FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: Essays for the Presidency

Political Factors in American Foreign Policy

Roosevelt signing legislation. Wikimedia Commons

THE foreign policy of any nation is the resultant of varied forces. Economic conditions, commercial rivalries, dynastic ambitions, and special issues arising from time to time, determine a nation's attitude toward other states. In a democracy, it is also inescapable that a political party in opposition should oppose measures taken by the party in power affecting relations with foreign countries, as well as those affecting only domestic subjects, particularly when the character of the matter involved may be used to arouse public interest or public prejudice. The motto of every political party is, "Any stick to beat a dog!"

Paradoxically enough, in the United States, one of the youngest of the nations, tradition has been perhaps the strongest force in shaping our international course. This was recognized by the group of Senators who in 1919 organized to prevent the approval of the Versailles Peace Treaty, as a means of destroying President Wilson and defeating the Democratic Party at the next general election. They took as the keynote of their campaign the counsels of Washington's Farewell Address and Jefferson's pronouncement against "entangling alliances," and by constant reiteration of the sacred principles of aloofness from European affairs, succeeded in convincing a large part of the electorate that the Covenant of the League of Nations was a snare to entrap America into such an entangling alliance as Washington and Jefferson feared. The Monroe Doctrine also was pressed into service as an assertion of American hostility to the nations of Europe, and the proposed League to preserve the peace of the world was interpreted as a threat to our national sovereignty which would bind us captive to the European juggernaut!

Recognizing, however, the widespread feeling among our people that the great purpose of the World War was to prevent future wars, and that we should not be keeping faith with those who sacrificed their lives to the cause unless our country took some affirmative action to prevent a repetition of the tragedy of 1914-1918, the Republican

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