The contemporary foreign policy of the United States represents an evolving continuum of principles, conceptions and strategies that in part, derived from the particularistic American Cold War experience. As such, United States foreign policy is neither a static entity, nor is its intentions or direction uncontested. This essay will examine the underlying issues of identity and how, beginning with the Truman Doctrine, a distinct articulation of the national interest was evinced that has defined America’s role in the world. In doing so, focus will be given to the development of alliance policy, containment and its effect on transforming the US posture in the post-Cold War international order.
Firstly, it is pertinent to reconsider the traditional narratives that underpin American identity. Inherent in this is Manifest Destiny, which asserts that Anglo-Saxon American’s are God’s chosen people, with a superior culture and who are pre-ordained to spread civilisation to inferior peoples (Hollander 2009, 169). This tradition offers instructive themes for the formulation of American exceptionalism and its manifestation into a missionary foreign policy (Hoffmann 1968, 369). It also raises to the forefront the Manichean character of American policy, its solipsism and tendency to justify geopolitical objectives in moralistic terms (Lepgold 1995, 372). Thus, US foreign policy is a discourse for reproducing American identity, containing threats to its core principles and legitimating global actions (Campbell 1998, 70).
The Cold War era ended America’s historic vacillation between isolationism and internationalism. The Truman Doctrine committed, in part to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures" (Graber 1958, 231). Consonant with American identity, it rapidly became the cornerstone of American Cold War foreign policy. The doctrine enshrined in popular culture the notion that America is vulnerable in a dangerous world (Merrill 2006, 37). For this reason, it was a statement of both identity and global purpose, signalling to the Soviet Union that the United States was prepared to counter any Soviet expansionism.
While the Truman Doctrine articulated an enduring strategic vision, it was National Security Council Report 68 that expressed a posteriori justification for American aspirations to global hegemony. Declaring that the exigencies of the international system compel US intervention - the report emphasised that absence of order is inimical to US interests. It recommends the United States create an international community based on the principles of freedom and democracy to counter the Soviet threat (United States National Security Council 1950). Implicit in this is the assumption that every situation is controllable and could be resolved in-line with US interests (Ambrose 1997, 107). Furthermore, the imperatives of hegemony were already producing a bifurcation between lofty ideals and...