“Rise to Globalism. American Foreign Policy Since 1938.” Stephen E. Ambrose and Douglas G. Brinkley. Penguin Books. 2011. $18.
If you have no reading experience in American foreign policy you could read Brinkley’s recent edited edition and have a pretty good notion of foreign policy issues faced by the United States over the last 75 years.
Beginning with the run-up to World War Two, Ambrose and Brinkley cover the entire gamut of armed conflicts all the way to September 11th, 2001 and the entry into War With Iraq.
The stories and history of World War Two are well established, and honestly, I’m not sure if anything covering World War Two through Vietnam offers anything new to the conversation. Having recently read David Halberstam’s “The Coldest Year,” I didn’t find anything new or improved about their coverage of the Korean War. In fact, if you want to read a definitive treatise on the Korean War, you should read Halberstam’s book.
Most people do not recognize how unstable the world was in the aftermath of World War Two. To say the Middle East was unstable probably comes as no surprise. However, as European countries saw their colonial assets achieve independence due to the focus on European redevelopment, territories once under their domain fell under the influence of the United States and Russia, and to some extent, China. The chapters covering the Truman and Eisenhower years were riveting, actually, and while I have read both broad and specific histories of the Middle East region, I still find myself captivated by the nuances and complexities of the realms geopolitical importance. Read might find coverage the Suez Canal closure, the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt, and the near war between France and Great Britain on one side and the United States and Russia on the other fascinating.
Not much new ground on Kennedy and the Cold War, though. Much has been written and added to the histories regarding the face-off between Kennedy and Khruschev. I recommend reading “Khruschev” by William Taubman is an interesting read deeper into the book. The initial chapters of Soviet political machinations are difficult to slog through.
Ambrose and Brinkley essentially give Jimmy Carter a pass. Jimmy Carter takes a huge amount of criticism, and most is undeserved. The general public do not seem to understand how presidential policies influence and affect in years after the president leaves office. Politicians are always quick to blame the other party, and partisan politics leads to polarization of people’s perceptions. Reagan is loved; Carter is dismissed. The reality is much different and much more interesting. President Carter was left to clean-up the debacle of failed economic, social, and military policies in the wake of Nixon and Ford. Nixon’s policies of price controls and oil embargoes carried forward into Ford’s administration giving rise to the economic crisis which befell the Carter Administration. Not to mention the illegal bombing of Cambodia. The Iranian Hostage crisis, admittedly not handled well, and whose solution was credited to Reagan, is persistently used against Carter as evidence of his failed foreign policy.
Somehow, in our current political arena, politicians are quick to cite Reagan as the architect of the demise of the Soviet Union (actually, their demise was inevitable and the real collapse happened under George Bush, not Reagan). Furthermore, people seem to be unaffected by the Arms for Hostages Scandal during the Reagan years, which was the backdoor deal with the Iranian government to release hostages once the election was over. Then, there was the involvement of the Contras in Central America, and the subsequent Iran-Contra Affair scandal which made Col. Oliver North famous and seemingly patriotic for lying to Congress, and negotiating the backdoor deal with our public enemy, Iran.
The Clinton Years provides a few interesting insights. While on the one hand Clinton was credited with quickly developing foreign policy acumen with regards to Eastern Europe and the balkanization of Yugoslavia, Ambrose and Brinkley wait too long, in my opinion, to discuss the complete and utter tragedy which occurred in Rwanda. The world’s eyes were cast on Serbs killing, raping, and pillaging, aka “ethnic cleansing,” throughout Bosnia and Kosovo. In the meantime, thousands of people are literally hacked to bits in Rwanda and no one seems to care.
After Clinton, the discussion leads to George H. W. Bush. I would not recommend the book for this content simply because it feel inadequate. The coverage is cursory, and covers the general lies which led to the Second War with Iraq, but other authors have given the administration more critical treatment.
Rise to Globalism is a bird’s eye view of American Foreign Policy since 1938, World War Two through the Second War with Iran. The post-WW2 chapter I found intriguing; the latter sections on Iraq, not so much.
I do recommend the book for the intervening material, though not so much for the revisions and updates to include George W. Bush. I do recommend the book for a person who has little knowledge of American Foreign Policy. This book would be a good way to sort of “catch up.”