Syllabus Fall 2017: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1898

History 434

U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1898


Professor Patrick Iber

Fall 2017 / MWF 11:00-11:50AM / Humanities 1111



For the most of the twentieth century, the United States was the globe’s preeminent economic and military power. But how did it use that power? Did it defend democracy around the globe, or undermine in? Did it act altruistically, or in defense of its own interests? This course seeks to give an overview of U.S. foreign policy from the Spanish-American war to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To fully understand the U.S. role on the world stage, we will look at examples of economic, cultural, political, as well as military forms of intervention. We will also examine multiple perspectives on American power: considering it not only from the point of view of U.S. policy elites, but also from soldiers and others tasked with carrying out its policies, as well as by those who managed, resisted, or embraced U.S. rule. The course will feature regular debates on controversial topics designed to provoke careful consideration of the effectiveness of U.S. foreign interventions. It will also give students the opportunity to read original historical documents.


Course texts:

Emily S. Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890-1945, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982), 0809001462, 978-0809001460, $21.

Michael C. C. Adams, The Best War Ever: America and World War II, 2nd ed., (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015), 1421416670, 978-1421416670, $24.95.

Nick Cullather, Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala 1952-1954, 2nd ed., (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 0804754683, 978-0804754682, $19.

Graham Greene, The Quiet American, (New York: Penguin Classics, 2004), 0143039024, 978-0143039020, $16.

Mark Atwood Lawrence, The Vietnam War: A Concise International History, (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 0199753938, 978-0199753932 , $15

Rajiv Chandrasekharan, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, (Vintage: New York, 2007), 0307278832, 978-0307278838, $16.


Course schedule:


Week 1: Introduction


W, Sep 6: Introduction to the course and its structure

F, Sep 8: The rise of the United States



Week 2: Expanding Internationalism


M, Sep 11: The Spanish-American War

W, Sep 13: The idea of liberal developmentalism

F, Sep 15: Debate: Did the United States acquire overseas territories by accident, or as part of an imperial plan?




Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream, 1-86


Odd Arne Westad, Chapter 1, “The Empire of Liberty,” in The Global Cold War, 8-38


Mark Twain, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness” [Note: Twain’s essay is satire.]



Week 3: From Dollar Diplomacy to Depression


M, Sep 18: Wilsonian Idealism and World War I

W, Sep 20: Dollar Diplomacy

F, Sep 22: Debate: Were economic and cultural diplomacy tools of empire-building, or just the normal business of government?




Erez Manela, “Imagining Woodrow Wilson in Asia: Dreams of East-West Harmony and the Revolt Against Empire in 1919,” American Historical Review 111, no. 5 (December 2006): 1327-1351.


Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream, 87-201





Week 4, The Era of Roosevelt: Depression and War


M, Sep 25: From Depression to War

W, Sep 27: Fighting World War II

F, Sep 29: Debate: Should World War II be remembered as the finest achievement of U.S. foreign policy?



Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream, 202-234


Adams, The Best War Ever



Week 5: Constructing Anti-Communism


M, Oct 2: Post-war Europe and Japan

W, Oct 4: Primary document focus: NSC-68

F, Oct 6: Student-led debate: Did the first years after World War II provide compelling evidence that the “American Century” would be a more democratic one for the globe?




Henry Luce, “The American Century”


Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire, “Introduction,” pp. 1-15, and “The Consumer-Citizen,” pp. 336-375


David Riesman, “The Nylon War,” Common Cause 4, no. 7 (February 1951): 379-385. [Note: Riesman’s essay is satire.]


Mire Koikari, “Exporting Democracy?: American Women, ‘Feminist Reforms,’ and the Politics of Imperialism in the U.S. Occupation of Japan, 1945-1952,” Frontiers 23, no. 1 (2002): 23-45.


Week 6: The First Cold War Interventions: Guatemala and Iran


M, Oct 9: Covert Intervention

W, Oct 11: Guatemala and Iran

F, Oct 13: Student-led debate: Were the reasons for U.S. intervention in Guatemala (and Iran) primarily economic, or primarily political?


Reading: Cullather, Secret History




Week 7: Vietnam I


M, Oct 16: The Vietnam Era

W, Oct 18: Film: The Fog of War, Part I

F, Oct 20: Student-led debate: Should the U.S. have sought to back a non-colonial, non-Communist Third Force in Vietnam?


Reading: Graham Greene, The Quiet American



Week 8: Vietnam II


M, Oct 23: Film: The Fog of War, Part II

W, Oct 25: Student-led debate: Was the U.S. entry into the Vietnam War a) the right thing to do; b) the wrong thing and the result of errors and mistakes of judgment, or c) the wrong thing and the result of a deep logic of U.S. imperialism?

F, Oct 27: No class


Reading: Mark Atwood Lawrence, The Vietnam War


Week 9: Kissinger


M, Oct 30: The “realism” of Henry Kissinger

W, Nov 1: The Trials of Henry Kissinger

F, Nov 3: Student-led debate: As Christopher Hitchens argued, is there sufficient evidence for Henry Kissinger to be put on trial for criminal activity?



“Project FUBELT,” pp. 1-35, 47-48, 58-61 and “Destabilizing Democracy: The United States and the Allende Government,” pp. 79-115, 138-139, 146-149 in Peter Kornbluh, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability, (New York: New Press, 2003).

For more, check out the documents at


Fermandois, Joaquin. “The persistence of a myth: Chile in the eye of the Cold War hurricane.” World Affairs 167, no. 3 (Winter 2005), 101-112.




Week 10: Reagan


M, Nov 6: The Neoconservative Idea

W, Nov 8: The Foreign Policies of Ronald Reagan

F, Nov 10: Student-led debate: Was the fundamental aim of Reagan’s foreign policy to extend democracy around the world, or was there a different logic?


Jeane Kirkpatrick, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” Commentary 68, no. 5 (November 1979): 34-45.


Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern, 25-46


Carl Bernstein, “The Holy Alliance,” Time, February 24 1992,


Thomas Sheehan, “Friendly Fascism: Business as Usual in America’s Backyard,” from Richard J. Golsan, ed., Fascism’s Return: Scandal, Revision, and Ideology since 1980, pp. 260-300.



Week 11: The 1990s


M, Nov 13: The End of the Cold War

W, Nov 15: The Unipolar Moment

F, Nov 17: Student-led debate: Was the end of the Cold War a triumph of liberal democracy over totalitarianism?




Emily S. Rosenberg, “Consumer Capitalism and the end of the Cold War,” 489-512 in Cambridge History of the Cold War, vol. III.


Reinhold Wagnleitner, ““No Commodity Is Quite So Strange As This Thing Called Cultural Exchange”: The Foreign Politics of American Pop Culture Hegemony,” Amerikastudien / American Studies 46, no. 3 (2001): 443-470.


Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?” The National Interest (Summer 1989),


Work on final project proposals!





Week 12: The War on Terror I


M, Nov 20: The response to 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

W, Nov 22: No class – work on final projects

F, Nov 24: Thanksgiving break – no class


Final project proposal due in class on Monday.


Week 13: The War on Terror II


M, Nov 27: Film: Restrepo

W, Nov 29: Film: Restrepo

F, Dec 1: Student-led debate: Was post-war chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan inevitable, or could it have been avoided?


Reading: Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City



Week 14: Group Projects


M, Dec 4: Supervised time to work on projects

W, Dec 6: Supervised time to work on projects

F, Dec 8: Work time / review session



Week 15: Conclusions


M, Dec 11: Project presentations – PROJECTS DUE IN CLASS

W, Dec 13: Last day of class, and final debate: The second half of the twentieth century was seen by many as the “American Century.” Will the twenty-first century also be an “American Century,” or has that moment passed?



Final exam: December 20th


Your grade will be based on the following:


10% Debate and discussion participation.


5% Debate leadership. Once during the semester, you will sign up to present your team’s argument during class. It can be during the same week that you write a paper.


30% Debate papers: Three times during the semester, you should write a short response to the week’s debate question. You can choose the days you want to respond, but at least one of your papers should be done by week seven. The papers are due on the day of the debate. Your paper should try to answer the question to be debated, using the class readings to defend the position you find most convincing. You should also address opposing views and the reasons you find them less compelling. Papers should be approximately 3 pages, or 750 words, long.


25% final project. Using FRUS documents, declassified items released to the National Security Archive, or another group of primary sources, you will examine an important aspect of US foreign policy of your choosing. You will develop a PowerPoint presentation that shows and interprets the documents in question, giving your classmates an interpretation of U.S. foreign policy and the reasons for its actions. Your work will be displayed in a class “exposition” during the final week of class. This project should be done alone.


30% final exam.


Course policies and resources:


To get good advice on what I will be looking for from your reading and writing, I recommend the following resources:

  • George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”
  • To get the most out of your reading, I generally endorse the views of Timothy Burke, as laid out in his “Staying Afloat: Some Scattered Suggestions on Reading in College.”
  • On plagiarism and proper citations, please see this excerpt from Charles Lipson’s Doing Honest Work in College. You should use citations proper to your primary discipline in the papers you submit.
  • Students are expected to conduct themselves with integrity. All of your work should be original to you and to this course. In your short papers, make sure that you cite the week’s readings to support your argument.
  • Late work cannot be accepted for this course, since the short papers contribute to our discussions and the projects will be shown to your classmates. If a really significant emergency arises, please make arrangements directly with me to submit late work. Late final projects will be docked a full letter grade.
  • Finally, the best class participation will work to build classroom community. This course will feature regular contentious debates; we are expected to disagree with each other. This can be done while respecting differences of opinion that arise, including ones of a political nature, during conversations. A good rule of thumb is to address the idea, not the person. You also don’t need to be the loudest or most frequent talker to get a good participation grade. The best kind of participation is thoughtful and attentive to the comments of others.

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