Rise and Fall of American Power, Syllabus Fall 2018



History 434


U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1898


Professor Patrick Iber

Fall 2018 / MWF 11:00-11:50AM

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 it? 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 present day. 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 It will also give students the opportunity to read original historical documents.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:


David Milne, Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), 978-0-374-536398, $14.


Michael C. C. Adams, The Best War Ever: America and World War II, 2nd ed., (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015), 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), 978-0804754682, $19.


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


This course counts for three credits. This course meets as a group (or with dedicated online time) for 3 50-minute periods per week and carries the expectation that you will spend an average of 2 hours outside of class for every hour in the classroom. In other words, in addition to class time, plan to allot an average of 6 hours per week for reading, writing, preparing for discussions, and/or studying for quizzes and exams for this class.


The primary goals of this course are that students will be able to

  • Understand and identify the factors underlying U.S. power and foreign relations during the 20th and 21st centuries;
  • Apply concepts from major frameworks and schools of thought for interpreting U.S. foreign relations;
  • Read for a dedicated purpose across different genres and forms of writing;
  • Use debates to consider contentious issues from multiple perspectives;
  • Locate, read, and interpret primary documents;
  • Understand how historians formulate and test hypotheses about the past; and
  • Communicate effectively through presentations, discussion, and written work.



By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UW-Madison’s community of scholars in which everyone’s academic work and behavior are held to the highest academic integrity standards. Academic misconduct compromises the integrity of the university. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, and helping others commit these acts are examples of academic misconduct, which can result in disciplinary action. This includes but is not limited to failure on the assignment/course, disciplinary probation, or suspension. Substantial or repeated cases of misconduct will be forwarded to the Office of Student Conduct & Community Standards for additional review. For more information, refer to studentconduct.wiscweb.wisc.edu/academic-integrity/.



The University of Wisconsin-Madison supports the right of all enrolled students to a full and equal educational opportunity. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Wisconsin State Statute (36.12), and UW-Madison policy (Faculty Document 1071) require that students with disabilities be reasonably accommodated in instruction and campus life. Reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities is a shared faculty and student responsibility. Students are expected to inform faculty [me] of their need for instructional accommodations by the end of the third week of the semester, or as soon as possible after a disability has been incurred or recognized. I, will work either directly with you or in coordination with the McBurney Center to identify and provide reasonable instructional accommodations. Disability information, including instructional accommodations as part of a student’s educational record, is confidential and protected under FERPA. http://mcburney.wisc.edu/facstaffother/faculty/syllabus.php



Diversity is a source of strength, creativity, and innovation for UW-Madison. We value the contributions of each person and respect the profound ways their identity, culture, background, experience, status, abilities, and opinion enrich the university community. We commit ourselves to the pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, outreach, and diversity as inextricably linked goals. The University of Wisconsin-Madison fulfills its public mission by creating a welcoming and inclusive community for people from every background – people who as students, faculty, and staff serve Wisconsin and the world. https://diversity.wisc.edu/







Course schedule:


Week 1: Introduction


F, Sep 7: Introduction to the course and its structure


Reading: introducing the Open Door thesis: William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, pp. 23-44



Week 2: Expanding Internationalism


M, Sep 10: The Rise of the United States


Emily Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream, 3-62


W, Sep 12: The Spanish-American War


Milne, Worldmaking, on Alfred Thayer Mahan, 21-68


F, Sep 14: Imperialism and Anti-imperialism: Cuba and the Philippines


Reading: primary document, Mark Twain, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness”



Week 3: Wilsonian Idealism


M, Sep 17: Wilsonian Idealism and World War I


Reading: Milne, Worldmaking on Wilson 69-122


W, Sep 19: Dollar Diplomacy


Noel Maurer, The Empire Trap, pp. 89-136


F, Sep 21: Debate: Does it make sense to describe the United States as an empire? Why or why not?


Reading: 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.





Week 4, The Era of Roosevelt: Depression and War


M, Sep 24: From Depression to War


Reading: Melvyn Leffler, “The Origins of Republican War Debt Policy, 1921-1923,” Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism, 28-46


Adams, Best War Ever, 1-21


W, Sep 26: Fighting World War II


Reading: Adams, Best War Ever, pp. 22-86


F, Sep 28: Debate: Should World War II be remembered as the finest achievement of U.S. foreign policy?




Adams, Best War Ever, 87-149


Week 5: Constructing Anti-Communism


M, Oct 1: The Fear of Communism


Milne, Worldmaking, on Nitze, 268-325


W, Oct 3: Post-war Europe and Japan


Geir Lundestad, “Empire by Invitation? The United States and Western Europe, 1945-1952,” Journal of Peace Research 23, no. 3 (1986): 263-277.


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


F, Oct 5: [Instructor absence] Fog of War, Part I


Mary Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights, pp. 47-78







Week 6: The Cold War Order


M, Oct 8: Cold War / Hot War, including the Korean War

Reading: Cullather, Secret History, Introduction and 1-37


W, Oct 10: Covert Intervention: Guatemala and Iran


Reading: Cullather, 39-104


F, Oct 12: Debate: Was U.S. fear of Communism justified at the start of the Cold War, or did the U.S. use anti-Communism as a mask for self-interest?


Reading: Cullather, Secret History, 105-123, 143-176


Week 7: Working with Primary Documents


M, Oct 15: Using and finding primary sources on U.S. foreign policy

W, Oct 17: The Fog of War, Part II

F, Oct 19: Midterm



Week 8: Vietnam


M, Oct 22: The Vietnam War


Reading: Lawrence, The Vietnam War, pp. 1-46


W, Oct 24: Veterans’ Museum


Reading: Lawrence, The Vietnam War, pp. 47-114


F, Oct 26: Debate: Would it have been possible for the United States to win the war in Vietnam? If not, why not? If so, how so?


Reading: Lawrence, The Vietnam War, pp. 115-185






Week 9: Kissinger


M, Oct 29: The “realism” of Henry Kissinger


Reading: Milne, Worldmaking, on Kissinger, 326-396


W, Oct 31: The Trials of Henry Kissinger


“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 http://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB437/


F, Nov 2: Debate: Imagine that Henry Kissinger is being brought before an international court, charged with crimes for actions taken while in political office. You will be randomly assigned to either be part of team of prosecuting attorneys or the defense. What are the best arguments for each side?



Christopher Hitchens, “Kissinger Declassified,” Vanity Fair, 17 October 2006, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2004/12/hitchens200412


Robert Kaplan, “In Defense of Henry Kissinger,” The Atlantic, May 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/05/the-statesman/309283/





Week 10: The Conservative Revival


M, Nov 5: Neoliberalism and Foreign Policy: From Carter to Reagan


Reading: Betsy Beasley, “Service Learning: Oil, International Education, and Texas’s Corporate Cold War,” Diplomatic History 42, no. 2: 177-203.


W, Nov 7: The Foreign Policies of Ronald Reagan



Milne, Worldmaking, on Wolfowitz, part I, pp. 387-412


Carl Bernstein, “The Holy Alliance,” Time, February 24 1992, http://www.carlbernstein.com/magazine_holy_alliance.php


F, Nov 9: Reagan in Central America


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: Unipolarity and Globalization


M, Nov 12: The End of the Cold War


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


Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?” http://history.msu.edu/hst203/files/2011/02/Fukuyama-The-End-of-History.pdf


W, Nov 14: The Unipolar Moment


Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell on Rwanda, 329-389


F, Nov 16: Debate: After the Cold War, should U.S. military power be used primarily for “humanitarian intervention,” to prevent atrocities in other countries?




Joseph Nye, “Soft Power,” Foreign Policy, no. 80 (Autumn 1990): 153-171.







Week 12: The War on Terror I


M, Nov 19: Film: Restrepo, part I


Reading: National Security Strategy, 2002, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/63562.pdf


W, Nov 21: Restrepo, part II

F, Nov 23: Thanksgiving break – no class


Final project proposal due in class on Monday.


Week 13: The War on Terror II


M, Nov 26: Causes of and Response to 9/11


Terry Anderson, “9/11: Bush’s response,” from Understanding the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, edited by Beth Bailey and Richard Immerman, 54-74.


W, Nov 28: The War on Terror


Milne, Worldmaking, on Wolfowitz, 412-456


F, Nov 30: Debate: Does the Open Door thesis accurately predict the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?


Listen: Rajiv Chandrasekaran speaking about Imperial Life in the Emerald City https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6103528


Chandrasekaran, Chapter 6, 115-144







Week 14: The Decline of American Power?


M, Dec 3: From Obama to Trump


Reading: Milne, Worldmaking, on Obama, 457-513


W, Dec 5: Final debate, in class: 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?


Readings: Al McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century, 193-226


Joseph Nye, “Is the American Century Over?”, Political Science Quarterly 130, no. 3 (2015): 393-400.


F, Dec 7: Project workshop



Week 15: Conclusions


M, Dec 10: Review session / project workshop

W, Dec 12: Project poster session


Your grade will be based on the following:


10%: Top Hat. We will use Top Hat response software to add variety to class, take attendance, and check to make sure you are current with readings. You’ll need a subscription. Email the instructor for excused absences. You can email to get credit for one unexcused absence per semester.


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.


15% Debate papers: Twice 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, in class. They can’t be accepted after class. Your paper should try to answer the question to be debated, using the class readings to defend the position you find most convincing. It should also address opposing views and the reasons you find them less compelling. Papers should be approximately 3 pages, or 750 words, long.


15% 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-style 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.


20% midterm.

25% final exam.


Grade ranges will be A > 93.5; 88 < AB < 93.5; 83 < B < 85; 78 < BC < 83; 70 < C < 78; 60 < D < 69; F < 60.


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” http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/
  • 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.” http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/tburke1/reading.html
  • 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. http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/lipson/honestcollege/citationfaq.html
  • 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. In your final project, make sure to link to references.
  • Late papers 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. Don’t use politics as a substitute for evidence. 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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