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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 11,No. 3, Winter 1980 OnUnderstandingAmerican ForeignPolicy: Willthe Real Explanation Please Identify Itself? Richard K. B'etts. Soldiers, Statesmen and Cold War Crises. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977. 292 + xipp. WilliamH. Blanchard. Aggression American Style. Santa Monica, Cal.: Goodyear Publishing Company, Inc., 1978.314 + xii pp. LloydS. Etheredge. A World of Men: The Private Sources of American Foreign Policy. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1978. 178+ xv pp. K. J. Holsti During the Cold War, analysts of American diplomacy lived in a stable world, comfortable in the knowledge that whatever the roles of public opinion, bureaucratic politics, careerism and the personal predilections of persons in high places, the main lines of American foreign policy could be understood as primarily a response to the aggressive expansionism of communism . Observers readily acknowledged that the United States might overreact in some instances, or make errors of judgment on tactical details. But the grand design of American foreign policy-to protest the free world to promote economic development, and to maximize opportunities for free trade and exchange of goods, money, ideas and people-was on the whole admirable, honestly developed, and often generously implemented. If one sought explanations of American activities abroad, one had to look no further than Peking or Moscow. The sources of American foreign policy resided primarily outside the United States; America was reacting to the aggressiveness of others, not launching crusades which threatened anyone. The Vietnam war rendered this view of things suspect. Now the United States came to be portrayed as predatory, the prime cause of instability, war and in~ervention in the world. The causes of American aggressiveness resided within the United States, in its politics, economics and society. In their search for explanations, many, like Harry Magdoff, 1 posited an 390 K.J. Holsti economic-institutional necessity for expansionism. American business in the postwar years had carved out through greed, trade and investment, an immense empire whose coherence was being challenged by the Vietcong and other national liberation movements. The United States had not intervened in Indochina to secure French rubber estates-as some of the more naive critics of the war maintained-but to prevent the downfall of one "outpost of freedom," a collapse that might lead to the eventual demise of the empire. Never mind personalities, American history or Soviet and Chinese foreign policies. The essence of American foreign activity, its moving force, lay within the realm of business interests. More sophisticated analyses, such as Schurmann's historical essay,2 explained American expansionism in terms of bureaucratic interests and the "imperial presidency.'' Like the neo-Marxists, his analysis also located the sources of American foreign policy within the state; he barely mentioned developments in the world in general, or the activities of Russia and China in particular. The three books reviewed here follow the tradition of seeking to find a key variable to explain American foreign policy. Blanchard, like Magdoff, Schurmann and many others, begins by claiming that something is fundamentally wrong in America's relations with the outside world and wants to know why this is so. His thesis proceeds as follows: Americans, through their foreign policy, seek power, like other nations; but, unlike other nations, Americans also seek virtue. There is inconsistency between American actions abroad which are designed to advance and protect concrete interests -often aggressively-and Americans' traditional sense of innocence and personal goodness. In Blanchard's words, "we have a kind of prudery about admitting our aggressive impulses. The modern American reacts to aggression the way his Puritan ancestor reacted to sex. He likes to engage in it without admitting to the world what he is doing" (p. 238). The result of this inconsistency is self-deception. The case studies in the book are designed to demonstrate that American policy-makers have concealed from themselves the true national interest and have wrapped their aggressive behavior in self-justifying moral rhetoric. This propensity to deceive oneself is uniquely American; Americans cannot recognize aggressiveness for what it is. Hence, Americans have been guilty, as the cases are intended to show, of "innocent provocation" (p. 28). And when aware of actions which are obviously aggressive (e.g...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 389-397
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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