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Chapter Twelve A New Foreign Policy The principal accomplishment of Harry S. Truman during his nearly eight years in the presidency was to change the foreign policy of the United States, from abstention to participation in the affairs of Europe and the world. To say such a thing after decades of participation seems almost pretentious. As Americans of the present day look back on their country's history, they see not only the nation's incessant moves of policy since Truman's time but also the two world wars of our century. In their minds' eyes they equate the world wars with participation, and in a kind of lapse of thought they are willing to affirm that their government and its citizenry have devoted the entire twentieth century to contemplating and if necessary resolving the confusions and conflicts-what President George Washington in his farewell address described as the combinations and collisions-of powers outside the Western Hemisphere. Still, the truth is that until 1947, in the midst of Truman's first term, the principal American way with foreign policy was that of Presidents Washington , Jefferson, and Monroe: the old-time view that there was a New World and an Old World; that Almighty God had sifted the choice grain and sent it to the New; and that the interests of humankind-survival of the choice grain-lay in nonintervention in, abstention from, the affairs of the Old. Americans of this earlier time deemed participation in the world wars a temporary proposition. For them, World War I was a matter of "paying the debt to Lafayette." Although President Wilson desired the country to enter the League of Nations, popular support for such an arrangement lasted a very short time, and, as everyone knows, Wilson lost out with the Senate, and his proposed Democratic successor, Governor James M. Cox of Ohio, lost out with the American people. Similarly, after World War II few Americans expected the nation to continue its commitments abroad. President Roosevelt told Stalin at Yalta he did not expect American troops to remain in Europe more than two years. 246 247 / A New Foreign Policy This outlook came to an end during the Truman administration. The president of that time presided over the change. And more, he guided the change through the toils of political opposition and popular confusion. He did not always do right. In the Truman Doctrine he overstated the need to oppose the Soviet Union to get a large appropriation for Greece and Turkey through Congress, and he persuaded some Americans to consider the USSR a sort of bogey rather than another, if large and important, opponent in the long series of nations that have disliked the United States and sought its discomfiture. Such exaggeration led to the belief that the United States committed itself to oppose communism everywhere. In the Marshall Plan the administration may have thought too much of its assistance to European stability, which for Western Europe was only 10 or 20 percent of aggregate capital formation.1 The plan's cost was no burden, considering America's economic domination of the world: in the late 1940s the United States possessed half of the world's productive capacity. In the case of the North Atlantic Treaty the administration misestimated the intentions of the Soviet Union, espying a Soviet desire to conquer Western Europe. Still, there were extenuating circumstances for such miscalculation. Taken altogether the achievement from March 1947 to April 1949 was very large.2 1 The first move was the Truman Doctrine, a statement of American purpose announced by the president in a speech before Congress on March 12, 1947. A logical procession of moves ensued-the doctrinal statement preceding the economic and military programs-although at the moment the administration did not see matters developing in this clear, careful manner. The origins of the Truman Doctrine lay in immediate postwar relations with the Soviet Union, in which the current ruler of the USSR chose to reject friendship with the United States and substitute what he had known within Russia since his youth, manipulation and pressure. This course, he must have hoped, would bring the rewards in foreign policy it had produced in domestic affairs. But even while ending coalition governments in Eastern Europe, turning them into communist governments, actions that the Western nations could have considered a legacy of the war, the Soviets began to close off Western influence in Iran, Turkey, and Greece. Simultaneously with refusal to evacuate the...


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