The U.S. has been in several wars and other foreign entanglements since its founding in the late 18th century. Some have turned out well and beneficial to our interests while others have had disastrous results. (Think the bombing of Pearl Harbor.) Today, however, we stand on the brink of what could be the most colossal blunder of all time, and that would be letting the terrorist state of Iran develop nuclear weapons, if we fail to act militarily in taking out Iran’s nuclear development plants. That doesn’t appear to be in the cards, however, no matter who is elected president in November. So lets recap a history of our foreign affairs exploits and failures.
Throughout the 19th century the U.S. adopted mostly an isolationist stance when it came to dealing with foreign countries. We were protected on 2 sides by huge bodies of water, which were considered too big for any foreign aggressor to overcome if they considered attacking us. Canada, to the north, was believed to be just like us (and would have been part of us if not for the betrayal of Benedict Arnold) so there was no worry on that front. We did have conflict with Mexico to our south, during which Mexico lost a chunk of their territory to us, and there was a dust up with Spain during which we acquired (and subsequently relinquished) the Philippines, but by and large we managed to stay out of all the messy entanglements Europe was continually involved in. Our only real serious engagement in the 19th century was when we decided to kill each other during the Civil War. Over 600,000 Americans lost their lives in that debacle, which would be equivalent to the loss of over 6 million American lives today.
So we entered the 20th century with pretty much a strong belief in isolationism. All that would have worked out well, except all those messy European entanglements I mentioned above finally burst out into shooting affairs and came to be known as World War I. Our policy was that this was Europe’s problem, and we were determined to remain isolationist and stay out of the war. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election in1916 on the slogan: “he kept us out of war.” However, the war soon stalemated as France with England’s support dug huge trenches in Eastern France, and Germany did the same on their side. Both sides kept firing at each other from these trenches killing soldiers by the thousands, while tens of thousands more died in these trenches from cold, hunger or disease. Woodrow Wilson was no sooner re-elected in 1916, then he decided to break the stalemate by sending U.S. troops “over there” to fight for the first time in a European war. It worked and the Allies were successful in defeating Germany. And no sooner had the the troops returned after the war, than much to our subsequent regret, we retreated back into a policy of isolationism.
The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise to power of of brutal and aggressive dictatorships with a thirst for conquering their parts of the world, such as Hitler”s Nazi regime in Germany, and Tojo’s warrior regime in Japan. There was little doubt early on, that both of these savage dictatorships had a lust for power and military aggression, but, we nevertheless, were determined to remain to remain strictly neutral and isolationist, as if we could some how avoid been dragged into the coming conflicts. President Roosevelt was an internationalist, and did manage to ship large quantities of armaments to England which enabled its survival, but he could not convince an isolationist Congress to declare war on Germany and Japan, even after the outbreak of hostilities started in 1939. It finally took the bombing of Pearl Harbor late in 1941, for us to enter World War II, and even at that we were woefully unprepared. We labored for 2 years, or until 1944, to amass the military strength in manpower and armaments needed to finally start turning back the Axis powers in Europe and the Pacific. Millions of additional lives were lost due to our unpreparedness, which was in turn due to our policy of isolationism.
After WWII, isolationism as a foreign policy was thoroughly discredited, as we instituted the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe, an also took the necessary steps to institute democracy in Japan. But soon the pendulum swung completely in the opposite direction, as a huge fear of the Soviet Union and Communist China (our allies inWWII) gripped the nation. As the USSR took over most of Eastern Europe, and the Red Army was triumphant in China, it looked like communism was on the march throughout the world. Then when Russia successfully tested a nuclear bomb, the fear in this country of the spread of communism became hysterical and neurotic. It gave rise to shameful events such as McCarthyism, as people were hauled before Congressional committees and designated as traitors, if they ever showed sympathy for our WWII allies, or ever had communist tendencies. I won’t get into all the horrors of the McCarthy era, but it certainly was one of the more disgraceful episodes in American history. It was a time when anti-communist extremists established the slogan of “lets kill a Commie for Jesus.” All this resulted in the “Cold War” between us and Russia, which was particularly exploited by President Reagan in the 1980s. The Cold War lasted over 40 years or until about 1990 when the USSR collapsed under the burden of its own weight. Experts have estimated that we spent an estimated one trillion dollars in arms that we didn’t have to (more like 2 or 3 trillion in today’s dollars), fighting the Cold War instead of letting the communist regimes collapse on their own.
After the Cold War our foreign policy seemed to be getting back on an even keel, except that we were ignoring the rise of militant Islamic terrorist groups. Again, our unpreparedness in the face of this new form of evil led to the loss of 3,000 lives on 9/11. As I mentioned at the outset, today our main foreign policy threat is the growing power of the terrorist state of Iran, which is feverishly working to develop a nuclear arsenal. Will President Obama, or President Romney (as is more likely), take action to foil Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Or will no military action be taken against Iran, as the French and British failed to take action against Hitler when they could have, before 60 million lives were lost in Europe. If no action is taken what are the odds that Iran will one day hand off a small nuclear device to some terrorist group, who could then plant it in a hotel rome in Tel-Aviv, or Houston, or Atlanta, or New York, or Washington before detonating it. It would kind of turn the world upside down, wouldn’t it.