Course Description
(History 291)

The course meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:40-9:30. 

The Versailles Treaty concluding World War I represented a tragic defeat for Woodrow Wilson. He failed, abysmally, both to steer the United States toward an irrevocable commitment to global engagement, and to establish and institutionalize a new framework and set of norms for the international order based on U.S. leadership. The attack on the United States by a foreign aggressor in December 1941 and America's participation in an Allied coalition during the Second World War, however, confirmed the foresight (albeit not necessarily the wisdom) of Wilson's policies. Indeed, when the United States emerged from the rubble of World War II as the world's leading economic and sole atomic power, Washington policymakers seized on this "second chance" to wield this power for the purpose of constructing the international environment that Wilson had prescribed: a Wilsonian world. This effort has remained the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy ever since.

This course traces the ebb and flow of that effort. Taking as its premise that the attack on Pearl Harbor obliterated the remaining vestiges of the "myth of isolationism," the narrative begins with the diplomacy of World War II and Franklin Roosevelt's vision of "Open Spheres" patrolled by "Four Policemen." With Roosevelt's death and the War's abrupt and violent termination, the ideal of multilateral cooperation rapidly gave way to bipolar competition: the Cold War. From Truman to Johnson, the United States waged the Cold War relentlessly, alternating between strategies of "containment" and "liberation."  The ever-increasing reliance on nuclear weapons with ever-increasing megatonnage did not produce Armageddon, as many feared. But it did produce stalemates in Korea, fiascoes and crises in Cuba, and Quagmires in Vietnam. Richard Nixon's solution to the nuclear predicament was to count on Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) to deter war and promote stability. Reagan tried to escape the predicament by imagining "Star Wars." Then the sudden end to the Cold War caught everyone by surprise. As attested to by the rhetorical "New World Order" articulated by George Bush (pere), the inchoate efforts of Bill Clinton to "enlarge" global democracy and free market economies, and the current discord within the security team of George Bush (fils, or Dubya), a rudderless policymaking community in Washington knows of no one to whom to turn other than--Woodrow Wilson. 

Overlaying this narrative history are multiple interrelated themes the course will explore. These themes include: the rise and fall of the United States as a creditor nation; the tension between America's idealistic impulses and the perceived need to behave "realistically" in a frequently hostile environment; the impact of domestic (political, economic, cultural, ideological, and psychological) influences on foreign policy; the emergence of bipolarism and Soviet-American antagonism; the challenge to bipolarism posed by the Third World and regional disputes; atomic diplomacy and the balance of terror; "existential deterrence" and arms limitation; crisis management and avoidance; and, finally, the end of the Cold War, the implosion of the former Soviet Union, and the implications of the Russian empire's collapse for restructuring the global system, reordering America's international priorities, and producing a national strategy that succeeds "containment." In short, this course examines war, peace, stability, and everything in between.

The assigned readings reflect an array of interpretations and approaches to the study of the history of U.S. foreign policy.  Although no "formal discussions" are scheduled, students will be provided the opportunity--and encouraged--to discuss freely their responses to and questions about these interpretations, those of the instructor, during every class. In additions, at least once each student will be required to present a succinct oral summary of the fundamental issues raised in the previous session, and time will be allotted to examine and dissect the sundry documents available on the web and those published in the readings, especially the Jensen and Burr volumes. Consequently, notwithstanding the relatively hefty readings for some weeks, each student will be expected to complete all assignments with the care and thoroughness necessary to formulate questions and participate actively in class discussions: challenging, probing, even arguing.