Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Since America won the Cold War, there has been great confusion over what principles should guide our Foreign Policy.  The options range from the isolationism of Pat Buchanan to the interventionist nation-building of Bill Clinton.  Anyone wishing to understand the ongoing arguments should read this terrific book.  McDougall's compelling thesis is that there is a fundamental dichotomy in US Foreign Policy, with two competing doctrines each influenced by four different themes.  There is the Promised Land (or Old Testament) impulse, which is based on four key traditions:

            OLD TESTAMENT (Promised Land)
                            Exceptionalism (focus on liberty at home, avoiding entangling alliances)
                            Unilateralism (as opposed to isolationism)
                            The American System (Monroe Doctrine)
                            Expansionism (Manifest Destiny)

This was the prevailing approach to foreign policy--designed to protect America's liberty and independence from the outside world--until 1898 and the Spanish American War, at which point a New Testament gained ascendancy, likewise guided by four traditions:

            NEW TESTAMENT (Crusader State)
                            Progressive Imperialism
                            Liberal Internationalism (Wilsonianism)
                            Global Meliorism (reforming other nations internal problems)

The adoption of the New Testament policy marked the triumph of the "do-gooder impulse" and represented America's desire to influence the rest of the world and try to make it a "better" place.  Given this context, we can see that Buchanan and Clinton are representatives of two great historic trends in American thought; what remains is for us to decide between the two.

After presenting the historic development of each of the eight traditions, McDougall concludes with a chapter on whether each would serve us well now.  The only New Testament tradition that he sees any value in is Containment.  In fact, he treats Containment well throughout the book.  It seems as if he's a little overawed by George Kennan (the father of Containment).  In particular, he gives the policy credit for defeating the Soviet Union.  While he does criticize the price paid (huge debt, internal dissent, etc.), I believe that he overestimates the policy.  First of all, if containment did work, it too 36 years to do so and that is simply too long.  Second, it would seem that you have to consider the Reagan Era policy to be quite different than what had come before, especially the active support of counterrevolutionary movements in Soviet Bloc countries (Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola). Generally, the discussion of how US policy won the Cold War is somewhat weak.

But his final conclusions, that we should return to the Old Testament--taking care of our own internal problems; being prepared to act unilaterally, if at all; remaining strong enough to deter challenges; and thereby, continuing to fulfill our unique destiny--is cogent and extremely powerful.  This is a pivotal text for understanding our role in the world, past, present and future.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Walter McDougall Links:
 Ã� Ã�-Biographical Info (University of Pennsylvania)
    -Foreign Policy Research Institute (He edits their magazine, Orbis)
    -Booknotes (CSPAN)
    -ESSAY : Foreign Monsters, False Alarms (Walter McDougall, New York Times, April 15, 1997)
    -ESSAY:  The Feminization of The American Military (Walter A. McDougall, Foreign Policy Research Institute)
    -REVIEW : of The American Century  by Harold Evans ( Walter A. McDougall, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: Hands Off the Globe (David Fromkin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: Zealpolitik (Aaron L. Friedberg, Commentary Magazine)
    -REVIEW: N E W W O R L D D I S O R D E R Ã�(JEFFREY GEDMIN, National Review)
    -REVIEW: (David C. Hendrickson, Foreign Affairs)
    -REVIEW: Ã�(Ralph Raccio, The Independent Review)
    -REVIEW: (Brigadier General Harold Nelson (USA Ret.), former US Army Chief of Military History, PARAMETERS)
    -REVIEW: of Ã�LET THE SEA MAKE A NOISE: A History of the North Pacific From Magellan to MacArthur The Last Big Place on Earth Ã�(Pico Iyer; NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Ã�THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH; A Political History of the Space Age HOW SPUTNIK CHANGED US Ã�(Alex Rolland, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Ã�THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH; A Political History of the Space Age Ã�The Americans in Space (JAMES FALLOWS, NY Review of Books)
    -Two Cheers REVIEW of Ã�The American Century by Harold Evans (Reviewed by Walter A. McDougall, Commentary)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Clinton, the Country, and the Political Culture Ã�A Symposium (Commentary Magazine)
    -The Fallacy of the Death of Technocracy By Ron Miller, a response to Walter McDougall's article ``The Death of Technocracy' (Wall Street Journal, October 3,1997)
    -Revisionist Textbooks Take Sizzle And Significance From July 4 ( Robert Holland)
    -The U.S. Role in Global Security: The Mayo Clinic, not the Emergency Room (John Hillen, National Strategic Studies and the National Defense University)
    -Michael Barone Ã� The Second Tocquevillian Age (Hoover Digest)
    -Isolated: Conservatives turn inward. (Jacob Heilbrunn, New Republic)
    -Foreign Relations of the United States (Historian's Office | Department of State)
    -ESSAY: Still the Exceptional Nation? At the dawn of a new century, the United States finds itself in a position of surprising dominance around the world. It has been a triumph of ideas and values perhaps even more than of power, and the victory has critics worrying about the homogenizing effects on the world. But what, a noted scholar asks, about the effects on America? (Seymour Martin Lipset, Wilson Quarterly)