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By Martin Goldstein

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Throughout the ages, states have seen foreign policy as a vehicle for increasing territory. Still other nations have seen foreign policy as a means for exporting their own way of life, a frequently heard justification of imperialism. While these factors may help account for the foreign policies of various states at different times, a more systematic explanation of foreign policy is provided by the concept of national interest. This idea presumes that nations have interests that they pursue on domestic and foreign fronts.

Communist-directed civil war was raging in Greece and the Russians were making territorial demands upon Turkey. In March 1947, President Harry S. Truman stood before both houses of Congress to announce what has become known as the Truman Doctrine. I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

Just as often, history may appear to be repeating itself when it really isn't. Errors of historical analogy are legion. In the 1960s, numerous American policymakers justified United States intervention in Vietnam by reference to the consequences of Allied failure to act when Hitler seized Czechoslovakia after the Munich Pact of 1938. The lesson of appeasement is clear, Americans were wont to say; appeasement only feeds aggression. The result was a series of decisions that many felt in retrospect led to the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Americas Foreign Policy: Drift or Decision by Martin Goldstein


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