Some historians see history as whims and myriad enthusiasms. Others see it a cyclical. Peter Beinart is in the latter camp. I’m finding his 'The Icarus Syndrome', an account of recent American foreign policy, a thought-provoking read.
He begins with Woodrow Wilson’s idealism before, during and after the first World War. When that failed America turned isolationist. Franklin Roosevelt saw the dangers in that policy but knew he couldn’t take the electorate with him. His rhetoric was at odds with policy which was Beinart claims old-fashioned ‘real politick’, power blocks and alliances. That rhetoric stressed universal democracy.
Under Truman that approach led to anti-communism in Greece and Korea etc etc. Containment became the order of the day. Viet Nam lay ahead. Of course, the Presidental name is merely the focal point for a movement, a trend, the current wave.
I quote from Beinart
‘McArthur and his allies genuinely believed that the only reason containment kept expanding was that the communists kept confronting the United States with grave and graver threats. What they didn’t grasp was that their definition of what constituted a threat had grown in parallel with America’s growing confidence in its power.’
‘Former under-secretary of state Robert Lovett told a committee tasked with putting America’s containment strategy into written form ‘there was practically nothing that the country could not do if it wanted to do it.’ His words might have served as an epigraph to the mounting hubris of the age.’
‘Containment … conceived as primarily a political strategy, was now an unmistakably military one. …The perception if weakness … would breed ‘doubt and recrimination,’ both among America’s allies and within the USA itself. … [This] meant that unimportant places were important after all. … [Americans were seen] as so moral, decent and rational … that they could take virtually unrestrained action to combat communism without ever imperilling their souls.’
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