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

Panel discussion on U.S. foreign policy

Westminster-Canterbury, September 14, 2021

What have we learned from seventy-five years of global involvements?

Here are four subjects I'd like to discuss with you:

President Harry Truman decided in 1946 to reject the foreign policy isolationism of the 1930s and focus on restoring Europe's economy and resisting Soviet military pressure on Western Europe. The result was the Marshall Plan in 1948 and the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 brought the Republican Party into line with that policy.

Major economic benefits flowed to the United States from free trade and a global approach to foreign policy. The Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations promoted this policy and it reached its peak under Bill Clinton. As a result, America prospered as never before while becoming a global military power.

The trend toward security commitments abroad also affected the US political system. It greatly expanded the power of the presidency, especially his role as commander-in-chief. While the presidential role expanded, the role of Congress declined significantly. Wars in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan greatly expanded defense budgets and the military services. Congress, divided by growing partisan gridlock, relinquished authority to the president that continues under President Biden. Recent presidents, Trump and Biden, used executive decrees to advance their agendas when Congress failed to act. Given the growing authority of the presidency, the question is raised: Can the United States find a better method nominate and select these powerful presidents?

The American public is losing interest in foreign affairs. This trend began after the Cold War's end in 1990 and the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991. Bill Clinton resisted the change in public attitudes on military interventions abroad, and, George W. Bush pledged to avoid military involvements and nation-building overseas. But he was blindsided by the attacks on New York and Washington, and expanded US military interventions to include nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush's decisions produced huge financial costs and major military casualties. Two presidents, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, decided to end the US military presence in Afghanistan, which occurred in August 2021.


Six wars since 1945, with large human and financial costs, convinced most Americans that the country doesn't need to be "No. 1" in the world in order to find security. This raises a crucial question: What are America's national and strategic interests in this new international environment? If Afghanistan is not a vital US interest in the future, what about Iraq, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Taiwan? Should the United States defend them?

File last modified on Friday, 01-OCT-2021 11:25 AM EST

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