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What America Owes the World

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What America Owes the World

The Struggle for the Soul of Foreign Policy

Cambridge UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

U.S. foreign policy zigzags between those who feel the country should set an example, and those who feel it should enforce its sense of what is right. Join the debate with the era's top U.S. leaders, from Jefferson to Reagan.

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H. W. Brands provides an excellent historical review of the complexities of United States foreign policy. He analyzes all major foreign policy positions from the intellectual ground staked out by the major political writers of each period. This book is an invaluable tool for anyone who wishes to develop or supplement knowledge on the subject, up through the Reagan years. The reader must be prepared to invest time and effort to maximize the benefits from reading this book. However, it is worth the effort. recommends this book to anyone interested in United States foreign policy, and in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.


Exemplars, Vindicators and the First Hundred Years

United States foreign policy is driven by an obligation to better humanity. The precise nature of this obligation is represented in two different schools of political thought:

  1. The exemplars - This school believes that the United States owes the world an "example of a humane, democratic, and prosperous society. It believes that the United States should set its own house in order and not meddle in the affairs of other nations. Others nations will see the power of U.S. domestic policy and will emulate the strengths of the U.S. system.
  2. The vindicators - This school believes that the United States should "undertake active measures to enforce the right." Others nations are evil and the U.S. must use its power, even if it includes military might, to counteract evil.

The debate on United States foreign policy began even before the country was formed. John Winthrop, a Puritan founder, declared that the settlement "would be a model for the entire world." Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and the third U.S. president, also believed that colonial Americans were uniquely situated...

About the Author

H. W. Brands, the Ralph R. Thomas Professor of History at Texas A&M University, holds degrees from Stanford University, Reed College, Portland State University, and the University of Texas. His previous books include The Spector of Neutralism, Inside the Cold War, The United States in the World, The Wages of Globalism, The Reckless Decade, and T.R.: The Last Romantic.

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