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Article

Leopoldo Nuti and Daniele Fiorentino

Relations between Italy and the United States have gone through different stages, from the early process of nation-building during the 18th and the 19th centuries, to the close diplomatic and political alignment of the Cold War and the first two decades of the 21st century. Throughout these two and a half centuries, relations between the two states occasionally experienced some difficult moments—from the tensions connected to the mass immigration of Italians to the United States at the end of the 19th century, to the diplomatic clash at the Versailles Peace Conference at the end of World War I, culminating with the declaration of war by the Fascist government in December 1941. By and large, however, Italy and the United States have mostly enjoyed a strong relationship based on close cultural, economic, and political ties.

Article

Amanda C. Demmer

It is a truism in the history of warfare that the victors impose the terms for postwar peace. The Vietnam War, however, stands as an exception to this general rule. There can be no doubt that with its capture of the former South Vietnamese capitol on April 30, 1975, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam won unequivocal military victory. Thereafter, the North achieved its longtime goal of reuniting the two halves of Vietnam into a new nation, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV), governed from Hanoi. These changes, however, did not alter the reality that, despite its military defeat, the United States still wielded a preponderant amount of power in global geopolitics. This tension between the war’s military outcome and the relatively unchanged asymmetry of power between Washington and Hanoi, combined with the passion the war evoked in both countries, created a postwar situation that was far from straightforward. In fact, for years the relationship between the former adversaries stood at an uneasy state, somewhere between war and peace. Scholars call this process by which US-Vietnam relations went from this nebulous state to more regular bilateral ties “normalization.” Normalization between the United States and Vietnam was a protracted, highly contentious process. Immediately after the fall of Saigon, the Gerald Ford administration responded in a hostile fashion by extending the economic embargo that the United States had previously imposed on North Vietnam to the entire country, refusing to grant formal diplomatic recognition to the SRV, and vetoing the SRV’s application to the United Nations. Briefly in 1977 it seemed as though Washington and Hanoi might achieve a rapid normalization of relations, but lingering wartime animosity, internal dynamics in each country, regional transformations in Southeast Asia, and the reinvigoration of the Cold War on a global scale scuttled the negotiations. Between the fall of 1978 and late 1991, the United States refused to have formal normalization talks with Vietnam, citing the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia and the need to obtain a “full accounting” of missing American servicemen. In these same years, however, US-Vietnamese relations remained far from frozen. Washington and Hanoi met in a series of multilateral and bilateral forums to address the US quest to account for missing American servicemen and an ongoing refugee crisis in Southeast Asia. Although not a linear process, these discussions helped lay the personal and institutional foundations for US-Vietnamese normalization. Beginning in the late 1980s, internal, regional, and international transformations once again rapidly altered the larger geopolitical context of US-Vietnamese normalization. These changes led to the resumption of formal economic and diplomatic relations in 1994 and 1995, respectively. Despite this tangible progress, however, the normalization process continued. After 1995 the economic, political, humanitarian, and defense aspects of bilateral relations increased cautiously but significantly. By the first decade of the 21st century, US-Vietnamese negotiations in each of these areas had accelerated considerably.

Article

Timothy Andrews Sayle

In March 2003 US and coalition forces invaded Iraq. US forces withdrew in December 2008. Approximately 4,400 US troops were killed and 31,900 wounded during the initial invasion and the subsequent war. Estimates of Iraqi casualties vary widely, ranging from roughly 100,000 to more than half a million. The invasion was launched as part of the US strategic response to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and ended the rule of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. After the collapse of the regime, Iraq experienced significant violence as former regime loyalists launched insurgent attacks against US forces, and al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a group linked to al-Qaeda, also attacked US forces and sought to precipitate sectarian civil war. Simultaneously with the increasing violence, Iraq held a series of elections that resulted in a new Constitution and an elected parliament and government. In 2007, the United States deployed more troops to Iraq to quell the insurgency and sectarian strife. The temporary increase in troops was known as “the Surge.” In November 2008, the US and Iraqi governments agreed that all US troops would withdraw from Iraq by December 2011. In 2014, AQI, now calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), attacked and captured large swaths of Iraq, including several large cities. That year, the United States and allied states launched new military operations in Iraq called Operation Inherent Resolve. The government of Iraq declared victory over ISIL in 2017.

Article

Andrew J. Gawthorpe

From 1965 to 1973, the United States attempted to prevent the absorption of the non-Communist state of South Vietnam by Communist North Vietnam as part of its Cold War strategy of containment. In doing so, the United States had to battle both the North Vietnamese military and guerrillas indigenous to South Vietnam. The Johnson administration entered the war without a well-thought-out strategy for victory, and the United States quickly became bogged down in a bloody stalemate. A major Communist assault in 1968 known as the Tet Offensive convinced US leaders of the need to seek a negotiated solution. This task fell to the Nixon administration, which carried on peace talks while simultaneously seeking ways to escalate the conflict and force North Vietnam to make concessions. Eventually it was Washington that made major concessions, allowing North Vietnam to keep its forces in the South and leaving South Vietnam in an untenable position. US troops left in 1973 and Hanoi successfully invaded the South in 1975. The two Vietnams were formally unified in 1976. The war devastated much of Vietnam and came at a huge cost to the United States in terms of lives, resources, and political division at home. It gave birth to the largest mass movement against a war in US history, motivated by opposition both to conscription and to the damage that protesters perceived the war was doing to the United States. It also raised persistent questions about the wisdom of both military intervention and nation-building as tools of US foreign policy. The war has remained a touchstone for national debate and partisan division even as the United States and Vietnam moved to normalize diplomatic relations with the end of the Cold War.

Article

For nearly a decade, American combat soldiers fought in South Vietnam to help sustain an independent, noncommunist nation in Southeast Asia. After U.S. troops departed in 1973, the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975 prompted a lasting search to explain the United States’ first lost war. Historians of the conflict and participants alike have since critiqued the ways in which civilian policymakers and uniformed leaders applied—some argued misapplied—military power that led to such an undesirable political outcome. While some claimed U.S. politicians failed to commit their nation’s full military might to a limited war, others contended that most officers fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the war they were fighting. Still others argued “winning” was essentially impossible given the true nature of a struggle over Vietnamese national identity in the postcolonial era. On their own, none of these arguments fully satisfy. Contemporary policymakers clearly understood the difficulties of waging a war in Southeast Asia against an enemy committed to national liberation. Yet the faith of these Americans in their power to resolve deep-seated local and regional sociopolitical problems eclipsed the possibility there might be limits to that power. By asking military strategists to simultaneously fight a war and build a nation, senior U.S. policymakers had asked too much of those crafting military strategy to deliver on overly ambitious political objectives. In the end, the Vietnam War exposed the limits of what American military power could achieve in the Cold War era.

Article

The meaning of the Vietnam War has enduringly divided Americans in the postwar period. In part because the political splits opened up by the war made it an awkward topic for conversation, Vietnam veterans felt a barrier of silence separating them from their fellow citizens. The situation of returning veterans in the war’s waning years serves as a baseline against which to measure subsequent attempts at their social reintegration. Veterans, as embodiments of the experience of the war, became vehicles through which American society could assimilate its troubled and troubling memories. By the 1980s, greater public understanding of the difficulties of veterans’ homecoming experiences—particularly after the recognition in 1980 of the psychiatric condition, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—helped accelerate the efforts to recognize the service and sacrifices of Americans who fought in Vietnam through the creation of memorials. Because the homecoming experience was seen as crucial to the difficulties which a substantial minority suffered, the concept emerged that the nation needed to embrace its veterans in order to help restore their well-being. Characteristic ways of talking about the veterans’ experiences coalesced into truisms and parables: the nation and its veterans needed to “reconcile” and “heal”; America must “never again” send young men to fight a war unless the government goes all-out for victory; protesters spat on the veterans and called them “baby killers” when they returned from Vietnam. Strategists debated what the proper “lessons” of the Vietnam War were and how they should be applied to other military interventions. After the prevalent “overwhelming force” doctrine was discarded in 2003 in the invasion of Iraq, new “lessons” emerged from the Vietnam War: first came the concept of “rapid decisive operations,” and then counterinsurgency came back into vogue. In these interrelated dimensions, American society and politics shaped the memory of the Vietnam War.

Article

Since the founding of the United States of America, coinciding with the height of the Atlantic slave trade, U.S. officials have based their relations with West Africa primarily on economic interests. Initially, these interests were established on the backs of slaves, as the Southern plantation economy quickly vaulted the United States to prominence in the Atlantic world. After the U.S. abolition of the slave trade in 1808, however, American relations with West Africa focused on the establishment of the American colony of Liberia as a place of “return” for formerly enslaved persons. Following the turn to “legitimate commerce” in the Atlantic and the U.S. Civil War, the United States largely withdrew from large-scale interaction with West Africa. Liberia remained the notable exception, where prominent Pan-African leaders like Edward Blyden, W. E. B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey helped foster cultural and intellectual ties between West Africa and the Diaspora in the early 1900s. These ties to Liberia were deepened in the 1920s when Firestone Rubber Corporation of Akron, Ohio established a long-term lease to harvest rubber. World War II marked a significant increase in American presence and influence in West Africa. Still focused on Liberia, the war years saw the construction of infrastructure that would prove essential to Allied war efforts and to American security interests during the Cold War. After 1945, the United States competed with the Soviet Union in West Africa for influence and access to important economic and national security resources as African nations ejected colonial regimes across most of the continent. West African independence quickly demonstrated a turn from nationalism to ethnic nationalism, as civil wars engulfed several countries in the postcolonial, and particularly the post-Cold War, era. After a decade of withdrawal, American interest in West Africa revived with the need for alternative sources of petroleum and concerns about transnational terrorism following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Article

Michael Patrick Cullinane

Between 1897 and 1901 the administration of Republican President William McKinley transformed US foreign policy traditions and set a course for empire through interconnected economic policies and an open aspiration to achieve greater US influence in global affairs. The primary changes he undertook as president included the arrangement of inter-imperial agreements with world powers, a willingness to use military intervention as a political solution, the establishment of a standing army, and the adoption of a “large policy” that extended American jurisdiction beyond the North American continent. Opposition to McKinley’s policies coalesced around the annexation of the Philippines and the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China. Anti-imperialists challenged McKinley’s policies in many ways, but despite fierce debate, the president’s actions and advocacy for greater American power came to define US policymaking for generations to come. McKinley’s administration merits close study.

Article

Best known as Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state during the Civil War, William Henry Seward conducted full careers as a statesman, politician, and visionary of America’s future, both before and after that traumatic conflict. His greatest legacy, however, lay in his service as the secretary of state, leading the diplomatic effort to prevent European intervention in the conflict. His success in that effort marked the margin between the salvation and the destruction of the Union. Beyond his role as diplomat, Seward’s signature qualities of energy, optimism, ambition, and opportunism enabled him to assume a role in the Lincoln administration extending well beyond his diplomatic role as the secretary of state. Those same qualities secured a close working relationship with the president as Seward overcame a rocky first few weeks in office to become Lincoln’s confidant and sounding board. Seward’s career in politics stretched from the 1830s until 1869. Through that time, he maintained a vision of a United States of America built on opportunity and free labor, powered by government’s active role in internal improvement and education. He foresaw a nation fated to expand across the continent and overseas, with expansion occurring peacefully as a result of American industrial and economic strength and its model of government. During his second term as secretary of state, under the Johnson administration, Seward attempted a series of territorial acquisitions in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and on the North American continent. The state of the post-war nation and its fractious politics precluded success in most of these attempts, but Seward was successful in negotiating and securing Congressional ratification of the purchase of Alaska in 1867. In addition, Seward pursued a series of policies establishing paths followed later by US diplomats, including the open door in China and the acquisition of Hawaii and US naval bases in the Caribbean.

Article

Trygve Throntveit

An ungainly word, it has proven tenacious. Since the early Cold War, “Wilsonianism” has been employed by historians and analysts of US foreign policy to denote two historically related but ideologically and operationally distinct approaches to world politics. One is the foreign policy of the term’s eponym, President Woodrow Wilson, during and after World War I—in particular his efforts to engage the United States and other powerful nations in the cooperative maintenance of order and peace through a League of Nations. The other is the tendency of later administrations and political elites to deem an assertive, interventionist, and frequently unilateralist foreign policy necessary to advance national interests and preserve domestic institutions. Both versions of Wilsonianism have exerted massive impacts on US and international politics and culture. Yet both remain difficult to assess or even define. As historical phenomena they are frequently conflated; as philosophical labels they are ideologically freighted. Perhaps the only consensus is that the term implies the US government’s active rather than passive role in the international order. It is nevertheless important to distinguish Wilson’s “Wilsonianism” from certain doctrines and practices later attributed to him or traced to his influence. The major reasons are two. First, misconceptions surrounding the aims and outcomes of Wilson’s international policies continue to distort historical interpretation in multiple fields, including American political, cultural, and diplomatic history and the history of international relations. Second, these distortions encourage the conflation of Wilsonian internationalism with subsequent yet distinct developments in American foreign policy. The confused result promotes ideological over historical readings of the nation’s past, which in turn constrain critical and creative thinking about its present and future as a world power.