Throughout history United States foreign policy has been characterized by paradigm shifts. Scholar Michael Roskin notes that American foreign policy: can be seen as a succession of strategic conventional wisdoms or paradigms. These paradigms are clear examples of an archetype; in short paradigms are basic assumptions of a pattern. In this case, the pattern suggests that the United States historically shifts from interventionist to noninterventionist paradigms, also known as the Pearl Harbor (interventionist) and Vietnam (noninterventionist) paradigms.
Included in these two concepts are other paradigms, such as the Versailles paradigm, which extended from 1920-40. This paradigm was the isolationist concept which ended in condemnation after the Pearl Harbor attack. The Versailles paradigms bearers were, in hindsight, criticized for being oblivious to the obvious emerging threat from Nazi Germany. Yet, Versailles, itself, could have been a reaction to a more interventionist, if not imperial, period in the late 1800s and early 1900s when the U.S. occupied various countries, such as Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines. In fact, paradigm shifts seem to be reactionary in nature. Their lives appear to follow a certain pattern based on reactionary events.
Foreign policy paradigms have a natural life. They begin with a birth, which is characterized by mounting criticism of the old paradigm, an epoch of growth and then a death. Typically, this paradigm will grow when an event comes along to prove the old one wrong, and then die when criticism against it mounts and another philosophy begins its own birth. For example, isolationism (specifically the aforementioned Versailles paradigm), a noninterventionist philosophy, virtually ended when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. This event proved isolationism wrong in this instance, so the paradigm then shifted toward an interventionist vision. However, this interventionist paradigm itself came under attack during the Vietnam War. An argument came into view that intervention overseas would surely lead to war, and this war could be a significant conflict not worth the capital in the long run. The paradigm shifted, in this instance, as the foreign policy establishment began to assert the United States was not the worlds policeman.
Pacifists or those who did not support the current war in Iraq may applaud this shift, as it would be a condemnation of the neoconservative Bush Doctrine of preemptive strikes and military enforced neo-liberalism, however, just because a paradigm shift occurs does not mean there is a change in the military-industrial complex or a change in rhetoric. For instance, Ronald Reagan presided over the last eight years of the Vietnam paradigm, and he engaged in hard-line rhetoric, covert actions in the Middle East and Central America, as well as an expansion of the military-industrial complex. Moreover, during his presidency the United States became aligned with dubious leaders and groups, such as Saddam Hussein and the Nicaraguan Contras, for stability and anti-Communist purposes. A shift to a noninterventionist paradigm also has other moral ramifications for both Liberals and Conservatives to consider.
The United States is a largely indispensable nation in world affairs. In Bosnia, for example, there were several factors that allowed the situation to get out of hand, not the least of which is that the European community was not up to the task of taking on their first major post-Cold War challenge on their own. It was not until after Srebenica, which was the greatest act of genocide in Europe since World War Two, that the U.S. stepped in and helped resume some kind of order. The Dayton Accords were led by American negotiator Richard Holbrooke and the U.S. placed upon itself a major troop burden. Then and only then, did the situation get better and the war ended. Bosnia today is a largely peaceful area and the NATO presence has dwindled significantly. Currently the U.S. has only a few hundred troops deployed there, and in the past eleven years, not one American troop has been killed. At the time, casualties were widely predicted, however this never came to fruition. The same concept is valid for other conflicts around the world. No headway can be made in the Arabic-Israeli conflict, or the Darfur genocide without American leadership. The lesson in all of this is American foreign policy can be effective, actionable and altruistic. That asserting our power and leadership is essential to solving major problems.
We cannot let the Bush Administration ruin everything for us, especially our role and standing in the world.