<$BlogRSDUrl$>

Monday, September 22, 2008

A question for our readers: What was the greatest "foreign policy blunder" in American history? 


It has become virtually an article of faith on the left and the transnational professional class that the invasion of Iraq was the "greatest foreign policy blunder" in American history. See, e.g., Jimmy Carter, Ramzy Baroud, Teddy Kennedy, Robin Cook, George Galloway, Harry Reid, and Jim Leach (it pains me to include him, he being the only politician for whom I've actually knocked on doors). And these are just some of the guys who used the word "blunder," one of the many terms of opprobrium assigned to this war.

Regular readers know that I believe that the Iraq war has improved our strategic position over many of the "alternative histories" of the last six years, but I also know that my position is in the deep minority. But even if invading Iraq turns out to have been a bad idea, was it really the "worst foreign policy blunder" in American history?

I had a delightful conversation today with a professional historian who proposed a number of other decisions that turned out worse, and I added a few of my own. Here are our candidates for the "worst foreign policy blunders" in American history. Please tear into these and add your own suggestions in the comments.

In chronological order:

1. The Mexican War. This "blunder" might take two forms. My friend argues that it set the stage for the Civil War, or at least the version we fought, and it gave the South (which supplied most of the men) a lot of military experience that cost the North dearly. I believe that the blunder was in allowing slave politics to get in the way of grabbing all that we had conquered. Had we imposed the treaty that we could have imposed, our border with Mexico would be much shorter than it is today and there would be four or five more Arizonas down there.

2. The Spanish-American War. That war has brought us nothing but trouble. Not only would Cuba have turned out differently, but our occupation of the Philippines bought us an extended counterinsurgency and put us directly into confrontation with Japan when no such conflict was necessary. It was America's one real "imperialist" moment, and it has definitely cost us more than it got us.

3. The conclusion of World War I. My position is that our intervention was enormously costly both at the time and in history; by 1917, it did not actually matter to us whether Germany "won" at the expense of France, and it might have prevented both the rise of fascism and the success of the Soviet Union. My friend argues that Woodrow Wilson's meddling with the post-war settlement and our signing of the Treaty of Versailles was the real error, but I did not dig deeply enough to understand why.

4. The "isolationism" leading up to World War II. We sent entirely the wrong signal to Japan in particular, but also Germany and the Soviet Union.

5. The Truman administration's decision to push to the Yalu after the victory at Inchon. It brought the Chinese into the war, cost us and the South Koreans tens of thousands of lives, and did not improve the American position in the end. In addition, it gave the Chinese a continuing interest in North Korea's survival that persists to this day.

6. The Kennedy administration's decision to support the coup that took out Ngo Dinh Diem, the last strong leadership in South Vietnam. There is a strong argument that he could have won that war as early as 1965. (This is the main story behind Mark Moyar's fantastic revisionist history of the first phase of the war in Indochina, Triumph Forsaken.)

7. The circumstances of our withdrawal from Vietnam. We defunded the war and left the country after we had learned to wage successful and effective counterinsurgency. It could have and would have been won had we stayed the course.

8. Our total failure to retaliate -- and I use that term advisedly -- for the Islamist attacks on the United States during the period from 1979 - 2001, with the sole exception of pinprick cruise missile strikes after the attacks on the African embassies in 1998. The administrations of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton essentially told Islamists that America would exact no price for killing or otherwise attacking its people.

Your corrections, suggestions, howls of outrage, and heartfelt concurrence are equally welcome.


36 Comments:

By Anonymous tyree, at Mon Sep 22, 08:42:00 PM:

A very good list.
I would add cutting off Japan's oil supply before WWII was one of the greatest blunders. We should have known that our action would cause Japan to widen the war to take the oil we wouldn't sell. I the oil sanctions were a good idea, I just don't think the Roosevelt administration grasped what the Japanese reaction would be.  

By Blogger Alex, at Mon Sep 22, 08:49:00 PM:

Like so many people born after Vietnam my education on the topic has been completely one sided. Can you expand on # 7 on your list?

Here are some other blunders that come to mind, some more significant than others.
* The Panama Canal giveaway. Why do it?
* Recognizing Beijing without getting China to recognize Taiwan
* The bay of pigs
* The fall of the Shaw  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 22, 08:55:00 PM:

yalta and potsdam.

essentially the Allies gave in on the reasons for the Casus Belli in Europe of WWII which was the hegemonic domination of one power over Eastern European states. The allies should have seen the weakness of the Soviets before they gave in on their insistence on the geographical lines of their sphere of influence. In essence geo-strategically speaking we stalemated the European theater of WWII or at worst lost it. England and France were strategically exhausted and their imperial designs finished, Germany destroyed, and Poland like the rest of Eastern Europe under the Soviet yoke instead of the German yoke. Stalemate.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Sep 22, 09:06:00 PM:

Regarding #7; Nixon negotiated a cease-fire after beating the tar out of the North for a year or two. American troops withdrew from the country because peace had been achieved, and they had 'Vietnamized' the South's military capability. Almost as soon as they were gone, the North broke the cease-fire and invaded again. My military history is fuzzy here, but apparently the Southerners did quite well for themselves for a while.

Then Congress yanked American financial and logistical support for them. The Southerners fell apart. President Ford asked for Congressional reconsideration, and the new Democratic majority refused. The Communists won a smashing victory and 're-educated' their Southern cousins and went on to take over Cambodia and Laos. Confidence in Americans staying power was destroyed, and the Eastern bloc was resurgent.

In sum, the Democrats took the possibility of a preserved, democratic South Vietnam (which is why those 58,000 soldiers died, and looked like a very real possibility in 1972) and quite deliberately threw it away. And they've been fucking worthless when it comes to national security and securing national interests abroad ever since.

And my vote is indeed for this event. It stained America's credibility in a way no other event ever has, it empowered Communism at a period when people were otherwise finally beginning to become disillusioned with it, and the a-historical specter of that war's ultimate failure continues, against all reason, to haunt modern politics.  

By Anonymous jimmyk, at Mon Sep 22, 09:06:00 PM:

Bay of Pigs was a embarrassment to the U.S., pushed Castro firmly into the Soviet sphere which lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the U.S. and the Soviets close to a Nuclear War.

Truman and Korea, if Truman had let MacArthur win the war in Korea, even if that meant we had to nuke the Chinese, the world would have been better off. We lost 50,000 men and what did we gain, a stalemate, which lead Ho Chi Minh to realize he could win in Vietnam. He knew we would not go all out to win the war. We were going for another stalemate.

First Battle of Manassas: If Joe Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard had continued their attack and taken Washington D.C., we in the South would not be part of this mess. :)  

By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Mon Sep 22, 09:15:00 PM:

Good suggestions all.

anonymous took Yalta, which was the only one not mentioned that immediately came to mind...

but after a moment's further reflection, I'll offer up the 1953 coup of Mosaddeq that supplanted a democratically elected government of Iran and reinstalled the Shah, which led eventually to the anti-Western Islamic revolution that still plagues us today.  

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Mon Sep 22, 09:26:00 PM:

I would go with our entry into WWI. If we stay out of WWI and Germany wins, Hitler does not come to power. Middle East is not cut into fudge squares by France/Britain. Lots to speculate on in this alternate history.  

By Blogger Anthony (Los Angeles), at Mon Sep 22, 09:37:00 PM:

I'd question #1 being a blunder. To my mind a blunder means a mistake so bad that no good comes of it. While we didn't grab all the territory we could have (and should have) from Mexico, what we obtained helped make into a phenomenally powerful nation.

As for setting the stage for the Civil War, the thought crosses my mind that it might have happened sooner had the war not been fought. Under the Missouri Compromise, slaveholding states had little room to expand, yet Southern opinion-makers felt slavery had to expand for it to survive. If the gains of the Mexican War hadn't occurred and thus not provided at least the illusion of a "safety valve for slavery," I wonder if the pressure would have built up so much that the war would have erupted five to ten years early.

My own vote for greatest blunder is also the first one I was alive for, the Congressionally-mandated defeat in Vietnam after our withdrawal. We've been feeling the repercussions of that for decades.  

By Blogger Stan Jevons, at Mon Sep 22, 09:43:00 PM:

TH,
You exaggerate your minority status!
While hardly conventional wisdom in 2008, the evidence that our strategic position has improved is overwhelming. It may take a decade or so, but that view will become generally accepted.
This evidence goes much further than the success of the Surge.
Consider just some of the following since the invasion of Iraq in 2003:
1. The US has major (and let’s face it—likely permanent) bases in the one country on the Arabian Peninsula with significant freshwater, borders with six other countries, an outlet to the Gulf, and massive unexploited hydrocarbon reserves.
2. We have a solid working relationship with large numbers of Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish Iraqis who have shown themselves willing to fight our mutual enemies.
3. Saudi Arabia is more dependent on the US for physical security now than it was when our troops were stationed in the KSA holding the line against Saddam’s forces. The Saud’s family’s dependence on the US to protect them against Iranian and Arab Shia got them to fight AQ for the first time.
4. We have had no fatal attacks on US soil.
5. No US Embassies have been seized despite what a move that Arabists and “Realists” insisted would result in an enraged Arab “street.” Even the recent car bomb near our Embassy in Yemen resulted in no US casualties bit six dead AQ terrorists.
6. The string of Islamic terrorist acts that begin in the early 1970s against US targets in Europe, Africa, and Asia virtually ceased.
7. China, the only country with the population, economy, and technological capability to challenge us in the future, depends heavily upon petroleum imported from the region we now dominate.
8. France has rejoining the NATO command structure—a move utterly inconceivable anytime during the four decades prior.
9. France, Germany, and Italy have elected the most pro-American heads of government ever to serve simultaneously in Europe. The UK seems likely to elect their first Tory government in over a decade.
10. Although more than 2000 US servicemen died in each of Ronald Reagan’s first four years in office, total US military fatalities never reached 2000 per year during the period 2003-2008. That is, US fatalities during GWB’s “Blunder” were not only lower than during the hot parts of the Cold war (Korea, Vietnam) they were even lower than during the cold parts of the Cold War.
On other matters, your friendly historian seems to have some intriguing ideas but I’m not sure how sound they are.
1. It is real stretch to consider The Mexican War a “blunder.” Residents of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah, Colorado would beg to differ. It may be the case that without US political divisions over slavery we could have pressed our advantage further in 1846 and added several more Mexican provinces (e.g. Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua) but the fault for the failure to do so would have been with slavery and US political divisions, not with the decision to fight Mexico.
2. The Spanish-American War.
OK, it was not as successful as the Mexican War, certainly qualified as a real "imperialist" moment, and yes the Philippine insurgency cost us more men than Iraq but “nothing but trouble”?
At the end of the 19th century we were looking for trouble, by which I mean we clearly intended to become a Pacific hegemon (this notion will rub some people the wrong way but read just a few accounts of how the US came to possess Hawaii to get my point). Direct confrontation with either Japan or some European power was what we had in mind when we seized the Philippines. It’s true we forfeited this advantage early in WWII when we failed to defend the islands (Macarthur actually deserves much of the blame) but again, the blunders lay in decisions made in the 1930s and early 1940s rather than during the Spanish-American War.
I am very curious to know how “Cuba (would) have turned out differently.” Maybe it could have been become a US Commonwealth like Puerto Rico?
3. Many genuine blunders attended our involvement in WW1 but I’m not sure just what your friend means here.
4. The "isolationism" leading up to World War II. We sent entirely the wrong signal to Japan in particular, but also Germany and the Soviet Union.
No argument from me on that score.
5. The Truman administration's decision to push to the Yalu after the victory at Inchon. It brought the Chinese into the war, cost us and the South Koreans tens of thousands of lives, and did not improve the American position in the end. In addition, it gave the Chinese a continuing interest in North Korea's survival that persists to this day.
As a practical matter, it may not have been possible for the US to sell the public on a “draw”.
6. The Kennedy administration's decision to support the coup that took out Ngo Dinh Diem, the last strong leadership in South Vietnam. There is a strong argument that he could have won that war as early as 1965. (This is the main story behind Mark Moyar's fantastic revisionist history of the first phase of the war in Indochina, Triumph Forsaken .)
Yes!!!!!
7. The circumstances of our withdrawal from Vietnam. We defunded the war and left the country after we had learned to wage successful and effective counterinsurgency. It could have and would have been won had we stayed the course.
Yes, Yes, and Yes!!!!
8. Our total failure to retaliate -- and I use that term advisedly -- for the Islamist attacks on the United States during the period from 1979 - 2001, with the sole exception of pinprick cruise missile strikes after the attacks on the African embassies in 1998. The administrations of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton essentially told Islamists that America would exact no price for killing or otherwise attacking its people.
Ditto.  

By Blogger john, at Mon Sep 22, 10:08:00 PM:

bay of pigs hands down.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 22, 10:25:00 PM:

In my humble opinion, I think our intervention in the Great War (now known as WWI) was our greatest blunder.
1) The US entry into that war made the German General Staff maneuver to get Russia out of the war so that they would not have to fight a two front war. They wanted to finish the war before the impact of US manpower became decisive in the West. They got Lenin into the Russia to help foment revolution. Ponder the possible alternative outcomes to history if that never happened.

2) Nothing good came out of our intervention. All of Wilson's high-minded rhetoric came to naught, as the Congress back home felt excluded from the negotiations and repudiated everthing the Wilson had proposed. The League of Nations was an empty bag from the start. The harsh retribution forced on Germany guaranteed that the war would resume at a later time.

And Wilson got elected in 1912 because the egotistical Teddy Roosevelt had to form the Bull Moose party and split the Republican vote.

-David  

By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Mon Sep 22, 10:34:00 PM:

Re The Truman administration's decision to push to the Yalu after the victory at Inchon.

I would argue the push to the Yalu River wasn't the determinative event, but rather the push north of the 38th parallel that instigated the Chinese intervention. There is an interesting backstory to the event. The Chinese, courtesy of information relayed by way of the American-entrenched Soviet spy network, knew that Truman would never allow an offensive campaign against them. General Lin Piao, commander of the Chinese troops who poured into Korea is quoted: "I would never have made the attack and risked my men and military reputation if I had not been assured that Washington would restrain General MacArthur from taking adequate retaliatory measures against my lines of supply and communication."

Which leads from suppositions about foreign policy blunders to domestic vulnerabilities wrt Communist infiltrators, traitors and spies.  

By Blogger clint, at Mon Sep 22, 10:43:00 PM:

My two have already been mentioned, but I'll reiterate them:

#1: Carter's decision to withdraw our support from the Shah of Iran. Iran was well on the way to modernity, and could have done a long slow transition to modernity like Taiwan and South Korea have done under similarly harsh dictatorships. Instead, we got the Islamic Revolution, and the huge prestige boost that it got out of humbling us with the hostage crisis.

A significant part of our difficulties with the middle east can be traced back to this one event. How different would Israel and Lebanon look without Iran's oil backing Hezbollah and Hamas?

#2: Caving to the Soviets post-WWII.

I can understand that America was sick of war... but there was a narrow window where we could have insisted on independence for Poland and Hungary and Checkoslovakia and East Germany, and gotten it.

#3: -- Don't know at all enough about this, but how on Earth did we end up with Pakistan as our ally and India as the USSR's ally during the Cold War??!?

There just has to be a screw up of monumental proportions behind that.  

By Blogger clint, at Mon Sep 22, 10:46:00 PM:

Ooh. Anonymous David's comment reminded me, by way of Wilson's election, of another lefty hyperbole well worth puncturing: That of the most dishonest presidential campaign ever...

My nominee: Wilson's 1916 campaign (Slogan: "He kept us out of war!").  

By Blogger David, at Mon Sep 22, 10:57:00 PM:

Our failure to support the Shah of Iran. Without radical Iranian Islam so many things don't happen including their soon to be acquisition of a nuclear weapon.  

By Blogger Ray, at Mon Sep 22, 11:04:00 PM:

In terms of ultimate consequences, our failure to stomp out the Communists in Russia after WWI. If Woody Woo hadn't had his stroke, we might have avoided the entire blasted Cold War. And without Communist Russia to offer training ground for the Wehrmacht, the Nazis might not have made it either.

In terms of sheer stupidity based on what was known at the time, the War of 1812. We're lucky the Brits stopped at burning DC.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 22, 11:25:00 PM:

IMO you can't really rank the serious mistakes. They are all turning points of history.

I lean toward more blame on Wilson's second term as one long blunder. To me he was an ass who got us into a war we could have avoided. And the treaty that followed was a disaster.

His arrogance made it certain we did not join the League. But with the same arrogance he had already designed a league destined to fail anyway.

And his suspension of civil liberties in WWI matched anything before or since.

In a moment I will add a candidate for the blunder lists.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 22, 11:41:00 PM:

New candidate for the blunders list.

Bush I should have pulled out of NATO after the USSR dissolved.


The Cold War was over and it was time for the US to show we had acted only to prevent world domination by them.

We should have left Europe, Korea, and Japan by 1993. And stayed out of Iraq in 1991. Saddam was a bad apple but it wasn't our business.

Instead we changed nothing and acted like the New World Police. And self appointed police at that.  

By Blogger CW, at Mon Sep 22, 11:49:00 PM:

Another candidate for the blunder list was the 1951 coup overthrowing Prime Minister Mossadegh of Iran (CIA and MI-6) in favor of the Shah. It was feared that Mossadegh would favor the Russians. In fact, much info did not make it up the CIA and MI-6 chains of command which showed that Mossadegh was no Soviet puppet. Iran's relationship with the USA has deteriorated from that point onward.

cw/chsw  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 23, 12:14:00 AM:

Tigerhawk and Anthony (Los Angeles):

You defend the Mexican American war. I don't know much about it, but what I read said that many thoughtful people, including Lincoln, opposed it as a landgrab. How do you explain that it was actually "justified"? Not that I disagree that the dwellers of the grabbed states got the much better deal. Also, the rather one-way flow of people across the green-border also proves that you might be right in claiming that the US made a blunder by ... not grabbing more. I hope to read a thoughtful explanation why it was justified, so I can also use it if the case comes up.

One possible big blunder: When JFK met Khruschev in Vienna and by this JFK actually "legitimatized" him and "starting" the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I, as somebody grown up at the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, I certainly agree that allowing the Soviets to vassalize Eastern and Central Europe was a gigantic blunder.

About the Iraq War as the greatest blunder. Let's wait what the historians will say in 50 years. I suspect that they will totally forget the naysaying nobodies and will recognize that Bush actually did accomplish something. In 10 years nobody will remember the Abu Ghraib non-event, for example. That was nothing but a very small (and non-deadly) happening in a much bigger thing.

Vilmos  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 23, 01:15:00 AM:

How about Dean Acheson's failure to include South Korea within the declared zone of U.S. interest? This led the North Koreans and the Soviets to believe that there would be no U.S. intervention with respect to an attempt to conquer South Korea.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 23, 02:53:00 AM:

WRT the Mexican-American War. Mexico was not strong enough nor did she have enough people!! then to hold the territories. If the US did not have it, Britain would have. Constraining the US to being a purely Atlantic power and making Canada a hyper-power giant.  

By Blogger Jim Hu, at Tue Sep 23, 03:13:00 AM:

What about the War of 1812? It seems odd to omit foreign policy that led to the burning of DC... even if that seems like a good idea sometimes.  

By Anonymous Steve Skubinna, at Tue Sep 23, 07:54:00 AM:

I have to weigh in on our pre-WWII isolationism, and the disastrous Democratic led debacle leading to the fall of South Vietnam.

However, I would also like to submit the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which while it might appear to be a domestic issue had the effect of internationalizing and extending the Great Depression. No telling how much of the succeeding horrendous century could be laid to that door.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Sep 23, 08:30:00 AM:

"In terms of sheer stupidity based on what was known at the time, the War of 1812. We're lucky the Brits stopped at burning DC. "

But they didn't. They moved on to Baltimore and were defeated at Fort McHenry, the battle during which F.S. Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner. Then they tried to move up the Mississippi (after the peace treaty had been signed, actually) and suffered one of the most one-sided defeats in the history of modern warfare at the hands of General Jackson and some pirates and southern militias. Another offensive had been stopped at Lake Erie.

The War of 1812 was an honest-to-goodness stalemate, and raised the United States to the level of world power. There was a distinct difference in how the US was treated by European powers before that war (*sniff* provincials...) and after it.

If we had simply allowed the British to (essentially) enslave our sailors whenever they felt like it, who would ever have taken us seriously as a nation? The Monroe doctrine certainly would never have been established, enforced, or obeyed.

"How do you explain that it was actually "justified"? "

The Mexican Army crossed the Rio Grand (the border they had established in their peace treaty with Texas) and attacked American troops.

1. Violated treaty.
2. Invasion.
3. Attacked Americans.

That's pretty clear cut to me.

Re: Lincoln and other contemporaries' comments. I've noticed that (almost?) all the 19th century quotations I've ever heard about the Mexican War being unjust were made by Northerners. I suspect that disapproval of the adventure became politicized as the Northern/Southern regionalism split became more severe. It was the Mexican War that made it possible to keep Texas as a slave state and made it feasible to expand slavery west into New Mexico, after all. For a modern parallel, look at how it has become an article of faith for Democrats to claim that the Iraq War is 'the largest foreign policy blunder EVAR.'  

By Blogger Anthony (Los Angeles), at Tue Sep 23, 08:55:00 AM:

Vilmos:

I wasn't defending the Mexican War per se (though I don't feel any guilt over it, either), but arguing that it wasn't a unalloyed blunder because an immense amount of good came from it.

Dawnfire: I thought the tripwire question of the war's start was whether the border was the Rio Grande or the Nueces, and that Taylor's had arguably already crossed it when the first clashes occurred. (Although, regardless, it did give us that stirring phrase from Polk's war message: "Mexico...has shed American blood on American soil.") Also, Whig opposition wasn't just to the expansion of slavery, although that played a large part, but also to what they saw as a usurpation of the war-making power by the president. Ironic, given Lincoln's later vast expansion of the president's war powers.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Sep 23, 09:34:00 AM:

"I thought the tripwire question of the war's start was whether the border was the Rio Grande or the Nueces, and that Taylor's had arguably already crossed it when the first clashes occurred."

That's right, but it wasn't a legitimate question based in confusion. The Mexicans simply decided that when they signed that peace treaty with Texas the spot that said 'Rio Grande' *really* mean 'Nueces' and tried to use that as justification for starting a border war. The post hoc argument of, 'well it wasn't a legitimate treaty because we were forced into it' doesn't hold water either because 1), that's how all wartime concessions are obtained, (dumbasses) and 2), were that a real and persuasive argument then the entire treaty would be null, not just that single little point that they wished they'd thought harder about before agreeing to it.

The Brits tried to talk them out of it. The French tried to talk them out of it. Their own sitting President was nearly lynched (and was replaced) for trying to avoid it. The Mexicans went out looking for a revenge war and got their asses whipped. Suddenly, in retrospect, it became a big, tragic, gringo land-grab.

An occasion of the losers writing the history books? When I was a kid, I read an old, professionally written history on the Mexican War that explained all of this in detail. But for some reason, most everyone I discuss it with thinks that it was a big, tragic, gringo land-grab. I wonder whose responsible for that?  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Sep 23, 10:11:00 AM:

I'll offer up my own version; some of this will be to express disagreement:

1) I think the Mexican War offered the US a great result. My goodness, the entire southwestern US is a product of that war _ California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado...how can we argue against it?

2) error of omission - you said you disagreed with our pre-wwII isolation, and I would offer a very specific clarification - failure to prevent German annexation of Czechoslavakia. This was the moment when Hitler could have been stopped (as we stopped Hussein at Kuwait, for instance). Failure to act then in a small way, cost millions of lives thereafter.

3) I think US intervention in WWI was fine, even excellent. Picking up the pieces for a 6 month tour after the combatants were spent created the foundation for American economic supremacy years later. However, the treaty of Versailles was a diplomatic disaster, and formed the basis for German misery which gave rise to the Third Reich.

4) Churchill argued vociferously that allowing the Iron Curtain to fall was a diplomatic disaster. This is a tough one, since we had just come off fighting WWII and were tired of war. On the otherhand, we went to war in Korea 2 years later and lost 60,000 men. SO if we were prepared to do that, why weren't we prepared to defend Eastern Europe from Soviet encroachment when we had strategic supremacy (nukes) and weren't nearly as spent as the Soviets were?

5) The Bay of Pigs - failure to complete the mission 90 miles offshore was simply pathetic and emboldened the Soviets to put missiles in Cuba, threatening us inside the Monroe Doctrine territory and nearly launching a nuclear disaster. It was also the first itme I can think of where we retreated from a strategic commitment and promise and opened the question as to whether we would in fact pay any price and bear any burden.

Ridiculous.

6) The Iranian Revolution - allowing the Shah to fall in favor of the Khomeinist Islamist theocracy set the stage for WWII.

Idiocy of the first order. And here we are.


7) Failure to finish of Hussein in 1991 set the state for a requirement tor eturn in 2003.  

By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Tue Sep 23, 12:04:00 PM:

failure to prevent German annexation of Czechoslavakia. This was the moment when Hitler could have been stopped

I would agree, and would suggest that the failure to oppose the German occupation of the Rhineland set the precedent and serves as perhaps an even better example of a moment when Hitler could have been stopped, even eliminated.

Yet these were not *our* foreign policy blunders, but rather those of the French and the English. At least, that's how I see it. Maybe I'm wrong?  

By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Tue Sep 23, 12:42:00 PM:

I'm not sure I really believe this, but I'll put it out as a kind of thought experiment: What if instead of rejecting Ho Chi Minh's attempts to secure American assistance, Wilson (and later, Truman) had embraced his goal of an independent Vietnamese republic? Mightn't we had an ally in the region at an earlier and, arguably, more critical juncture? Could all of Vietnam been inculcated with Western values and served as an obstruction rather than a gateway to Communist encroachment?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 23, 01:01:00 PM:

I have just one thing to add on the Mexican War debate. I believe it was TH who said that this war gave the South war experience for the Civil War. I would point out that both Grant and Sherman as well as other Northern servicemen I can't recall at the moment fought in this war.

Biggest blunder: Congressional sell out of S. Vietnam (in terms of trashing our reputation then and now as well as how it has effected our debate on wars we have gotten into since).  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 23, 01:27:00 PM:

Regarding the revisionism to the Mexican-American War:
US Grant called it an attempt to expand slavery in his memoirs. And that is probably the root of the modern notion of that war being a 'land grab'. Dawnfire makes a very good point about this sort of revisionism being accepted by people who haven't studied the matter in depth.

Which brings me back to defending my idea that entering the Great War was a mistake. All the powers involved in this war were politically rotten to the core. Germany, Russia, France, Turkey, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Imperial Britain.
Look at the aftermath:
Turkey, revolution, the fall of the caliphate, the rise of Ataturk.
Austro-Hungarian Empire: falls apart.
Germany: revolution, the Kaiser abdicates.
France: The Fourth Republic
Britain: Began to lose their empire from military, financial and morale exhaustion brought on by that hideous war.

And lastly, two revolutions in Russia. First the Kerensky government deposes the Czar, then the Reds depose Kerensky (after the Germans smuggle Lenin into the country to get Russia out of the war). November 1917 (October on the old Russian Orthodox calender).

Tell me again how entering this war advanced any of our interests. We spent the rest of the 20th century, in lives and untold treasure, cleaning up the disastrous outcome of that war.
Wilson entered it because he had the "know it all" professorate fascist impulse. Nothing good came out of that war for America.  

By Blogger Leif, at Tue Sep 23, 05:15:00 PM:

I have to agree with a number of the posts here: The US entry into World War One was an unmitigated disaster. It prolonged the war and transformed the peace process into a punitive land-grab. It not only made World War Two inevitable, but more ominously, it dismantled the only entity capable of maintaining stability in the Middle East. We are still paying for Wilson's folly today, and will for years to come  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 23, 11:57:00 PM:

Re: Mexican-American War

Thanks everybody for the discussion. So it was not a landgrab (even if it ended up like that). Looks like this story is more than bad bad US.

It was also interesting to read the opinions regarding WWI.

Vilmos  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Sep 24, 12:14:00 AM:

Worse than allowing Diem to be taken out, Kennedy's bigger mistake was icing political foe Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. as Ambassador to South Vietnam. Lodge was uncontrollable and in short order completely undermined a war that was being won.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Sep 24, 08:19:00 PM:

Last Anon, you are correct. I am not sure that was a foreign policy blunder per se, so much as a bureaucratic one, but you are right about the consequences.  

Post a Comment


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?