Post-9/11 Foreign Policy: Traditional and Dangerous

An article published in the latest issue of Diplomatic History examines Bush’s post 9/11 national security strategy in a historical perspective. In doing so, author Melvyn P. Leffler finds that there is nothing new or revolutionary about the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Focusing on values and stressing moral clarity, as President Bush has done, are traditional means to mobilize public support, especially in times of heightened threat perception. 9/11 left America feeling threatened and, as the author suggests, US leaders feeling a combination of guilt, outrage, and responsibility. “Like other times in American History, when threat perception has been high, policymakers gravitate to rhetorical strategies emphasizing ideals and values,” Leffler explains.

This heightened threat perception tempts officials to stake their policy as universal and their American values as superior. “There is no greater and sadder irony, perhaps even tragedy, that while Bush officials assert the superiority of American values, the overweening use of American powers breeds cynicism about US motives and distrust of US intentions,” the author states. A resent survey of world public opinion by the Pew Research Center revealed the negative effects of the Bush foreign policy. The majority of people in countries like Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, and Morocco believe the US ignores their interests when creating foreign policy. Many see the US as seeking to dominate the world and, specifically, the Middle East for its oil. Osama bin Laden is looked on favorably by the majority of Pakistanis and Jordanians, 65 and 55 percent. The reputation of the US is low. “The balance between ideals and interests has been dangerously skewed in favor of the former, and the result may be an ominous overassertion of American power,” Leffler concludes. “…Interests need to temper ideals and discipline power. This does not require a revolution in thinking; it requires the exercise of good judgment.”

These articles are published in the Diplomatic History roundtable issue on The Bush Administration’s Foreign Policy in Historical Prospective. As the sole journal devoted to the history of U.S. diplomacy, foreign relations, and national security, Diplomatic History examines issues from the colonial period to the present in a global and comparative context. It is published on behalf of The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

This roundtable issue includes: Professor Leffler’s analysis followed by comments by six prominent historians, political scientists, and journalists with differing positions on the Bush administration’s foreign policy and Professor Leffler’s analysis. Bush supporter Robert Kagan discusses two quibbles with Leffler’s analysis and Walter L. Hixson discusses his theme of continuity in foreign policy. While Carolyn Eisenberg concentrates Cold War comparisons and Daniel W. Drezner on international relations. Arnold A. Offner argues that recalibration of balance is needed and Anna Kasten Nelson that a noticeable change did occur. Lastly, Leffler responds.

Melvyn Leffler has been writing about the history of U.S. foreign policy for thirty years. He has published many articles and essays on U.S. policy toward Western Europe between World War I and World War II and even more articles and essays on U.S. diplomacy during the Cold War.

From Diplomatic History

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