, Research Paper
Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938
Rise to Globalism, by Stephen Ambrose, is an enlightened work on the development of American foreign policy from World War II through the Reagan administration. It is an excellent one volume history, basic, but full of fact, that explains the trends in foreign policy that led America from its isolationist attitude of the first half of the nineteenth century to its position of global power and imminence today. The basic causes of the world’s major problems today (from the American viewpoint), communism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and third-world development, are traced from World War II and explained as they pertain to America’s foreign policies and overseas activities. This volume lays the ground work in the reader’s mind to understanding modern American foreign policy.
The book begins by explaining America’s involvement in World War II. This important though seemingly unconnected event would shape American foreign policy for the remainder of the century. After the war, the Eastern European states, liberated by Russia, were incorporated into satellite states of Russia, which then became the Soviet Union. The governments formed in these countries after the war were, naturally, communist. In Western Europe, all former satellite nations had been liberated by the United States and Great Britain, which then consequently set up democratic governments. This split of Europe, into east and west, set the stage for the cold war.
Ambrose covers this development with amazing clarity while keeping information needed for understanding to a minimum. There are no extra words nor superfluous examples and analogies, just straightforward and simplistic explanations of the situations that existed and the diplomatic and military actions that occurred. This appears to be an uncanny and extremely useful talent that Ambrose possesses and uses to create relatively short works that give readers an in-depth understanding of the subject matter.
In short time, Ambrose quickly describes the developments of the cold war. To do so, he uses many statistics, quotes, and relates public opinion. But, he might have had greater success by using more detail about specific events and players and their specific impact on the cold war. He begins with America’s demobilization in Europe. It turned out, by the 1950’s, to be more of a mobilization rather than demobilization. More troops were going in to serve in Western Europe than had served there during the bulk of World War II. As tensions between the east and the west were heightened, an arms race ensued, The United States and the U.S.S.R. tried to build up their stockpiles of nuclear weapons in order to gain a decisive advantage over each other. As each president tried to alleviate the situation, the race heightened, and more, better weapons were built and stockpiled, supposedly as a deterrent to the third world war. This continued into the Reagan administration, and it has only slowed since the completion of this work.
Ambrose does an excellent job of showing how, at every stage of the cold war, the entire arms race, and the divided European continent situation, could have been avoided. He shows how each side could have compromised and avoided the financial and economic disaster which accompanied the arms race. However, neither the United States nor the U.S.S.R. was willing to compromise on relatively minor matters, much less on the big questions that still remained unanswered. When the United States would make a move to compromise, such as the partitioning of Berlin, the U.S.S.R. would respond with an impossible set of demands. When the U.S.S.R. tried to compromise, the U.S. would try to seize control of the situation and would create unreasonable stipulations on the proposed agreements. Inevitably, no meaningful agreements were ever reached. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, and Reagan each had opportunities to attempt to end the cold war, but did not. In the few instances that were seized, the attempts were bungled or the participants were unwilling to accept an equal peace. Unfortunately, the resolution of the situation came after the completion of the book. The U.S.S.R. fell in 1989 and communism was replaced by some degree of democracy throughout most of Europe.
The second major concern, the Arab-Israeli conflict, can trace its accentuation into the forefront of world politics back to the British and Americans after the end of World War II and the formation of the United Nations. Israel was created by the United Nations to provide a homeland for the many millions of persecuted Jews throughout the world. It also created a serious conflict with the Arab countries of the region. It was created from land the Turks had conquered almost 1,000 years before and which the Arabs then controlled. The newly created country had the backing of the United States and Great Britain, while the Arabs, for the most part, had the backing of the Soviet Union. Yet, Iran, Egypt, and Jordan were friendly to the U.S. and this presented a unique problem for America. They supplied billions of dollars of military aid to Israel to help them to fight wars to keep the Arabs out of the new country. The U.S. needed oil from the Arab countries and was militarily supporting the Arab’s enemy, Israel. The conflict required a special solution and Ambrose had it.
Ambrose, in simple and eloquent terms, showed the uncompromising position of each side and the various points of disagreement. The Israelis, after having fought to defend and even expand their ancient homeland, were unwilling to give up anything they had gained or to give the Palestinians a homeland of their own if it was to be created out of Israeli soil. The Arabs, for the most part, were calling for the abolition of the newly formed country, or at least the return of the territories it had captured. The conflict involved the United States in two ways. The U.S. sold military goods to and maintained trade and diplomatic relations with Israel and needed to maintain that relationship to show other countries that America would stand behind her friends. In addition, the U.S. also needed Arab oil. The need was so great that the oil embargo that the oil embargo that was imposed on the U.S. by the Arab countries actually forced the U.S. to speed up peace efforts in the Middle East. The Arabs, small and somewhat unorganized, could yield some power over the greatest superpower in the world. The U.S. had to and did act to overcome the situation.
Henry Kissinger, and later President Jimmy Carter, acted in accordance with America’s best interests to gain a peace agreement. Although little was done to resolve this conflict, they landed several treaties, which ended most of the open warfare and provided for many of the issues that concerned each side. Ambrose does an excellent job of showing the impact of these accomplishments on the United States. Kissinger got the oil embargo lifted and Carter negotiated a treaty to end Arab-Israeli hostilities. Ambrose fit this into America’s continuing foreign policy so well that the reader does not realize until afterward that this conflict set the tone for America in dealing with the question of developing nations.
America’s third and most minor problem was dealing with third world countries. Ambrose does an excellent job of walking the reader through the various ways America approached relationships with developing countries, in chronological order, and the success or failure of each approach. This may have been his greatest success in this book: third world foreign policy is clearly and concisely explained with little room left for understanding. He walks the reader through the topic, starting with the rebuilding of Europe after World War II. He shows the common thread, massive amounts of foreign aid money, which is found in every dealing with third world countries. He shows the reader the effects of each approach, as well as, the mediocre success of the Truman doctrine and the Marshall Plan, to the failure of containment and linkage, all the way up to the success of the hardball tactics of the Reagan administration. He traces the debacle in Vietnam back to its source in the policy of containment, and he shows why America bothered to get involved. He shows the lessons learned from this event and how they were later applied to situations in the Dominican Republic and Grenada. He showed the U.S.’ lack of involvement in Africa and explained why America had little reason to meddle in African affairs. America’s dealings with the third world, while altogether confusing and often unsuccessful, were easier to understand and to track through the use of Ambrose’s simple words.
Although he did an excellent job, there were some places where Ambrose could have improved upon his work. He did an excellent job of explaining the American, Soviet, Arab, and Israeli sides of issues, but seldom was another country, or at least its opinion, mentioned. Another absence in this work was an in-depth analysis of the problems in the Far East. China was covered extremely well, but the book lacked a sufficient section discussing the recent balance of trade problems with Japan. This had played a big role in American foreign policy recently and should have been included. Also, there were only two economic issues discussed: the Arab oil embargo and the Russian wheat sales. Economics, however, were linked to many different government decisions and should have played a greater role in the explanations and descriptions given in the book. Seldom was anything mentioned about the situation at home and its relation to foreign policy. In fact, not until the Carter administration does Ambrose give more than passing mention to Congress’ affect on foreign policy. The only thing that he noted was when Congress handed the president the ability to act without a Congressional vote for a certain period of time. Congress has the exclusive right to ratify treaties and to control the budget, so they had more of an effect on foreign policy than Ambrose led the reader to believe. Overall, however, Ambrose did an excellent job in creating a work that will open its reader’s mind to an understanding of American foreign policy since 1938.
Through his excellent explanations, eloquent language, and expert understanding of American foreign policy, Ambrose has created a book worthy of praise and valuable as a source of knowledge for anyone seeking an understanding of America’s foreign policy. His skill and writing ability bring out the true meaning and importance of America’s foreign policy and its incredible impact on the world. As a source of basic understanding, Rise to Globalism is an excellent volume worthy of full consideration. Every issue, from the cold war to the Arab-Israeli conflict to third world diplomacy, is covered in an extremely comprehensible and thought-provoking manner. Another absence in this work was an in-depth analysis of the problems in the Far East. China was covered extremely well, but the book lacked a sufficient section discussing the recent balance of trade problems with Japan. Ambrose has created an excellent work which will only continue to grow in importance and insight as it continues to be revised and updated.