U.S. Foreign Affairs Since 1898
Why did the United States go to war in 1898 and what were the consequences of the war?
Following the advice of its founding fathers the United States had, in the first century of its existence, kept well away from foreign entanglements. After the American Civil War (1861-1865) the country experienced rapid industrial growth and felt the need for markets beyond its frontiers. There was also a desire to show its political and military muscle at the international scene. The Munroe Doctrine and manifest destiny became popular slogans in the country as more and more Americans began to believe that territorial expansion by the U.S. was both inevitable and “divinely ordained.”
It was in this background that certain events unfolded in the neighboring territory of Cuba, which provided an opportunity to the U.S. To make its first imperialist move. Cuba and Puerto Rico were at that time the last vestiges of the Spanish colonial rule in Latin America and the Cubans had been struggling for independence from the Spanish for sometime. The Cuban revolt against Spain in 1895 was brutally suppressed by the Spanish under the governorship of General (“the butcher”) Weyler, who unleashed a reign of terror on the Cubans by placing the peasant population in concentration camps where thousands died of disease and hunger.
The press in the U.S. seized upon the Cuban crisis and published sensational and often exaggerated stories about the Spanish atrocities building up the public opinion to a fever pitch in favor of American intervention. Sentiments were further inflamed when a New York newspaper published a copy of a letter from Spanish Foreign Minister criticizing the American President Mckinley. (“Introduction: The World of 1898,” 1998)
After wide-spread unrest broke out in Havana, Cuba in 1898, the U.S. consul general asked for the dispatch of an American warship into the harbor for protection of American interests in Cuba. In response, the battleship Maine was sent. While anchored in Havana harbor the ship was destroyed by an underwater explosion on February 15, 1898 — 266 U.S. officers and men were killed on board. Although the cause of the explosion was not established at the time, the Spanish were blamed. The U.S. President McKinley ultimately declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898 and dispatched naval ships for a blockade of Cuba. At the same time, the U.S. also engaged the Spanish naval forces in Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico.. The resultant Spanish-American War lasted less than four months (from April to August 1898) and was highlighted by two decisive American naval victories — at Santiago Bay in Cuba, and at Manila Bay in the Philippines. (Trask, 2002)
The Consequences of the Spanish American War of 1898
The Paris peace treaty signed between Spain and the U.S. On December 10, 1898, provided for Spanish withdrawal from Cuba, leaving the island under temporary U.S. occupation. It also legitimized the U.S. occupation of Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico and Philippines. The War thus made the United States an Imperialist power for the first time in its history. In the aftermath of the war, the Panama Canal was constructed for linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans; it greatly facilitated U.S. commerce and military activities in the region and ensured its dominance of the seas. Another important consequence of the war was the rise of Theodore Roosevelt who went on to become the U.S. vice president in 1900 and president in 1901. (Parmet, 1993)
What were the significant issues of American foreign policy under President Theodore Roosevelt? Explain.
When Theodore Roosevelt became the President of the United States in 1901, the country had already acquired a small but fledgling empire acquired as a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898. True to his forceful nature, TR then proceeded to consolidate America’s position as the pre-dominant power in the Western Hemisphere. Some of the significant foreign policy issues under President Theodore Roosevelt are discussed below:
The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine:
The Monroe Doctrine, issued by President John Monroe in 1823 had proclaimed that the European powers should not colonize territories in the Americas nor interfere in the affairs of sovereign American nations; in return the U.S. would stay neutral in European Wars and in wars between Europeans and their colonies. The doctrine had remained the cornerstone of United States’ foreign policy until then. Roosevelt felt that the Doctrine did not go far enough to assert his country’s new role as the dominant power in the region. He, therefore, modified the Monroe Doctrine in 1904 by asserting that the United States had the right not only to oppose European intervention in the Western Hemisphere but also to intervene in the domestic affairs of its neighboring countries if they resorted to “chronic wrongdoing or an impotence which results in the general loosening of ties in a civilized society.” In effect the Roosevelt Corollary gave the U.S. A new role of an international policeman.
Dominican Republic Crisis: Even before the formal proclamation of the Roosevelt Corollary, President Roosevelt got an opportunity to practice his policy of “speak softly but carry a big stick.” The small Latin American nation of the Dominican Republic was deeply in debt to European powers such as France and Italy and was unable to service its debts. By 1903, these powers were threatening to interfere in the country to recover their debt. Roosevelt, therefore, seized control of Dominican customs collections and put in place an arrangement through which part of the revenues collected were used to pay off the foreign creditors.
Panama Canal: Perhaps the most significant achievement of Roosevelt’s foreign policy was his initiative for constructing the Panama Canal. At the time Panama was part of the Columbian Republic but a separatist movement sought to break free from Columbia. Roosevelt was quick to seize his opportunity: he offered to support the separatists with the condition that Panama would cede control of a ten-mile wide strip of land to the U.S. For the building of the Canal. Although construction of the Panama Canal was completed in 1914 after TR had left power, it was instrumental in making the U.S. The dominant military power in Central America. (“Theodore Roosevelt,” 2003)
Controlling the Cuban Revolt of 1806: Although Cuba was in name an independent nation, the “Platt Amendment” to its constitution dictated by the U.S. prohibited the island nation from making independent treaties with other nations, and granted the U.S. The right to intervene in its affairs, besides giving it a naval base (the Guantanamo Bay) in perpetuity. When the Cubans revolted against such U.S. domination in 1806, TR sent the marines to the island to “maintain order.” (Ibid.)
Mediation in the Russo-Japanese War: Roosevelt mediated in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) by bringing the both sides together to the Portsmouth Peace Conference in 1905 and brokered a peace agreement between the two countries. For his successful mediation, TR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.
Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907: Roosevelt was also instrumental in diffusing anti-Japanese sentiment in California by persuading the Japanese to voluntarily restrict immigration to the U.S.
What questions are raised about America’s response to genocide and humanitarian crises? Explain.
The United States’ policy of intervention (or non-intervention) in case of humanitarian crises around the world is looked at with suspicion in most countries around the world. It is generally believed that the American response to such crises is at best selective and is more often than not just a “smokescreen” for gaining strategic advantage or protecting American “national interest” such as securing of oil resources.
To some extent, of course, the hostile reaction to American response is due to its position of the sole superpower and the most powerful nation in the world — and the conflicting expectations that are attached to the behavior of a country placed in such a position. But, it is also true that America’s own history of interventions, purportedly made for “humanitarian reasons,” is far from exemplary. If we look back in history, President Andrew Jackson got the “Indian Removal Act” passed by the Congress in 1830 mandating the removal of the Cherokee nation from the gold-rich areas of Georgia where they had lived for centuries, and dubbed it as a “great humanitarian gesture.” (Susskind, 1999) Since then countless other “humanitarian” interferences in foreign lands by the United States’ military (the Philippines in 1898, Haiti in 1915, Vietnam in the 1950s and 60s, the Congo in 1964, Granada in 1983, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003) have been made. The local “freedom fighters” (inevitably dubbed “terrorists” by the U.S.), who fought off the “humanitarian” gesture in each case, obviously saw American moves in a completely different light.
Critics of unequal American response to genocide also quote the example of its complete inaction during the time of the horrendous genocide of around one million people in Rwanda in 1994. Even though, the scale of the massacre was predicted by various intelligence agencies before its occurrence and the news was covered extensively by the media as the events unfolded, the U.S. government chose not only to ignore the great humanitarian tragedy but even refused to condemn the killing. The American inaction on the Rwandan genocide places a big question mark on any subsequent action of its government overseas for humanitarian reasons.
Besides being accused of using “humanitarianism” as a smokescreen for pursuing its own narrow national interests, the United States is also accused of undermining the United Nations and International Law in following a policy of unilateralism and pre-emption. The results of pre-emptive action by the United States for purportedly humanitarian reasons in recent times have been far from satisfactory. For example, when the NATO forces started its bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999, there was a mass exodus of about 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanian minorities as refugees from the province; there was an increase in the Serbs’ attacks on ethnic Kosovan Albanians and their ethnic cleansing: as a result more than 300,000 Albanian refugees also fled their homes.
The results of subsequent unilateral action in Afghanistan and Iraq have been similarly catastrophic. Despite a pre-mature declaration of “mission accomplished” by President Bush after just a few weeks of the Iraq invasion by the U.S. forces, the insurgency in Iraq has continued and gathered strength and the country has plunged into a low-level civil war, which is tearing Iraq apart. The situation in Afghanistan is no different as a resurgent Taliban force constantly harasses the NATO and Afghan forces in the mountains and vicious warlords, who have turned the land into the leading producer of heroin in the world, control most of the countryside.
All of above in no way implies that every humanitarian intervention undertaken by the U.S. has been counter-productive in the past. Its involvement in the Second World War in Europe was instrumental in defeating the scourge of Nazism from Germany and U.S.’s post War role — the Marshall Plan for re-building of Europe and occupation / reconstruction of Japan as a democratic country were unqualified successes.
What were the issues between 1939 and 1941 that led to American involvement in World War II and what were the major issues of the war? Explain.
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the United States was deep into its “isolationist” phase and its public opinion was in no mood to join the war in Europe. In keeping with its declared foreign policy of Monroe doctrine, the U.S. remained neutral at the outbreak of the conflict between Germany and several European countries (the Allies). Because of its deep-rooted historical links with Great Britain as well its common political system of democracy, however, the United States was inclined to support the Allied powers against the fascist Nazis. President Roosevelt also had a close personal relationship with Prime Minister Churchill and the two leaders exchanged extensive correspondence in which Churchill urged the U.S. To join the war on the side of the Allies due to the danger of world-domination by Nazi Germany.
In the initial stages of the War, the U.S. did not give direct support to the Allies because of its declared neutrality. It did, however, initiate a program of “cash-and-carry” whereby it permitted allied ships that could reach the U.S. coast to carry back much-needed war material for cash. The program served a two-pronged purpose — it helped the U.S. economy that was emerging from a pro-longed economic depression and assisted the Allies in their war effort against Germany.
Apart from a general dislike of fascism and Nazism, and a natural affinity with the British, the other major reason for the United States’ eventual direct involvement in the Second World War was its tussle with Japan for the domination of the Pacific region and control over its resources. The Japanese government, like Germany, had come to be dominated by militarists. Being a resource-poor region, Japan adopted a policy of expansionism in the 1930s. It forcibly set up a puppet government in Manchuria in 1931, and invaded China in 1937. The U.S. started to impose embargoes on Japan by 1939, which became stricter when Japan signed a tripartite agreement with Germany and Italy to form the Axis (Arima, 2003). Embargo on scrap metal and gasoline and closure of the Panama Canal to Japanese shipping were particularly problematic for Japan. In response, the Japanese moved into northern Indo-China, looking to capture the oil-rich regions of the Dutch East Indies. The U.S. retaliated by freezing Japanese assets and imposing a complete embargo on oil exports to Japan followed by the ‘Hull note’ — demanding a complete withdrawal from China. This was considered to be an ultimatum and unacceptable by Japan, which opted for an all-out war by attacking Pearl Harbor. (Ibid.)
Major Issues of the War: The major issues of World War II involved the aggressive intent of two countries (Germany and Japan) with totalitarian regimes looking to dominate their neighbors, and the need of the rest of the world to stop them. In Europe, Hitler and the Nazis were obsessed with Lebensraum: the need for “living space” for the Germans in the East and the belief that the Aryans (i.e., Germans) were the master-race destined to rule over inferior races. In the East, the Japanese government too was dominated by militarists who were looking to expand Japan’s domination beyond its borders. Japanese also considered themselves to be superior to other Asiatic races. The need to capture the available natural resources such as oil, considered necessary for development in an industrial age, was another major issue of the War. The Jewish question, i.e., Hitler’s ideology of exterminating or expelling the Jewish population from Europe was another major issue of World War II. Towards the end of the war, positioning of the two future super-powers, i.e., the U.S. And the U.S.S.R. — though allied on the same side — in a post WWII world also became an important issue.
Explain the major foreign policy problems of the Wilson years, especially the issues related to World War I.
Woodrow Wilson’s predecessors (Presidents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Taft) had followed an expansionist policy by annexing Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Guam. Wilson was opposed to such an Imperialist policy and concentrated on protecting democracy rather than aggressively spreading American influence abroad. He took a number of conciliatory measures in his first term to demonstrate the change in direction. For example, he persuaded Congress to repeal the 1912 Panama Canal Act which had exempted American ships from paying toll for passage through the canal, gave greater autonomy to Philippines, and signed a conciliatory treaty with Colombia to reverse for Roosevelt’s aggressive policy towards the country. He also spent much of his first term in efforts to keep the U.S. out of the World War I in Europe. Ironically, despite his peaceful agenda, Wilson resorted to military action in Latin America and eventually entered the War in Europe that he so wanted to avoid.
At the beginning of the War, Wilson was determined to adhere to neutrality “in fact as well as in name” and the U.S. traded in material and military goods with both powers. In 1915, Germany, incensed at the naval blockade of its ports by the more powerful British Navy, started to use its newly developed submarines (U-boats) against Allied ships, including merchant ones, in the Atlantic. Since American personnel and goods were also affected by this German policy, Wilson tried to mediate in the war but his efforts were unsuccessful since the Allies and the Central Powers were both confident of victory at the time. In May 1915, German U-boats sank a British ocean liner called Lusitania in which over 120 Americans were killed. The incident sparked widespread outrage in the U.S. Wilson was still committed to keep his country out of the war and he sent a series of communiques to the Germans, appealing for restraint in the submarine attacks. The Germans only partially heeded to the American appeal and continued to attack merchant ships around the European continent. (“Thomas Woodrow Wilson,” 2003)
Eventually in February 1917, Germany escalated its U-boat attacks and announced that they would attack every ship, including neutral one, in the European waters. The U.S. responded by cutting-off diplomatic relations with Germany. By this time the public opinion in the U.S. had started to tilt in favor of war against Germany. The situation worsened further when the American intelligence intercepted a secret communique sent by the German foreign secretary, Arthur Zimmermann to the Mexican government, urging Mexico to attack the U.S. And promising it certain concessions at the end of the war, if it did. The last straw in the strained relations between Germany and the U.S. was reached when German U-boats sank three American merchant ships on March 18, 1917. President Wilson declared war on Germany by signing the war declaration on April 6, 1917. (Ibid.)
Wilson got a Military Service Draft bill passed through which about 3 million men were drafted into the U.S. army; he appointed General John Pershing as commander of U.S. forces in Europe and gave him wide-ranging powers to plan and conduct the war. Wilson was also highly successful in tackling the problems of American war materials production as well as in increasing the Agricultural production. He also brought in several war specific laws such as the Sedition Act that punished those who opposed the government’s war policies and a War Revenue Act that increased taxes to high levels, especially for the wealthy.
At the end of the War, Wilson worked hard for establishing a “just peace” that would prevent future conflicts and opposed severe war reparations for Germany as a defeated nation. He was instrumental in the creation of the “League of Nations” which he envisioned as an effective forum for preventing future wars. However, the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate refused to ratify America’s participation in the League, which severely reduced its effectiveness.
Arima, Y. (2003). “The Way to Pearl Harbor: U.S. Vs. Japan.” ICE Case Studies:
Number 118, December, 2003. Retrieved on September 9, 2006 at http://www.american.edu/TED/ice/japan-oil.htm
Introduction: The World of 1898.” (1998). The Spanish American War-Hispanic Division: Library of Congress. Retrieved on September 9, 2006 at http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/intro.html
Parmet, H.S. (1993) “The History of American Foreign Policy: Thematic Essay.” Encarta Yearbook, 1993: Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, 2005, CD ROM Version
Susskind, Y. (1999). “Policing the Millennium: U.S. Intervention in the Age of Human Rights.” MADRE. Retrieved on September 9, 2006 at http://www.madre.org/articles/int/policingmillenium.html#note1
Theodore Roosevelt.” (2003). American President.org: Miller Center of Public Affairs: University of Virginia. Retrieved on September 9, 2006 at http://www.americanpresident.org/history/theodoreroosevelt/biography/ForeignAffairs.common.shtml
Thomas Woodrow Wilson.” (2003). American Presidents.org: Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. Retrieved on September 9, 2006 at http://www.americanpresident.org/history/woodrowwilson/
Trask, D. (2002). “The Spanish-American War.” Library of Congress: Hispanic Division
Retrieved on September 9, 2006 at http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/trask.html
President James Munroe asserted in 1823 that the U.S. should stay out of European affairs and the European powers should not interfere in the “Americas.” The “doctrine” defined the U.S. policy in Latin America, thereafter.
Manifest destiny was a term coined by journalist and diplomat John Lewis O’Sullivan which asserted that the Americans were divinely ordained to dominate its neighboring territories.
The U.S. ambassador to England, John Hay called it, “the splendid little war.”
Theodore Roosevelt became a war hero during the Spanish-American war when, resigning his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he led a volunteer cavalry force called the “Rough Riders” into Cuba.
In the pre-Panama Canal days, it took almost two months for ships to travel from the West Coast of the U.S. In the Pacific Ocean to reach the East coast in the Atlantic.
The Allies, however, soon ran out of “cash” and the “cash-and-carry” program had to be replaced with the “Lend-Lease” program in March 1941
The marines were sent in to Nicaragua in 1914, Haiti in 1915, and the Dominican Republic in 1916
The communique is known as the “Zimmermann note” in history
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