This new volume of the Oxford History of the United States tells the story of the foreign relations of the United States from its inception in 1776 to the present day. The author, George C Herring, is the Alumni Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Kentucky. He is the author of many books on United States foreign affairs, centering upon the War in Vietnam. Herring's study is nearly 1000 pages in length, but it is not a word too long. In its scope, learning, wisdom, and attempt to be even-handed, it is a joy to read.
Herring tells a long story of a subject with many unexpected turns and changes of perspective over the years. I enjoyed the sense of continuity that this large history brings to its subject. Herring shows how leading ideas and tensions in American foreign policy developed from the beginning of the new nation and both persisted and were transformed as the nation developed. His book encourages the reader to see how United States policy developed in particular parts of the world over time, such as in Latin America, Canada, the Middle East, and Vietnam. This encourages a depth of understanding that cannot be provided from reading the newspapers or even from specialized scholarly accounts of a single period.
The book begins with the Revolutionary era, and the first two of Herring's chapter titles state themes of American history that are repeated many times throughout the study: America's perceived mission "To Begin the World Over Again" and the need to keep the nation strong and prepared so that there are "None who Can Make us Afraid." The theme of mission is tied, broadly, to American idealism and exceptionalism. The theme of strength is tied, again generally, to realism. Herring identifies a combination of these broad traits in, among other ways, the "practical idealism" of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.
From the Revolution, the book proceeds through the War of 1812, American expansionism and "Manifest Destiny" in the Mexican War, foreign relationships during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and American Empire, World War I and II, the Cold War and its aftermath, Vietnam, and our nation's current situation in Iraq, among many other recurring themes. The final section of the book on the war in Iraq seems to me rushed. It is difficult to bring a historical perspective to bear upon ongoing, changing events.
Herring pays close attention to transitional periods that are sometimes overlooked, including foreign policy in the Gilded Age and foreign policy in the years between the two world wars, that helped me to understand the larger, better-known aspects of the United States's foreign relations. Commendably, Herring also considers the United States's relationships with the Indian tribes as within the purview of foreign affairs during the time in which the United States expanded across the continent.
In general, Herring writes non-dogmatically and non-polemically. He makes his opinions known but frequently points out other interpretations and ways of trying to understand the history. He seems to admire greatly Woodrow Wilson and his efforts before, during, and after WW I to bring a just peace to a troubled world. Herring also finds much to praise, as well as to question, in figures such as Washington, Hamilton, Adams, and Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Elihu Root, and Franklin Roosevelt. He offers qualified praise for George H.W. Bush, for "the strategic vision of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger" and for the "ability to adapt and adjust displayed by Ronald Reagan."
In the introduction to his study, Herring develops themes such as the relationship between realism and idealism in informing United States foreign policy, expansionism, and the tensions between the Executive Branch, Congress, lobbying groups, and the electorate in the conduct of foreign affairs. Herring is critical of what he perceives as the current unilateralist tendency in American foreign relations and he recommends a course that disclaims American exceptionalism or arrogance. He concludes that "the United States cannot dictate the shape of a new world order, but the way it responds to future foreign policy challenges can help ensure its security and well-being and exert a powerful influence for good or ill."
Herring has written an outstanding addition to the Oxford History of the United States. It taught me a great deal about American history and the American experience.
on September 26, 2008
George C. Herring's "From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776" is the latest volume of the Oxford History of the United States, but there is a key difference between this book and the rest in the series. This is the one book in the series which is intended to cover a single aspect, i.e. Foreign Relations, while the other works all cover a period of time during the history of the United States. My opinion of this work changed dramatically while reading it. I had read a couple of books from this series before and found one to be outstanding and the other to be only slightly above average, but with the nature of this work being different, I was intrigued into seeing how effective this book would be at covering the subject.
I'll start with the easiest and also probably the least important aspect of the work and that is the organization. Though less important than completeness and accuracy, a poorly organized book can be very trying on the reader. This work attempts to cover Foreign Relations in a chronological fashion in 20 chapters. Each chapter provides a year range for what it covers, so one would expect that it would be fairly straight forward, but that isn't the case. As an example, the first chapter indicates that it covers from 1776 to 1778, but in fact it covers the entire period prior to 1789. Within each chapter it is tricky as well, as the author jumps around within the periods quite a lot, and the reader does have difficulty in following the examples at times. Herring also doesn't stay within the time periods indicated in the chapter headings. Overall though, these issues are minor and by themselves would not lower my rating.
The second issue for a work like this is completeness. I don't think that it is too surprising that trying to cover the entire history of U.S. Foreign Relations in a book, even one which is close to 1,000 pages, would be problematic. There clearly have to be things which would be left out. That being said, my feeling after the first two chapters was that the author was doing a very good job of covering the topic, but this perception began to change at the end of the third chapter and the start of the fourth. There is a decent discussion of the War of 1812, but absolutely no discussion at all of the second war with the Barbary States. This appears to get worse throughout the 4th chapter, though this is not a period that I have studied recently, but I have spent a great deal on the period covered in chapter five (1837-1861) and the gaps are very problematic. This problem gets worse as continues as the interactions with other countries become more detailed and complex and it simply isn't possible to cover them in the detail needed.
The last issue, accuracy, is by far the most important, as the lack of specifics and the so-so organization could still allow this to be a decent overview of the subject. I became worried when the author discussed Manifest Destiny, which he then referred to as a "sectional rather than national phenomenon, its support strongest in the Northeast and Northwest and weakest in the South, which supported only the annexation of Texas." While I strongly disagree with the statement that Manifest Destiny had its strongest support in the Northeast and Northwest, I do have to allow that such a statement is largely subjective opinion and that the author may well have reasons for believing that (though he doesn't make any attempt to support it). On the other hand, the statement that the South only supported the annexation of Texas is not just wrong, but it shows a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the history of the United States prior to the Civil War.
Fortunately, the author proceeds to cover the historical events which refute his own statement, and so the statement is puzzling and unsupported, but not a complete indication of failure on the author's part to provide a reliable history. He does discuss the South's efforts to turn the territories into slave states, the use of the annexation of Texas to get a war with Mexico which allowed the U.S. to take those territories. He also discusses the South's plots and attempts to annex Cuba, additional parts of Mexico, Central America, and even part of South America in an attempt to gain more slave territory. All of these things and more are evidence that his statement was fundamentally wrong, but one cannot judge an entire book on a single sentence.
In the 10th chapter, "'A New Age': Wilson, the Great War, and the Quest for a New World Order, 1913-1921" Herring makes a mistake of omission, stating "...in the face of Germany's U-boat attacks he (Wilson) eventually--and reluctantly--concluded that intervention was necessary to defend his nation's rights..." Once again, this is rather sloppy history. Herring seems to ignore the Zimmermann Telegram intercepted by the British which showed the Germans attempting to foment war between Mexico and the United States as a key event in Wilson's decision to go to war. Germany renewed its unrestricted U-boat war at the start of February, and the British presented the intercept showing that the Germans were attempting to get the Mexicans to declare war on the U.S. should the U.S. declare war on Germany as a result of the U-boat strategy. However, as with the statement about the South only wanting to annex Texas, when Herring gets down to the details of the situation he gets it correct, but one again questions the reason for the initial statement.
There are additional events which are either barely mentioned or completely left out which one has to wonder about as well. The situation with Somoza in Nicaragua gets only a very small mention. There is no discussion at all of Marcos in the Philippines in 1986. One would have thought that nothing went on between Iraq and the U.S. between the first Gulf War and the pre-emptive invasion in 2003, and George W. Bush's focus on China prior to the tragedy of September 11th is also not mentioned.
On the positive side, Herring treats no President as perfect. Though he seems to have a very positive view of what Wilson was trying to do, he has more than a few bad things to say about him. The same is true for Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Those who idolize any of the Presidents will probably think that they are not receiving proper credit. For myself, I prefer to have the bad with the good, and so I appreciated his efforts at being even-handed.
To finish, I question why this book was needed for the series. Certainly foreign relations were covered in the other books in this series that I have read, so this volume duplicates that effort to a certain degree. The fact is that one can't discuss foreign policies without also discussing the domestic conditions under which they were formed. For me, this book's value is limited to being a one volume history of the U.S. foreign relations, but that serious historical studies require much more detail, and you get much more of that detail in the other volumes of the series. Ultimately this is a difficult book to rate, some of it is extremely well done, but there are also significant weaknesses.
on April 24, 2014
Herring presents ably a very long history (from 1776 to 2000) of US diplomacy in a relatively small space, and this is the major drawback of the book. Important events need to be treated in a very short space that is too small to really talk about the nuances. To give an example, liberation theology appears in a single sentence in the chapter on Reagan's presidency as something developped by radical priests "following principles set forth by Pope John XXIII" with gives short thrift to the role of the Catholic church in Central American politics and to liberation theology itself. A difficult topic that deserves are more nuanced treatment cannot receive it in a single volume. This problem shows up repeatedly. By having to concentrate on the US site, the narrative frequently glosses over big changes in the minor players of the drama be that the fall of the fourth republic and the coming of de Gaulle or the shift from Christian Democrat led government to Social Democrat led one in Germany.
I am not sure about the quality of fact checking, but Egon Bahr was not Brandt's foreign minister (he was a secretery of state and the chancellery), but nevertheless the architect of his foreign policy. Did the May 1968 upheaval in France " helped to bring down de Gaulle"? He did resign in April 1969, but the Gaullist had won the election in June 1968. Again, lack of space prevents a nuanced description that needs to be given.
(This review is based upon an uncorrected advance reading copy)
George C. Herring's monumental opus on U.S. foreign policy is one of the finest historical treatises I have read in the past thirty years. Among the works which Herring approaches in terms of comprehensive content and beauty of expression are Samuel Eliot Morrison's Oxford History of the American People and James McPherson's brilliant Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States). This book is a true milestone.
Herring's work is not only broad in scope, but laden with significant insight and couched in some of the finest historical writing I have encountered. This title in the venerable Oxford series is the only topical volume. At first I questioned whether foreign affairs deserved to occupy its own niche in the series, but now I see why. Viewing the sweep of American history through the lens of foreign affairs has provided a flood of new insights and connections. This is a first-rate study, and ought to occupy a central position in academic literature for a generation.
1. Among the many delights in reading this superb book, was the personal discovery or rediscovery of a number of "demigods" of American foreign affairs. Though I have previously read biographies of most of these men, Herring's study places them in an entirely new light, so that I see, as it were, the Himalayan Peaks for the first time under a clear sunrise. My preconceived notions were almost all dashed. These monumental figures include Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and (shockingly) Ronald Reagan. Beside these great figures, Herring reveals a number of men of second or third magnitude--Townsend Harris, Elihu Root, Dwight Morrow, Henry Stimson and Dean Acheson to name a few--and further figures of great tragedy, including Nixon and Kissinger, and the Bushes, father and son. All of this illustrates one of Herring's central theses, that "...the United States has been spectacularly successful in its foreign policy...." (page 9) but has also made monumental blunders.
2. My appreciation of the towering role of Benjamin Franklin in U.S. foreign policy was one of my early shocks in reading this work. Herring paints Franklin's mission to Paris during the revolution as one of the most extraordinary episodes in the history of American diplomacy. Indeed, his diplomatic mission may have been "decisive to the outcome of the Revolution." (page 19) It was above all the way Franklin "packaged" himself that helped him achieve the crucial goal of obtaining French war financing and ultimately drawing them into the war. He "he presented himself to French society as the very embodiment of America's revolution, a model of republican simplicity and virtue. He wore a tattered coat and sometimes a fur had that he despised. He refused to powder his hair. His countenance appeared on snuffboxes, rings, medals, and bracelets, even (it was said) on an envious King Louis XVI's chamber pot." (page 19) He was a master showman, publicist, and propagandist at age seventy. He mastered what we now call "spin" to utmost advantage.
3. Another insightful part of the book were the sections dealing with the service of John Quincy Adams, first as Monroe's secretary of state and later as President in his own right. Adams is shown as towering above his contemporaries and imprinting the department of state with deep traditions, forms and systems that held sway for nearly a century. Adams was the true organ expressing the expansionist doctrine credited to Monroe. He spent most of his early life in European capitals, and was fluent in six European languages. As secretary of state, he regularly rose before dawn to pray, then swim in the Potomac, "clad only in green goggles and a skullcap." (page 138). He was an ardent expansionist, setting his eye on all of North America. "That the United States in time should acquire Canada and Texas, he believed, was as much the law of nature as that the Mississippi should flow to the sea." (page 139) As President from 1825 to 1829, he continued to pursue it this North American doctrine of expansion.
4. Among the best historical writing in this book is the chapter entitled "A Dose of Arsenic " dealing with ante-bellum foreign policy. The chapter, which could be published on its own strength as a monogram, takes its title from a May 1846 quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson's diary, "The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic, which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us." Herring's insight is that it was the "the cancer of slavery within U.S. society, that, when linked with disposition of the territory taken from Mexico, poisoned the body politic, provoking the irrepressible crisis that eventually sundered the Union." (page 176) The conquest of vast new lands in the war with Mexico brought to the fore the pressing question of whether new slave states would be created. It was this issue which tore the nation apart.
5. I very much enjoyed Herring's section on Woodrow Wilson, who "towers above the landscape of modern American foreign policy like no other individual, the dominant personality, the seminal figure."
6. Herring writes very perceptively of the heights and depths of Nixon's and Kissinger's contributions to foreign policy. They were really an "odd couple," who devised one of the most imaginative and radical and daring plans in history to achieve stunning diplomatic breakthroughs. The trouble, according to Herring, is that their method involved "shutting out the foreign policy bureaucracy, Congress, and indeed the nation, acting in secrecy and often with great dramatic flair." (page 760). In 1972, "their year of triumph," they pulled off breathtaking achievements, including grandly staged summits in Moscow and more incredibly in Beujing. Ultimately, according to Herring, it was their method of acting in secret, sidestepping the foreign policy apparatus, that lead to their undoing.
7. Ultimately, the only criticism I have of this work is Herring's thesis that future U.S. foreign policy must abandon the "religious" or "spiritual" underpinnings of her history. He argues correctly that one of the chief underlying tenets of U.S. foreign policy has been "...the ideal of a providential mission..." in the minds of the American people since the days of the revolution, and the sense that America has always clung to a "... sense of special destiny..." in the world. (page 4). Herring surprisingly disavows this foundational underpinning, concluding that "Americans must `disenthrall `themselves, to borrow Lincoln's apt word, from deeply entrenched ideas about their country and its place in the world. They must `think anew and act anew'. They must case away centuries-old notions of themselves as God's chosen people." (page 963).
Studying this book gives ample justification for the belief that the United States is an empire that is built upon the ashes of old empires. However unlike the empires of the past, the United States has through subtleness and tact caused many of its citizens to believe that empire-building is not only historically and economically justified, but also the morally proper thing to do. Even the use of military force, which has been used over and over again in US imperial adventures, is viewed as an ethical imperative, even “healthy to a nation”, as Henry Cabot Lodge is quoted as saying in this book. Other empires in history have been deemed “evil” for carrying out the same sort of actions that the US has indulged itself in for the last 200 years, and is continuing to do, albeit under the guise of “security” rather than under the banner of “extending civilization to lesser peoples abroad”.
This book however is not a study in the psychology of mass hysteria, xenophobia and jingoism, but rather a detailed account of the policy-makers/plunderers who attempted to maneuver events to their benefit throughout American history. This story is not a pretty one, but readers who desire the raw, naked truth about US foreign policy will find sound scholarship in between the covers of this book. There is much more waiting to be uncovered when it comes to this aspect of US history, but the author gives a fairly unbiased account, and one that does not show any signs of being seduced by the doctrine of American exceptionalism or sycophancy to any political party.
After finishing this book one can conclude with fairness that there does not seem to be any country in the world that has not been touched by US foreign policy. But even though the violence the US has deployed to attain its goals does not compare perhaps with other nations, many countries that showed promise for development and self-determination were decimated by the decisions made by weak-minded, ethically austere American government officials. Countries like Cuba, Chile, Haiti, Guatemala, and Vietnam come to the immediate forefront in the carnage, terror, and body count they experienced as the result of misguided US foreign policies, but there are many other places that have found themselves under the yoke of these policies. Newcomers to the history of American foreign policy may be surprised to hear for example of US presence in the Russian revolution, the US invasion of Mexico, or the attempts to force Japan into opening up its markets.
The attempted control of the “weak and semi-barbarous people” delineated in this book has not only lead to disasters for the peoples trampled upon, but also for the United States. Using a pistol rather than rational persuasion has been viewed as the more intelligent alternative, and like other empires in the past, the United States is now feeling the burden of its loyalty to this alternative. It remains to be seen of course what country in the world will attempt to build upon the ashes of the American empire.
on September 23, 2014
This is an interesting book that gives the history of US foreign policy from colonial days through 2007. It was a huge undertaking for this author. It flows well from era to era, giving a good sense of continuity. History often is taught as chunks of time with no transition from one generation to the next. This book avoids that pitfall. The author does a good job of explaining how the US was expanding territorially and commercially even during times in which the country had on the surface turned inward. I particularly liked learning how the US acquired our overseas possessions. For example, islands in the Pacific that we learn about when studying World War II were acquired much earlier, and this book explains how they came to be US possessions.
The US expanded in many different ways. Early on it was treaties with European nations. There were treaties with or expulsion of native American tribes. We bought some land (Louisiana Purchase, Alaska, Gadsden Purchase), went to war to acquire others (the American Southwest from Mexico; and Florida, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Phillipines and Guam from Spain), and annexed others when enough Americans had moved there to influence those decisions (Texas, Hawaii). We helped create new countries when it was in our interest to do so (Panama broke away from Colombia and secured its independence by allowing the US to build a canal across the isthmus, earning the protection of the US). In more modern times, we established military bases in many countries around the world.
We also have intervened much more than I realized in Central America and the Caribbean. The filibusters of the 1850's were very interesting. These were small groups of private people in the US, not affiliated with the government, who banded together to try to take over small, weak countries. They were usually from Southern States trying to find new areas to expand slavery.
The author is fairly even handed with his criticisms of US presidents, and there are many criticisms. He gives credit where credit is due, but these are much fewer than the criticisms. He is overall pretty critical of US foreign policy as a whole, and seems to only reluctantly recognize good works and humanitarian missions by the US in foreign affairs. He is quick to label almost all foreign activities as "imperial" even if it is simply trying to establish trade relations with another country. I understand the perspective that the US often had superior bargaining power and that once a country became a trading partner, they became dependent on the US. I bristle at the idea that expanding our trade creates an empire. Compared to other empires, most of which were intent on dominating people, the US must be viewed as almost benevolent. In this book, there is sometimes a sense that the US could do no right no matter what it chose to do. He is critical when the US intervenes to help a country and when the US chooses not to intervene. The author is far too fond of labeling people and policies as 'foolish.' He also repeatedly states that the fear of a Soviet threat was exaggerated or imagined without providing any details or rationale. The Soviets were very aggressive and imperialistic, and this book tends to downplay that.
Despite my criticisms of the author's criticisms, I enjoyed the book. It is interesting how we as a nation can accept our past actions and presidents more easily once they are securely in our past. The author does a good job of showing how some like Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson and Truman were heavily criticized at the time, but are considered model presidents today. Will history be as forgiving to our most recent presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama? When the book transitions from past history to recent history, it reads more like how I remember watching these things unfold on the evening news. It reminds me that today's current events are tomorrow's history, and that the way the story is told is how we will remember it forever.
on August 2, 2015
This entry into the Oxford History of the United States focuses its attention on the diplomatic affairs of the nation since its founding in 1776. In doing so, this volume examines US history through the lens of two centuries and more which sets it apart from the other volumes which focus on smaller time spans. I found the book to be interesting as most histories tend to focus on all aspects of eras and denote foreign affairs only as sideshows to domestic events. Herring’s lens placed foreign affairs at the center of attention and showed how they impacted domestic affairs. This was a rather interesting change of pace.
Herring is the Alumni Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Kentucky. He has specialized in studying American foreign affairs as a career field and has written several books on the subject. This volume is the culmination of that specialized study. Beginning with Benjamin Franklin and his incredible achievements in France during the American War of Independence right up to the first decade of the 21st century, Herring covers the often mishandled foreign policy of the nation.
The thing that struck me the most in reading the book is that Herring seemed to show how there has never been a general US foreign policy. It has always changed depending on the will of the president and political party in control of the federal government. I would think this would be extremely frustrating for other nations who constantly had to adapt to a new president and their desires. If one thing stands out, it is that the nation’s leaders often regulated foreign policy to the backburner in favor of domestic affairs, but soon found out that this approach often failed. Woe to the American president who ignored foreign affairs after WWII. In some cases foreign policy influenced their decision making process far more than they wanted to the point where foreign affairs played a make or break role in their administration’s success in the long term.
A prime example of this would be Lyndon Johnson. The conflict in Vietnam sapped his ability to sustain his liberal domestic policy which resulted in conservative assaults upon it that severely crippled the legislation’s ability to live up to its promises. The nation still deals with the effects of that event. In the case of early American presidents, Herring also shows how foreign policy impacted their choices. Jefferson and Madison are often well known for their domestic policies and political idealism, but foreign affairs played such a strong role in their choices that contemporary Americans often felt those administrations were nowhere nearly as successful as modern Americans make them out to be.
Herring is extremely critical of the unilateralist policies of George W. Bush and his neo-conservative base. He saw these policies as disastrous which probably reflects the attitudes of the academic community at large during those times as well as the hindsight which has clearly shown unilateralism to have significantly damaged America’s standing in the international community. I thought the book was excellent even without that analysis. While some readers may object to that analysis, the facts bear out Herring’s assessment.
Herring supported his interpretations quite well with a great deal of scholarship as borne out by his supporting documentation. He used a rich mixture of primary and secondary sources to develop them. I really liked the book and its set up as working the different eras via chapters. Each one could be read separate from the other which is helpful for instructors who are looking for information on specific time periods. The drawback is this is a big book and the separation can cause readers to set it down for long stretches. All in all I found the book to be a very good study of US foreign policy which has greatly enriched my understanding of the nation’s development over time.
on August 17, 2013
This is an excellent history of the diplomatic activities of the US. It is a must read for diplomats and anybody interested in US foreign policy. The writing style is clear and friendly, so readers can focus on the content. Herring provides comprehensive background for US foreign policy decisions, linking foreign policy to domestic political, economic and social developments. I am delighted I bought this, and am happy to recommend it unconditionally.
"From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776" is the seventh and only thematic volume in The Oxford History of the United States series. The scope of the book is enormous, as is its ambition. Author George C. Herring strives to present a "comprehensive interpretation of the entirety of American's foreign relations ", "not simply a history of American diplomacy, but a history of diplomacy's role in shaping America's unique history and its singular identity." Though it omits many of the finer points by necessity, this volume largely succeeds in its goal. It is an excellent resource for understanding the trends in U.S. foreign relations over the past two centuries and the circumstances and personalities that shaped the United States' ever-changing policies and role in the world.
Each of the book's 20 chapters discusses an era from 1775 to 2007. The author introduces each chapter by placing the era in context and providing a broad idea of what is to come, and each chapter concludes with a recap of major points. These two features, especially the recap, are helpful in orienting the reader in this massive volume and in making it easier to remember the salient issues that set up the next era. About two-thirds of the book is dedicated to the 20th century and one-third to the Cold War. It is particularly interesting to view domestic events from the perspective of foreign policy, such as the Revolutionary War, Federalist-Republican conflict, and the Civil War, including the effects of that war on Europe. Relations with American Indian tribes are included up until they became domestic policy in 1814, as is expansionism in North America until borders were fixed.
As much diligence is applied to the United States' less aggressive, more economically oriented eras that are sometimes neglected in examinations of foreign policy: The Gilded Age, the 1920s, the 1990s. On the other side of the coin, the policies of the "imperial presidencies" of the 20th and 21st centuries are examined, as are America's involvement in two world wars, the Cold War, and the United States' unipower status since 1992. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars and policies of the Bush administration are discussed, but it's awkward to try to interpret an era while in the middle of it. I'm not sure when this book was edited, but the all-important negotiations with Iran that began in spring 2007 are not mentioned. Discussion of Bush's second term is not complete enough to be worth much, but the first term is more conducive to analysis.
"From Colony to Superpower" offers interpretation of the actions and policies that have made U.S. foreign relations, not just the facts. A simple recitation of two centuries of policies and events would be unbearably tedious and not especially helpful. But interpretation, by its nature, proceeds from a certain point of view. George C. Herring's bias might be called "liberal-to-centrist", but that should be taken in a vague sense. He tends toward a harsh assessment of colonialism and an advocacy of interventionism to advance humanitarian goals. As a result, he doesn't mention the often poor results of well-intentioned interventionism that he does point out for more self-serving or frivolous policies. He is not nearly as hard on the Nixon-Kissinger duo as he could be, praising their pursuit of detente and ignoring the insecurity over China that dictated their actions in Asia. So the author has opinions, but they are not always predictable.
A work that covers this much ground has to leave a lot out, and there will always be disagreements about what is essential and what isn't. It isn't possible to touch upon every reason for every decision, but I was frustrated by the author's failure to acknowledge economic motivations, especially since the end of World War II, as some policies were almost entirely motivated by fiscal concerns. That seemed to me a persistent fault. The author does explain when the conventional thinking about a topic has changed or is hotly disputed. The best thing about "From Colony to Superpower" is that it admirably accomplishes its aim to illuminate foreign policy's role in shaping American history and identity. Herring's analysis of the trends, more than single policies, their basic reasons and long-term outcomes, make this a valuable reference work. As there is scant scholarly literature on the foreign policies of recent presidential administrations, it's a good jumping-off point for that analysis as well.
on December 14, 2014
Very good book. The author goes into a lot of detail about the time period. He is also very quick to judge historical events. Most judgments are well supported even if you do not particularly agree with his viewpoint. The only exception is that he constantly asserts that after WWII the United States could have negotiated with Stalin and the USSR. This is clearly a bit silly since Stalin was great at negotiating and rose to power through using it. All in all its a good book with one ludicrously bad opinion.