Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


MARCH 2020

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it," is a phrase used by statesmen, among them Winston Churchill, to urge a study of history to better understand our complicated world. For example, to understand China's current expansive policies in East Asia, one should read Henry Kissinger's seminal work "On China." This scholar and former secretary of state describes humiliations China suffered during the European colonial occupation in the 19th century. The Communist regime, which came to power in 1949, is determined to recoup China's territories and great power status. Kissinger was the first American official to meet with Mao Zedong in Beijing and pave the way for President Nixon's visit to China in 1972.

Similarly, to understand tensions today within the European Union, knowledge of 19th century competition among five European powers—Britain, France, Russia, Prussia, Austria—is important to understanding why Europe nearly destroyed itself in the devastating First World War and then sowed the seeds that caused World War II. A good place to find this history is another new book "Metternich: Strategist and Visionary" This great Austrian diplomat and strategist helped restore the European balance of power after the defeat of France's Napoleon in 1815. The Congress of Vienna laid the groundwork for European peace that lasted until 1914.

In the Middle East, we should appreciate the historical significance for Arabs of a 12th century hero known as Saladin. He is revered eight centuries later because his forces recaptured their holy city, Jerusalem, from the European Crusaders who conquered Palestine and Jerusalem in 1099 and held it for nearly eighty years. Another book "The Life and Legacy of Sultan Saladin" is relevant today because Arab leaders viewed the return of Britain and France after World War I as a new European crusade, and establishment of a State of Israel in 1948 as another Western incursion on their territory.

U.S. - China tensions

If the coronavirus epidemic in Chins doesn't deepen and sidetrack President Xi Jinping's quest for hegemonic sway in East Asia, the U.S. faces a major decision: Will it accede to China's determination to control international traffic in the South China Sea? And will Washington stand by and let China encroach on Japanese territories in East China Sea that also include the interests of South Korea? In the longer term, China also has its sight on the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia through which shipping headed to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam passes. This is a major strategic question that Washington will need to resolve, or be prepared to confront China militarily in the South China Sea. Clearly, the U.S. defense alliance with Japan is crucial in any decision it makes to reduce its commitments in Asia.

Europe's dilemma

The major European powers were spared a new round of wars after 1945 for two major reasons:

  1. America's willingness to stay involved in Western Europe's security and economic development
  2. Determination of French and German leaders to forge a partnership that later became the European Union

Britain's withdrawal will not weaken the EU as long as Paris and Berlin maintain close working relationships. Also, Britain's action will not weaken its support for NATO. And America, despite a cooling policy toward the EU recently bolstered its military presence in Eastern Europe as a warning to Vladimir Putin.

A fundamental problem now facing the EU is whether it can hold together as an economic union in the face of growing nationalist trends in France, Germany, Italy, and Poland. Europe's failure to build an effective political structure to complement its economic achievement opens the possibility that historical nationalism will weaken these states when unity is essential to avoid Russian pressure to draw Europe away from the United States. This was Soviet policy until 1991 and remains a key part of Putin's foreign policy today.

Demise of Arab Nationalism

In 1952 a new Arab leader, Gamal Nasser of Egypt, emerged. Many Arabs believed he would be the new Saladin and liberate them from of their European masters. Nasser's success in nationalizing the Suez Canal in 1956 and resisting British, French, and Israeli efforts to oust him enhanced his reputation across the Middle East. But his demise began after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel took control of Gaza and the Sinai. In the 1970s Russia, Iran, Britain, and the U.S. intervened in the Middle East with forces to support their client states—Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.

In sum, our understanding of how China, European countries, and Arab states view their history is essential for our response to future events that affect U.S. foreign policy.

File last modified on Sunday, 08-MAR-2020 06:45 PM EST

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