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A Book Review - American Foreign Policy - Carter to Clinton


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The book is part of the American History in Depth series. The author is John Dumbrell and the general editor of the series is A. J. Badger. The book is published in Hong Kong, 1997, by McMillan Publications. It is in paperback (ISBN: 0-333-61094-6), and it is also available in hardcover (ISBN: 0-333-61093-8); with papers suitable for recycling. No picture, table or graph can be seen in this book; except the photograph on the front cover that shows presidents Carter and Clinton together. As we can see in the Bibliographical Note, the author used secondary sources as well as some primary articles in form of printed articles.

The book focuses on the America foreign policy in the mid-20th century (from Carter's to Clinton's presidency) that was marked with the “struggle between liberal democratic capitalism and Soviet state socialism". As it is stated in the introduction, the book discusses four major themes:

1) ending of the Cold War,

2) the legacy of Vietnam War

3) American decline, and

4) the possibilities of the democratic foreign policy after 1977.

It examines the “long tradition of American optimism" saying that despite apparent victories, American optimism was under pressure during 1980s; the great pressure and damage coming from America's defeat in Vietnam War which as carter put it made Americans understand that they are “no better than other people". Throughout the book, it is shown how attitudes and decisions in American foreign policy were under the influence of the Vietnam legacy, with special focus on the four presidents of the era, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. The author tries to put the information together in an impartial way, criticizing or approving of the events carefully.

About Carter it is said that he believed that the cold war period had ended and that it was time to pursue “domestic processes". His other goal was to put commitment to human rights at the center of his foreign policy. But he never reached it because in some cases human rights were ignored because security issues were more important. In his time in the office, 2 revolutions took place that were not favorable to US, one in Iran and the other in Nicaragua. These events made Carter's presidency as a period full of crisis. Reagan's policies are discussed after Carter's. First his decision to increase defense expenditure is stated and the fact that he believed that America must develop a “high-tech shield that would protect it from nuclear threats. Then his doctrine is presented:" American sponsorship to all enemies of communism in the developing countries". That's why he involved America in the Lebanese crisis so that it would not become a communist state. He also used human right as “an anti-soviet weapon". Another important thing about him that is analyzed in this book is his “shadow policy of “winning back Iran" that finally led to Iran-contra scandal. The Reagan- Gorbachev dialogue is one of the other things discussed in this book. Then the book focuses on Bush's presidency claiming that his policies mainly reflected that of Reagan's except his policies toward the soviet that were more cautious than Reagan's. It is explained that how he faced a dilemma in the second gulf war. He wanted to oppress Iraq that had invaded Kuwait and at the same time to keep Iraq as threat to Iran. Clinton is the last president that the book speaks of. It says that like Cater, Clinton emphasized domestic issues over foreign policy. He tried to “close the book on Vietnam, by promoting the cause of US trade and investment. His military program is also mentioned stating that he belied that its cost and size should be reduced.

The book is a good source of information for those who want to study the Cold war period and the effects of Vietnam war over American policies in the same era, especially undergraduate students who want a general information about the this period. For those who want a detailed description of the American foreign policy in the post-Cold war era, the book is not suitable because it does not go into details of the events and developments, giving only an overall picture. However in the End Notes for each chapter, one can find useful sources, books and articles that can guide him or her to further information about the topics discussed in chapters. In the Bibliographical Note also, the author suggests that: “much of the important secondary literature on recent US foreign policy may be found in specialist journals, notably Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, International Security and International Affairs. "

Marzieh Motahhari, MA student of University of Tehran, Institute of North American studies


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