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A Revision and Update of the 2005 Article
US Foreign Policy Since WWII: An Essay on the Corrective Qualities of Realism
by Cliff Staten

Speaking to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs in 2007 then US Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama stated “America cannot meet the threats of this century alone but the world cannot meet them without America.” In an article in Foreign Affairs the same year, he emphasized the need to exercise US foreign policy through alliances and rejected the unilateral, idealistic, and missionary approach of the George W. Bush administration. Obama promised to end the quixotic nation-building experiments and to bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. He recognized that the United States was vastly overextended in the Middle East, that there was a mismatch between US resources and its objectives. He believed that America must reprioritize its foreign policy objectives and make distinctions between vital threats and lesser threats. As he assumed the powers of the presidency, US foreign policy shifted from idealism to realism.

This was not the first time that such a shift had occurred. Idealism and realism are rooted in the American national character. Idealism grows from the mythology of the “New World” and the idea of American exceptionalism. John Winthrop articulated that idealism in 1630, “…we shall be as a city on the hill. The eyes of all the people are on us.” Often referred to as Wilsonian idealism in foreign policy, it leads America to believe that it should and can remake the world in its image. Realism or pragmatism involves a non-ideological approach to problem solving. If one method does not solve the problem, try another, and another until the problem is solved. It requires a focus on the facts of the situation and the application of a rational decision-making process. Its logic dictates that the resources and capabilities of America must be, at a minimum, great enough to achieve its stated objectives and solve its problems. This split personality of idealism and realism has historically manifested itself in the cycle of American foreign policy since WWII.1

Idealism is problematic in two ways. It causes America to lose sight of the realist principle that resources are always limited and that these resources, measured not only in terms of diplomatic, economic, and military power, but also political will and public support, must, at the least, be great enough to achieve its objectives. This logic was the insightful criticism of American containment strategy toward the Soviet Union by journalist Walter Lippman in 1947.2 Lippman focused on the problem of the mismatch between the goals of containment policy and the resources required to achieve those goals. The idealist side of the American character also brings out a missionary instinct. This missionary instinct results in a failure to prioritize goals or to define them so broadly that there are never enough resources to achieve them. It causes America to become overextended.

When the Lippman gap, the mismatch between resources and goals, reaches a critical point, there is an eventual recognition of limited resources that either encourages, allows, or forces the realist American character to step forward. In other words, the corrective qualities of realism save America from the sins of its idealism. The noted Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis argued that the history of containment policy reflected the swing of a pendulum between periods when American resources did not match its ever-expanding goals and periods that required America to react to this problem by either reducing, redefining, or reprioritizing its goals to bring them in line with its limited resources.3  This pendulum swing is illustrative of the shift between the idealist and realist sides of the national character of America. In the early years of the Cold War, foreign policy goals focused on containing communism in Europe. There was a recognition that resources were limited. Containment was focused upon western Europe where American military, economic, and political strengths were greatest including the implementation of the Marshall Plan in 1948 and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by 1949. This period represented a genuine pragmatism or realism in US foreign policy. American resources and prioritized goals were balanced. Yet, events during this time period laid the groundwork for the American idealist character to emerge. These included the Berlin Blockade, the fall of China to the communists, the development of the atomic bomb by the Soviet Union, and the red scare. It is important to note that the emergence of American idealism was predicated on the existence of an intense anti-communist value system. Communism was incompatible with the “city on the hill.”

By the middle of 1950 National Security Document 68 called for a dramatic military build up to meet the growing communist threat, in particular, in East Asia. The invasion of South Korea by the communist North led President Truman, without Congressional approval, to mobilize and place troops on the Korean peninsula. By late 1950 US troops were moving into North Korea and by November 21 had reached the Yalu River and the Chinese border. Military aid was extended both to the French in Indochina and to the Philippine government that was facing an internal rebellion by the Huks. The Seventh Fleet was ordered to prevent any Chinese attacks on Taiwan. Defense spending nearly tripled that year. Containment was no longer limited to Western Europe. It now included East Asia. Thus, from 1950 until the election of Eisenhower, American foreign policy objectives greatly expanded and required a massive buildup of resources. This massive build-up of resources and political will would never be enough to achieve these ever expanding goals in East Asia.

China’s entry into the Korean War on November 26, 1950 led to a retreat of US troops below the 38th parallel and resulted in a stalemated war. By February 1952 more than 50 percent of the American public believed that the war was a mistake. Eisenhower was elected with the promise to bring the war in Korea to a rapid and successful conclusion. By December 1952 he had come to the conclusion that the United States should not be engaged in a conventional war on the Asian mainland. He recognized the “limits of its [the Unites States] military and political power.”4 His Cabinet was made up primarily of former businessmen who were staunch fiscal conservatives and believed in balanced budgets. At the same time, the former General and now President understood the need to balance American resources with its foreign policy commitments. Eisenhower was a realist. He ushered in a pragmatic foreign policy by redefining and limiting the goals of containment. Understanding the costs of liberating North Korea, he negotiated a cease-fire agreement between the North and the South at the 38th parallel on July 27, 1953. He redirected support for the French efforts in Indochina and initially promised only economic aid to the Diem government in South Vietnam. He came to rely more upon the resources of other countries through alliances such as the Baghdad Pact and the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization, to counter the communist threat. Eisenhower failed to offer support for the Hungarian uprising clearly recognizing that the United States did not have the military power to challenge the Soviet Union in its sphere of influence. He used low-cost Central Intelligence Agency-engineered coups to achieve goals in Guatemala and Iran. He created the United States Information Agency in 1953 with the idea of using American soft power, its culture, film, music, and theatre, to counter the appeal of communism. Given his administration’s fiscal conservatism, Eisenhower actually reduced the size of the armed forces and developed the strategic doctrine of massive retaliation, which clearly represented, in one memorable phrase, “the most bang for your buck.”

During the later years of the Eisenhower administration certain events played a role in ushering in the subsequent idealist, missionary foreign polices of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. These events include mission creep in Vietnam, the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union, the Cuban revolution, and a perceived missile gap between the United States and the Soviet Union. The young Kennedy set the tone for an idealistic foreign policy in his inaugural address with the open-ended commitment “that we will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival of the success of liberty.” The “best and the brightest” of the Kennedy decision makers, embarrassed at the Bay of Pigs fiasco and helpless to stop the construction of the Berlin Wall, expanded US commitments in Indochina, pledged to defend West Berlin from attack, and launched the Alliance for Progress in Latin America. US military resources and capabilities under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s strategic policy of flexible response expanded dramatically. Although the Cuban missile crisis clearly was a sobering experience for Kennedy, one will ever know if this event would have led to a more realist approach to American foreign policy.5

President Johnson’s lesson from the missile crisis was that by gradually escalating the threat and resolve, enemies will eventually yield to America’s objectives. At the beginning of 1964, he was apprised of the “very disturbing” security situation and that he had the unambiguous choice of either dramatic escalation of the US involvement or the collapse of South Vietnam to communism. Collapse was unacceptable to Johnson. In August he received authority from Congress through the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to take “all necessary steps…to prevent further aggression.” His election campaign that fall stressed that, “Our cause has been the cause of all mankind.” By 1965 Johnson was very concerned that even his appearance of “not being aggressive enough in resisting communism” would threaten his Great Society legislation that was so important to him.6 By the end of that year he had dramatically expanded US resources, commitments, and objectives in Southeast Asia. By the end of his term in office he had committed more than a half a million American soldiers to Vietnam. He also sent 22,000 troops to the Dominican Republic to preempt any future Cuban style revolution in the Caribbean.

Toward the end of the Johnson years, certain factors began to limit the ability of the United States to achieve its dramatically expanded foreign policy goals. These events laid the groundwork for the rise of the realist foreign policies of Nixon and Ford. The factors involved the development of a second strike nuclear capability by the Soviet Union, a growing US trade deficit, an overvalued dollar, budget constraints fueled by an ever-expanding social agenda at home and the war in Vietnam, rioting in the streets of America’s major cities, increasing public dissatisfaction with and escalating opposition to the war in Vietnam after the Tet Offensive in early 1968, increasing US casualties in the war, and increasingly vocal criticism of the war effort by key political leaders, scholars, and journalists. By 1968 Lippman was once again pointing out the tremendous difference between the nation’s resources and Johnson’s “unlimited war aims.” These factors and the influence of realist historian and scholar Henry Kissinger as Nixon’s closest foreign policy adviser led to the adoption of a realist foreign policy referred to as détente.7 A gradual withdrawal from the “Southeast Asian quagmire” while playing the “China-card” and linkage politics as new and less costly resources against the Soviet Union allowed for the successful arms limitations agreements between the two superpowers. An implied agreement in the Helsinki Accords over conduct and the spheres of influence permitted the United States to refocus, set new priorities, and limit its foreign policy objectives to the maintenance of a balance of power among the major powers of the world.

Watergate, public weariness to the measured withdrawal from Vietnam, a Congress reasserting itself into the foreign policy processes, the first oil crisis, and the “secretive and amoral” foreign policy practices of the Nixon and Ford years led to the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976. US foreign policy under Jimmy Carter represented a transition from the realism of Nixon and Ford to the missionary policy of Ronald Reagan. The split personality of the Carter administration was evident in the internal conflict between National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski who favored a massive build up in defense to counter what he saw as global Soviet expansionism and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance who favored the continuation of the realist policy of détente. Initially Carter continued the realism of the Nixon and Ford years. He cancelled the B-1 bomber project and promised to work toward reducing the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union. This was met with vitriolic opposition from the now dominant, anti-communist, missionary right-wing of the Republican Party led by Ronald Reagan. By the middle of 1979 the Carter administration was showing evidence of a foreign policy transition despite the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treat II (SALT II) in June. In the same month he approved the development of the MX nuclear missile program. In July of that year the Sandinistas came to power in Nicaragua. It was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December that caused him to pull SALT II from Senate consideration and to ask for a dramatic increase in defense spending to counter Soviet expansionism. The Carter Doctrine of 1980 expanded US commitments to the defense of open waterways in the Persian Gulf.

The return to a missionary foreign policy was most evident under President Reagan. With references to the window of vulnerability and emphasis on the expansionistic, “evil empire” of Soviet Union, the Reagan Doctrine promised not only containment but a rollback of communism worldwide. He developed the B-2 stealth bomber and resurrected the B-1 bomber. He opposed the nuclear freeze proposal that would have prevented the deployment of US cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe. He pushed for dramatic increases in defense spending and began a renewed arms race with the Soviet Union. He initiated the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in 1983. Central America and the Caribbean became the testing ground for his crusade.

Yet, by the end of 1985, it had become evident that this policy could not be sustained. With massive government deficits due to declining revenues and increased spending during his first term, the budget became a constraint on his idealist foreign policy. Other factors, including substantive changes in the policies and governing principles (glasnost and perestroika) of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, the stalemated civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua despite tremendous aid from the United States, and the Iran-Contra scandal contributed to the swing of the American foreign policy pendulum back to a more pragmatic foreign policy. The fact that Reagan and Gorbachev finally met in November 1985 and over the next few meetings genuinely began to appreciate each other led to the passage of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Reagan’s comment in 1988 in Red Square in Moscow as he had his arm around Gorbachev, “I’m glad we are standing here together like this,” represented a stark change from his first term. Reagan’s second term was marked by few references to the “evil empire,” significant arms agreements with the Soviet Union, the abandonment of SDI, opposition from his own conservative wing of the Republican Party, and Congressional efforts to reign in his prolific spending habits.

President George H.W. Bush, who learned his foreign policy under the détente of Nixon, presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and a concerted effort by Congress to balance the budget. He directed a foreign policy success in Kuwait and the Persian Gulf by masterfully putting together the largest and most successful coalition since WWII. Financially speaking, the Gulf War cost the United States very little and Bush refused to expand the war beyond the limits set by the United Nations resolutions and the US Congress. He oversaw significant reductions in defense spending compared to the Reagan years. President Bill Clinton, who was elected primarily on a domestic policy platform, was under continuous pressure to balance the budget and oversee the benefits of the end of the Cold War, in particular, reduced spending on military affairs. Compared to his predecessor, defense spending was dramatically cut in response to the public’s desire to reap this so-called “peace dividend.” Until 9-11, candidate and then President George W. Bush, who was openly critical of nation-building efforts and open-ended, broad foreign policy commitments, promised a more limited role for the United States in world affairs.

Until 9-11 Presidents George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush lacked a unifying theme equivalent to Cold War anti-communism that had served the missionary policies of Truman from 1950 through 1952, Kennedy and Johnson from 1961 through 1968, and Carter and Reagan from 1979 through 1985. Anti-communism allowed these presidents to garner public support for their idealistic foreign policies. Despite the fact that the Cold War was over, key events laid the groundwork throughout the 1990s for a return to an idealistic foreign policy. The decision to leave American troops on the Arabian Peninsula after the Gulf War provided the motivation for Osama Bin Laden to create al-Qaeda and to declare war against the United States in 1996. Terrorist actions against the United States including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the East African embassy bombings of 1998, the Millennium Plot of 1999, and the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 set the theme for a new missionary foreign policy based upon antiterrorism. Terrorism was incompatible with the ideals of the “city on the hill.”

The horrific events of 9-11 coupled with the unifying theme of a war against global terrorism provided the opportunity for George W. Bush to embark on a renewed idealistic foreign policy. In October 2001 the President, sounding like a missionary, stated, “We are in a conflict between good and evil.” Another factor which helps to explain the dramatic change in foreign policy under Bush after 9-11 was the failure of the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations to define a strategic vision for the United States in the post-Cold War era. There was no alternative to compete with the strategic, idealistic vision of the neoconservatives in the incoming George W. Bush administration. The roots of this vision can be traced to 1992 and developments throughout the remainder of the 1990s.8 The Bush foreign policy advisers wanted to exercise a more assertive, preemptive, and unilateral foreign policy that drew upon the hegemonic power and “unipolar moment” of the United States to reshape the global political system and, in particular, the Middle East. Bush described it this way:

The United States will not seek security through the more modest realist strategy… America will be so much more powerful than other major states that strategic rivalries and security competition among the great powers will disappear, leaving everyone—not just the United States—better off.9

Princeton Professor G. John Ickenberry described the Bush Doctrine in this way:

America is to be less bound to its partners and to global rules and institutions while it steps forward to play a more unilateral and anticipatory role in attacking terrorist threats and confronting rogue states seeking weapons of mass destruction. The United States will use its unrivaled military power to manage and remake the global order. The new policy projected an unrivaled military might without apology, claiming to be pursuing a moral mission.10

The war against terrorism began with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. By April of the next year Bush had expanded the mission to include nation-building efforts. While the intervention in Afghanistan had tremendous support by the American public, US allies, and the vast majority of the Muslim world, the controversial invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003 had much less support. This was made even worse when weapons of mass destruction were not found. The premature “mission accomplished” speech on May 1, 2003 raised public expectations for American troops to come home. Bush then further committed to nation-building efforts in Iraq. In 2004 and 2005 revelations of abuses at Abu Ghraib and the sanctioned use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques at Guantanamo Bay and CIA “black sites” brought intense scrutiny and mounting opposition to Bush’s policies from the Congress, allies in Europe, and the Muslim world. US troops caught in the middle of the unrelenting sectarian violence and civil war in Iraq, declining public support for keeping troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, escalating war costs, and growing deficits and criticism from deficit/debt hawks in the Congress began to limit Bush’s policy options during his second term. All of these factors including a deepening recession and a financial crisis by 2008 set the scene for President Barack Obama, an admirer of the realist foreign policy of George H.W. Bush and his National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, to recognize the limits of American power and to reprioritize the country’s objectives.11

With the recession occupying most of his time during his first term, Obama argued that only al Qaeda, an immediate threat to Israel, and a nuclear armed Iran should warrant a direct and full-scale military intervention in the Middle East. He initiated a phased withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. The 2011 Arab Spring coupled with the events that followed the allied coalition’s intervention in Libya in March “darkened the president’s view of what the US could achieve in the Middle East and made him realize how much the chaos there was distracting from other priorities.”12 He chose not to support a full-scale military intervention in the Syrian civil war, seeing it as a slippery slope to be avoided. Full combat operations came to an end in Iraq in December 2011 and in Afghanistan four years later. Military spending declined in 2010 and 2011 largely due to troops coming home and sequestration.

In late August 2013 Obama refused to attack Syria after its use of chemical weapons in violation of his self-imposed “red line.” In addition to his belief that intervention in Syria was a “trap,” this controversial decision was based on the existence of UN inspectors still on the ground, the lack of support by the British Parliament, opposition from the German Chancellor, doubts that the use of missiles would achieve the stated objective, and the lack of Congressional support. He and Secretary of State John Kerry then achieved his immediate goal by working with the Russians who arranged for the withdrawal of chemical weapons from Syria. Obama worked with the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, China, and France for several years and achieved a historic agreement in July 2015 to remove the immediate nuclear weapon capabilities of Iran. By late December almost all of Iran’s low enriched uranium, including all material closest to bomb grade level, had been transported to Russia. Obama has refused to commit full combat operations against ISIL choosing rather to work with NATO, regional, and local forces against the terrorist organization. He has been more than willing to use force against al Qaeda and its affiliates, ISIL, and other terrorist groups via raids by Special Forces, clandestine CIA operatives, and the extensive use of attack drones in Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and territory controlled by ISIL. In this respect, he has been extremely successful in the “low-cost” killing of ISIL and al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden.

Except for the issues of terrorism and the protection of Israel, Obama does not see the Middle East as being vital to future US interests and his policies are reflective of this. He believes it is an area in which the United States has little control over political events and it can only drain resources which should be applied to more vital threats or interests. He sees the Middle East just as Nixon and Kissinger saw southeast Asia. Obama also clearly sent a signal that the Ukraine was not of vital interest to the United States. His decision not to directly intervene militarily after Putin’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine was based on his recognition that this was Russia’s sphere of influence and the fact that even if the United States had wanted to act, it lacked the military power in that part of the world to fundamentally change the outcome. This was reminiscent of Eisenhower’s decision not to intervene in the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

Obama has started to shift American foreign policy priorities to what he considers to be other vital or existential interests and threats such as nuclear weapons, economic relations in the Pacific, in particular East Asia and China, and climate and energy issues. He takes pride in the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia that went into effect in 2011, the historic Paris Climate Accord that was signed by 195 countries in December 2015, and he continues to push the 13 nation Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) which directly affects 40 percent of the world’s trade and 60 percent of US exports in a region with the fastest growing middle class in the world. The strategic argument in favor of the TPP is that it will create a more democratic rules-based, transparent trade system led by the United States that will place dramatic pressure on China to do the same.13

Obama’s foreign policy represents the fourth time since the beginning of the Cold War that the mismatch between resources and goals or the Lippman Gap was corrected by a realist foreign policy. Yet, the potential for the American idealist character to emerge again in another administration is still present because anti-terrorism continues to concern many Americans and is a major issue in the current presidential election. A dramatic increase in terrorist attacks against the west, or more importantly in the United States, coupled with an administration with a more nationalistic or jingoistic foreign policy could trigger a return to a missionary foreign policy.bluestar


1. This study starts at the end of WWII because the United States did not exercise a global foreign policy until then.

2. Lippman, Walter. “The Cold War.” Foreign Affairs, 1987, 65:4:869-84. This article was excerpted from a series of articles that appeared in the New York Herald Tribune in 1947. For the entire series see Walter Lippman’s The Cold War: A Study in US Foreign Policy (1947). Walter Lippman was perhaps one of the most influential journalists of the 20th century. His writing in the post 1930s in the New York Herald Tribune emphasize that countries should recognize the limits of their power and place limits on the foreign policy goals by focusing only on essential interests. See also Ronald Steele’s Walter Lippman’s American Century (1980) for an excellent biography.

3. Gaddis, John Lewis. “The Rise, Fall, and Future of Détente.” Foreign Affairs, 1983-84, 62:2:354-77. This article discusses the pragmatism (realism) of the policy of détente and how it emphasized the balance between resources and goals. Gaddis, one of the most prominent historians in the United States, has published numerous books including The US and the Origins of the Cold War 1941-47 (1972) which received the Bancroft Prize.

4. LaFeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-2000, 9th edition (McGraw Hill, 2002), 155.

5. There is quite a debate concerning what Kennedy would have done in Vietnam had he not been assassinated in 1963. Many, including some of his closest advisers, state that Kennedy would have followed the same missionary path as Johnson. They argue that Johnson had basically the same advisers as Kennedy and that Kennedy was a mirror image of these men who were ‘true believers” and “cold war warriors.” They contend that a withdrawal in 1964 would have been politically impossible for a democratic president due to the upcoming election. They point out that the American public and the conservatives in Congress would never have supported it. Also, they note that less than a month prior to his assassination, Kennedy had approved the military coup that overthrew the Diem government in the south. Henry Kissinger, in his book Diplomacy (Simon and Schuster, 1994) states that with the assassination of Diem, “withdrawal disappeared as a policy option.” Others, including Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, scholar Robert Dallek, and journalist Fred Kaplan, argue that Kennedy’s policies were already in the process of changing. The cite as evidence his “reworking of Vietnam policy” in late 1963, an interview with Walter Cronkite stating that the war was not ours but the South Vietnamese, and assurances from Senator Mike Mansfield that the United States would withdraw after the 1964 elections. They state that Kennedy had also become very disenchanted with his military advisers and some of his more hawkish civilian advisers. They also point out that he had begun to distance himself from these advisers beginning with his rejection of the recommendation to invade and bomb Cuba during the missile crisis in favor of the more moderate policies of placing a naval quarantine around the island and cutting a deal with Khrushchev concerning US missile in Turkey. For McNamara’s discussion on this issue see his book In Retrospect: the Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (Random House, 1995), 95-97.

6. Califano, Joseph A. Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson (Simon and Schuster, 1991), 34-35.

7. Henry Kissinger serves as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs from 1969 t0 1973 and Secretary of State from 1973 through 1977. He is a noted historian, influential scholar, and author of numerous books and articles on international relations and US foreign policy. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his diplomatic efforts to bring about an end to the Vietnam conflict. He is one of the foremost proponents of the realist school of international relations, which emphasizes balance of power relationships among countries.

8. In 1992 Paul Wolfowitz prepared a Defense Policy Guidance document that was considered extreme and radical at the time. It called for the use of American forces in a preemptive and, if necessary, a unilateral approach to achieve a “new American Century.” This was rejected by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton. In 1996 Richard Perl and others of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies argued forcefully for the removal of Saddam Hussein. In 1998 the Project for a New American Century, chaired by William Kristol, sent a letter to President Clinton asking him to remove Saddam Hussein by force. The letter was signed by 18 individuals including Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perl, Elliot Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, and others who became the primary advisers to President George W. Bush. In the 1999 January/February issue of Foreign Affairs, Condoleeza Rice stated that a Republican foreign policy would “mobilize whatever resources necessary” to remove Saddam Hussein. In September of 2000 the Project for a New American Century put forth a document entitled “Rebuilding American Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century.” This document served as the basis for the post 9-11 foreign policy of George W. Bush. Nine days after the events of 9-11 the same Project for a New American Democracy sent a letter to Bush urging him to “remove Saddam Hussein from power” as a part of any war on terrorism. In fact, these issues predate the first Gulf War. It was then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney who, in the fall of 1990, authorized Paul Wolfowitz to develop a plan known as the Western Excursion which called for US troops to bypass the Iraqi army in Kuwait, enter western Iraq, and remove Saddam Hussein from power. This plan was developed outside the Pentagon’s normal planning procedures. Cheney then bypassed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell and presented the plan to the president. It was rejected by President George H.W. Bush, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and Secretary of State James Baker. See The General’s War: The Inside Story of Conflict in the Gulf (Little, Brown, 1995) by Michael Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainer for a discussion of this.

9. Staten, Clifford L. “Interpretive Essay: September 11 and the War on Terror, 2001-Present.” In Events that Formed the Modern World from 1900 through the War on Terror, edited by Thackeray, Frank W. and John E. Findling, 383-93. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2012.

10. Ickenberry, G. John. “America’s Imperial Ambitions.” Foreign Affairs, 2002, 81:5:44-60.

11. See Obama, Barack. “Renewing American Leadership.” Foreign Affairs, 2007, 86:4,   and Goldberg, Jeffrey. “The Obama Doctrine.” The Atlantic, April 2016

12. Goldberg, Jeffrey. “The Obama Doctrine.” The Atlantic, April 2016

13. As this essay is being written it is interesting to note that both the Democratic and Republican candidates for the presidency are, at least on record, opposed to the TPP. President Obama, who supports the TPP, would like to have it voted on prior to the inauguration of a new president.

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.


Cliff Staten, Ph.D., is Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Indiana University Southeast. He has written scholarly articles on a variety of topics including US foreign policy, political economy, terrorism, and Latin America. He is the author of The History of Cuba, 2nd edition (ABC-CLIO, 2015, original edition 2003) and The History of Nicaragua (ABC-CLIO, 2010).


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