-term implications of their actions in relation to political commitments. Or they can be tough political street fights in which powerful groups line up on both sides of a controversial issue in an attempt to shape the final outcome, creating clear winners and losers.
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic and the dramatic shock that it posed to the global community also pushed us to rethink foreign policy commitments and the pros and cons of “‘business as usual”. Former Director of the Centers for Disease Control Dr. Tom Frieden called the struggle that ensued “World War C” to denote its significance.3 Efforts to respond to the spread of a deadly virus pushed all countries to experimentation and rapid adaptation: international travel ground to a halt, trade was interrupted, treaties were ruptured, and our ways of operating had to be radically overhauled. As devastating as this crisis was, though, it was also a moment for reflection on what values and commitments would endure for the U.S. and its allies. It underscored the power of innovation and experimentation in the face of adversity, and this book highlights how these lessons carry over from the White House to the United Nations system to the classroom.
This book is designed to bring the politics of U.S. foreign policy to life. It describes the historical foundations that have made this country what it is today, but it also encourages us to question some aspects of the system, institutions, and processes. It uses the prism of political debate and discourse as a foundation to consider the grand experiment of U.S. foreign policy that is underway today and will develop tomorrow in potentially new and unforeseen ways. By offering a synthesis of traditional content (theoretical frameworks and historical coverage) and interactive exercises, it encourages critical reflection on contending perspectives in political debates and allows us to learn more about foreign policy dilemmas through engagement.
This book also leverages some of the best trends in both politics and pedagogy—including increased access to information in the digital age, reactions to fast-changing circumstances, and innovative critical dialogues—to help us critically analyze the foreign policy decision-making process. Blended and hybrid learning exercises, along with group research projects and policy briefings, help us to understand foreign policy tradeoffs through debate, exchange, and experimentation. And our hope is that the level of knowledge and engagement that students gain will help promote political participation and active global citizenship.
Photo 1.2Conductor with a World Map
Source: Ikon Images, via AP Images.

Historical Foundations

The history of the United States of America includes many common reference points, but it is not a singular story. Instead, it might best be understood from the founding to today as defined by a set of competing narratives and values, and debates over interpretation of those values in a changing world. Actors with convictions formulate foreign policy. These many actors—women and men, philosophers and pundits, students and diplomats, voters and civil servants—are all stewards of U.S. foreign policy. They have personally vested themselves in the foreign policy process to achieve desired ends. Moreover, they frequently disagree over historical narratives and the proper conduct of foreign policy. These differences matter.4
U.S. history began well before the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the adoption of the Constitution in 1787. The first settlers arrived in the New World over a century earlier and launched what would become a grand and complex experiment. And like the generations that followed, these stewards disagreed over the values and principles that would define our nation, offering contending narratives on the meaning and purpose of the new nation. Fast-forward from the founding of the country to other formative developments that featured contested narratives: President Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865) had to manage scores of foreign policy challenges during the Civil War, while at the same time managing significant dissent inside his own Cabinet. Nearly a century later, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his advisors struggled over how to respond to a global economic depression before the U.S. plunged into yet another major war. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson struggled with Congress over the limits of U.S. containment policy. At the same time, leaders looked at the world, and how to respond to global challenges and opportunities, through the lens of their own personal convictions and knowledge of domestic political constraints.
Profound debates over U.S. foreign policy and experimentation did not end in the post-Cold War era. Far from it. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush enjoyed high public approval ratings, and Congress acted in bipartisan ways to support major foreign policy initiatives. These included backing the war in Afghanistan, passing legislation that may have curtailed civil liberties, and even authorizing the invasion of Iraq. Yet by the start of the Iraq War in March 2003, Americans had become deeply divided over the direction of U.S. foreign policy. Nearly as quickly as the Bush administration gained support for an assertive foreign policy agenda, consensus faded and the American people entered into a bitter and partisan period. Those divisions played out in the 2008 presidential election in competition for votes in “red” and “blue” states—the outcome of which was considered a referendum on the eight years of the former Bush administration.
President Obama faced a number of foreign policy challenges during his eight years in of...

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