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Evolving concepts of security can be seen as the main driving factor behind the United States’ decision to change its foreign policy from isolationism to interventionism. In this paper, I will argue that the shift in American politics from the situation at home to the broader focus on foreign affairs was associated with the following factors: the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the transformation of public opinion in the 1930s, and the extensive rise of military influence exacerbated by the threats of Communism and Fascism (Grant 34).
The Monroe Doctrine
The Monroe Doctrine is a document issued in 1823 by President James Monroe (Grant 114). It opposed European colonialism and reinforced the role of the United States as a major power in the Americas. The document stated the end of colonialism in Latin America as its major objective. Taking into consideration the presence of a non-interference clause in the doctrine, it could be argued that Monroe took a multilateral and pragmatic approach to world politics.
Open Door Policy
The desire of American people to oppose colonialism and imperialism was captured in the Open Door Policy that was declared by Secretary of State John Hay in 1899 (Grant 98). The policy was a manifestation of Monroe’s intention to acknowledge the equal rights of all nations and was meant to stop control of China’s trade. Unfortunately, even though the Open Door Policy was established for the protection of the integrity of Chinese markets, it became an avenue for exploiting the economic potential of the emerging superpower (Grant 99).
The Roosevelt Corollary
American foreign policy completely changed after the devastation brought by the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903 (Grant 57). The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine presented in 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt called for exercising military power over neighboring nations to stop an incessant disturbance in the Western Hemisphere (Grant 57). The Corollary provided the United States with a justification for exhibiting imperialistic tendencies and sending troops into Latin America on numerous occasions, thereby initiating a new era of interventionism.
However, the exertion of influence on the New World ended when President Calvin Coolidge renounced the Roosevelt Corollary in 1928 (Grant 58). The United States also removed its military bases from Haiti and Nicaragua, thus taking the first step toward the Good Neighbor policy that ended interference in the politics of the Western Hemisphere (Grant 58).
The Fourteen Points
The Fourteen Points speech made by President Woodrow Wilson embodied progressive ideas associated with social activism in the late 1890s in the United States (Wallenfeldt 56). The president expressed his vision of new world order in an address to Congress in 1918 (Wallenfeldt 55). It was an extremely ambitious rhetorical attempt to rally the American people around the common goal of ushering “peace without victory” (Wallenfeldt 55).
Wilson wanted the League of Nations to guarantee a settlement of the conflict. Moreover, he argued that old diplomatic approaches resulting in entangling alliances started numerous devastating wars of the past; therefore, he called for open diplomacy that would promote peace around the world. Furthermore, the President demanded an end to trade barriers and wanted to settle colonial claims (Wallenfeldt 57). Even though the Fourteen Points immediately gained traction in the United States, their appeal was not so popular in Britain. British elections in 1918 eradicated the scarce support for Wilson’s ideals, and the desire to squeeze Germany “until the pips squeak” came in its stead (Tucker 902).
France also had a skeptical view of the Fourteen Points. Upon reading Wilson’s demands, the prime minister of France, Georges Benjamin Clemenceau, smirked and pronounced that “God Himself only gave us ten [commandments]” (Tucker 902). It was a popular opinion in France, which had been devastated by the First World War. Even though some Europeans had a good view of the Fourteen Points, many of them held resentment toward belligerent Germany and refused to even consider a diplomatic solution to the conflict (Tucker 902).
The end of the First World War initiated the era of isolationist policies. The American public’s determination to stay away from foreign affairs came as a result of the frustration with Europe’s default on the United States’ loans and was exacerbated by the Hawley-Smoot Tariff that almost completely closed foreign trade (Wallenfeldt 62). The country even decided to decline an invitation to become a member of the League of Nations (Wallenfeldt 136).
However, emerging Nazi regimes and the consolidation of Communist powers around the world, especially in the Soviet Union, in the late 1930s made the United States less eager to preserve its non-interventionist status quo (Wallenfeldt 124).
Even though the United States tried to preserve its non-interventionist status, evolving concepts of security became the main driving factor behind its decision to adopt an interventionist approach to foreign politics. The shift in American politics from the situation at home to the broader focus on foreign affairs was associated with the following factors: the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the transformation of public opinion in the 1930s, and the extensive rise of military influence exacerbated by the threats of Communism and Fascism.
Grant, Susan-Mary. A Concise History of the United States of America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Print.
Tucker, Spencer. World War I. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Print.
Wallenfeldt, Jeffrey. U.S. Imperialism and Progressivism. New York: Britannica Educational Publisher, 2013. Print.