US Foreign Policy

POLT 30600  U.S. Foreign Policy

Spring 2020
Prof. Chip Gagnon
MWF 12-12:50pm Friends 208
Course website:
Office: 324 Muller Center
tel. 607-274-1103
Office hours: MWF 1-2pm and by appointment
Updated 2/12/2020

Why are you here?

FlagsThe United States is one of the most powerful states in the international system.  At the end of World War II, it set up the current global order, and over the course of the past 75 years has intervened politically, economically and militarily in every region of the world. At the end of the Cold War it was the only major superpower in the world.  Yet the past three years have seen a major shift in attitudes on the part of the current administration towards the international system set up by the US to benefit itself and its allies.

What are the sources of the US’s international behavior?  Is it reacting to the international environment? Is it driven by ideological factors?  What effect if any does domestic society and politics have? What are the contending views of the role of the US in the world within the US?  How do others perceive and experience the US in the world? Is the US role in the world fundamentally changing?

What we’ll be doing

To answer these questions we’ll be looking at US foreign policy from theoretical, historical, and contemporary perspectives. We start with different views of what drives US actions in the world.  We then look at the evolution of US foreign policy from the country’s founding in 1776 through the current era, looking at continuities as well as ruptures.  We’ll look at some current issues — including international trade, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China — and their historical roots.  And we’ll finish up the course looking at the current debates about the future of the international order and of US foreign policy.

We’ll do this through readings — both primary documents as well as secondary analysis — and films.

US troopsCourse Objectives

By the end of the course you should:

  • Understand the debates about the sources of US foreign policy
  • Be familiar with the evolution of the US’s role in the world over the past 240 years.
  • Understand the specific policies covered in the course.
  • Learn about the current debates about the future of US foreign policy.
  • Understand the different interpretations about what drives US foreign policy.

The course has the following objectives as part of the overall Politics Department mission:

  • Students will demonstrate a capacity for critical writing
  • Students will demonstrate global awareness and understanding
  • Students will demonstrate critical self-consciousness about their ethical positions vis-à-vis political and civic life
  • Students will demonstrate sensitivity to and understanding of multiple perspectives, eg, class, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality.
  • Students will demonstrate a capacity to apply ideas to lived contexts

Course Materials

  • Required readings are in three course readers, packets of photocopies.  Page numbers Image result for monroe doctrinein the syllabus refer to the printed page numbers at the bottom of each page in the course readers. The course readers can be purchased in the Ithaca College Bookstore for a total of $20.25.   Studies have shown that comprehension is much higher when a text is read on paper as opposed to on a screen.  This is also much cheaper than if I’d required a textbook.
  • Students should follow non-US newspapers that have substantial coverage of international issues, and in particular follow how these sources cover US actions in the world. Examples from these sources will make up part of classroom discussion as well as some written assignments. When reading these newspapers, ask yourself what stories are not being reported, and what’s not being said in the stories that are being reported. Also think about how their coverage differs from the information you are seeing in the US media.

Readings listed as “Required” are mandatory — you should have read and thought about them before class — and serve as background for the class discussion.

The readings are of varying complexities; some are quite difficult. If you have any questions on the readings, please ask in class, or stop by my office.

I would suggest taking notes on the readings as you do them to ease review written assignments. The assigned essays require an indepth understanding of specific assigned readings, so it is in your interest to do all required readings carefully. The amount of reading is generally small enough that you should have time to carefully read and take notes on the readings before each


Barbary states

US Naval bombardment of Tripoli, 1804


What does “doing the readings” mean?

It doesn’t mean just sitting down and mechanically going through the articles; that’s a sure way to make even an interesting article boring.

Reading is an active and interactive process between the reader and the text. If you’re really reading a text you are also reacting to it. I’ve included a wide range of texts in order to provoke a wide range of responses from readers.

Reading should also be a reflective process. To really understand an article deeply it is usually necessary to read it and think about it, and then read it again, and think about it, and discuss it with others, write about it and read it yet again. I’ve found that even after many readings, when I read a text in order to explain it to someone else I get new perspectives on the author’s arguments and assumptions, on the text’s strengths and weaknesses.

So when I say “do the readings,” I mean “engage yourself with the ideas of the text.” I understand that some of the texts are quite complex and that not all of them are entertaining. But struggle is part of the reading experience. If something’s not clear, if it’s confusing, talk about it with others outside of class, and/or bring it up in class.

If it’s a long or complex reading, don’t try to do it all in one sitting; take breaks, come back to it, read it in small doses. As I mentioned above, taking notes on a text while you read it or re-read it is also a very good way to engage the text and to make sure you understand it.

If you do not understand the readings after we discuss them in class, please see me immediately. Some of the readings are very challenging, and I expect you to speak with me if anything is not clear. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

NOTE: If you come to class consistently unprepared, I reserve the right to unilaterally drop you from the course.


The final grade in the class will be determined by:

  • Class participation (20% of final grade): This part of the final grade will be based on participation in class, which includes:
    • Attendance. I expect students to be present at every class. For every absence after the fourth one, your final grade will be reduced by a grade (that is, from an A to an A-, for example). Much of the learning in this class happens in the classroom, in discussions. If you are missing class you are missing a crucial part of the course.
    • Being prepared. I expect you to have done the assigned readings for the day and to have thought about them before class. Being consistently unprepared will significantly affect your final grade.
    • Participation. Classroom discussion of readings is a key part of the learning process.  To be an effective participant means having done the readings and being prepared to take part in discussions.
    • No electronic devices. During class I expect all electronic devices to be turned off. This includes laptops, cell phones, iPhones, tablets, etc. If you cannot bear to be parted from your device, you should take another class. Use of an electronic device in class will count as an absence for that day. Here are some of the reasons for this policy (from Scientific American). Here are even more (from a leading prof of new media).  And here’s a good reason for you to turn off your phone and put it away where you can’t access it.
  • Presentation. (15% of final grade). Each student will work with one other student for this group project.  You will choose an event where the US military has used force abroad (or from here, 19th, 20th or 21st century examples), and do a presentation of about 15 minutes based on prompts I will provide you. More details on this assignment will be provided in class. Presentation dates start just before Spring break and are listed on the daily assignments.
  • Document analysis. (5% of final grade). Over the course of the semester we’ll be reading some primary sources– speeches and documents – related to US foreign policy.  Each student will choose one document and do a brief presentation (no more than 10 minutes) on the day the document is assigned, summarizing the document, explaining its assumptions and goals, and putting it into the context of US domestic and foreign policy.  Here is a list of the documents with the corresponding page numbers in the course readers (or Sakai links).
  • Written assignments. (60% of final grade)
    Please note: 
    The grade for an assignment is reduced by one grade (eg, from A to A-) for each day an assignment is late. It is your choice whether to hand the assignment in by the due date or afterward, but please be aware of these consequences.
    • Reading reflections (15% of final grade). Throughout the semester you will be writing five reflections on a series of readings, including the one that is assigned for the date the reflection is due.  Reflections should be at least 3 pages, not more than 5.  Due dates are noted in the syllabus and also starred. Each reading reflection contrast the readings for the previous classes (noted below and on the syllabus) and the reading on the due date.I am looking to see that you did the readings and understood them, and that you can relate the readings to each other.Each response is worth 6 points, for a total of 30 points. The rubric for these is: 6 points – Strong Analysis and Synthesis – basically an “A”; 4-5 points -Acceptable Analysis – basically a “B”; 3 points or less -Unacceptable or Incomplete – basically a “C” or lower.
      • Monday 2/3. Reflection #1 on readings on theoretical approaches (1/24 – 1/31)
      • Friday 2/14 Reflection #2 on readings on Early Years  (2/3 – 2/14)
      • Friday 2/28. Reflection #3 on readings about World War I to the Cold war (2/14 – 2/28)
      • Friday 3/27. Reflection #4 on readings on After the Cold War (3/16 – 3/27)
      • Wednesday 4/22. Reflection #5 on readings on Current Issues (3/30 – 4/22)
    • Exam #1. Due Monday 3/2 by 4pm. (20% of final grade) A take-home exam on the first part of the course. Submit on Sakai and give me a hard copy.
    • Exam #2. Due by Friday 5/8 (finals week) at 4pm (25%) A take-home exam on the last half of the course. Submit on Sakai and give me a hard copy.

Please note: You cannot pass the course unless you have handed in all written assignments.

Meaning of grades:

A = excellent: intense effort and remarkable achievement.B = good: good effort and pretty good understandingC = okay: barely adequate amount of effort or effort that is somewhat misfocused or mistargetedD = inadequate effort or mistargeted effortF = little or no effort or complete misunderstanding of expectations(Thanks to Naeem Inayatullah for these characterizations.)

If you get below a C, you should immediately come to see me so we can discuss your paper or exam.

If you have any questions about the class, the readings, the discussions, or anything else, I will be more than happy to meet with you either during office hours or at some other time. To schedule another time please see me after class, or contact me by e-mail.

Daily Assignments

Introduction and theoretical approaches

W 1/22 Introduction
What is foreign policy? What are the sources of a state’s international behavior?

F 1/24 Theoretical approaches
Required readings:
– Snyder, “One World, Rival Theories”, pp.1-10
– Gilbert, “He who casts the first stone”., pp. 11-13
To think about:
The different assumptions behind each of the theoretical approaches Snyder lays out; the impact of psychology on leaders and the wider population of their understanding of the world.

M 1/27 Theories continued
Required readings:
– Chomsky, “Whose security”, pp.14-23
To think about:
How and why Chomsky’s analysis differs from the approaches discussed in the last class.

W 1/29 Domestic sources: Institutions and Politics
Required readings:

– “The Domestic Context”, pp.24-51
– Simon & Benjamin, “Trump’s ‘Wag the Dog’ Moment”, pp.54-57
To think about:
How foreign policy is made in the US.  The impact of domestic politics on US foreign policy.

 F 1/31 US Exceptionalism?
Required readings:

– Holsti, “Exceptionalism in American foreign policy: Is it exceptional?”, pp.58-79

US foreign policy: The early years

M 2/3 History: The US at independence *
Required readings:
Declaration of Independence (focus in particular on those grievances that have to do with foreign relations and relations with native tribes;  at the link you can click on each grievance for background information on it).
– Treaty of Alliance Between the US and France (1778), pp.82-85
– Federalist Papers # 3 (1787), pp.86-88
– Federalist Papers # 4 (1787), pp.89-92
– Federalist Papers #5 (1787), pp.92-95
– Washington’s Farewell Address (excerpts – 1796), pp.96-98
To think about:
– What were the images of the outside world that were reflected in these documents?  How did these images affect domestic political debates and issues?
Reading reflection #1 on theoretical approaches (1/24 – 1/31) due.

W 2/5 War of 1812 & Monroe doctrine
Required readings:
– “War of 1812”, pp.99-107
– “‘War Hawks’ urge military confrontation with Britain”, pp.108-109
– Adams, “She Goes Not Abroad in Search of Monsters to Destroy” (1821), pp.110-114
– Monroe Doctrine (1823), pp.115-116
To think about
– The choices the US had in dealing with external factors; the impact of domestic politics on foreign policy; the effects of foreign policy on domestic politics

F 2/7 No class, snow day

M 2/10 Jacksonianism
Required readings:
– Mead, “The Jacksonian Tradition and American Foreign Policy”, pp.117-146
To think about:
– Whether and to what extent historical experiences and ideas continue to inform US foreign policy.

Trade and China
Required readings:

– Denby, “America’s opportunity in Asia, pp.148-155
– “Secretary of State John Hay and the Open Door in China, 1899–1900”, pp.156-157

– Plante, “US Marines in the Boxer Rebellion, pp.158-161
To think about:
– The importance of trade for US policy; the history of US relations with China

W 2/12 Indian wars
Required reading:
– Williams, “US Indian Policy and the Debate over Philippine Annexation”, pp.164-185
– Schake, “Lessons from Indian wars”, pp.186-189
To think about:
– Were the Indian Wars a part of US foreign policy? Think about the argument that they set a pattern for US interactions with the outside world going forward. Contrast the argument made by Williams with Schake’s argument.

F 2/14 Spanish American War — The Philippines and Cuba
Required readings:
– Ostend Manifesto, pp.190-196
– “Can US afford to fight Spain?”, pp.197-203
– “US President McKinley:  War Message”, pp.204-209
– “US President McKinley and the Philippines”, pp.210-213
– “The US, Cuba and the Platt Amendment”, p.214
– “Roosevelt Corollary” 1904, pp.215-216
– “Tearing down the Spanish Flag”
To think about:
– The sources of US interventionism
Reading reflection #2 on readings on Early Years  (2/3 – 2/14) due.

World War I to the Cold War

M 2/17 World War I and its aftermath
Required readings:
– McDougall, “Wilsonianism”, pp.218-230
– Wilson, 14 points, pp.234-237
– Wilson, “Appeal for Support of the League of Nations”, pp.238-243
– Lodge, Speech against League of Nations, pp.244-247
– Cooper, “The Last Time the US Turned Away from the World”, pp.248-252
– Tooze, “Raising the Stakes”, pp.254-258
To think about:
– what factors is Wilson appealing to in his arguments for the US to join the League of Nation?  What factors does Lodge appeal to in his argument against?  What principles are behind Wilson’s 14 points?

W 2/19 World War II and the origins of the postwar order
Required readings:
– Atlantic Charter, pp.260-261
– The Yalta Conference, pp.262-268
– Mazarr, “The Real History of the Liberal Order”, pp.269-272
– Truman speech at signing of North Atlantic Treaty, pp.273-275
– Truman, Speech asking Senate to ratify NATO treaty, pp.276-277
To think about:
– The principles that the post-war international order were based  upon. Do Truman’s appeals for support for NATO differ from Wilson’s? If so how?

Volume 2 of the course reader starts here

F 2/21 Cold War
Required readings:

– McDougall, Ch.7 Containment, pp.279-291
– Gaddis, “The US and the Origins of the Cold War”, pp.296-300
–  X, “Sources of Soviet Conduct”, pp.301-317
– The Truman Doctrine, pp.319-323
– “Communist Contagion”, p.324
– “Two Worlds”, p.325
– “How Communists Menace Vital Materials”, p.326

To think about:
– The image of the international arena that is being portrayed in the documents.  The sources of US conduct.

M 2/24 Cold War Interventionism: Iran & Vietnam
Required readings:
– Dehghan, “CIA admits role in 1953 Iranian coup”, pp.327-328
– Cassidy, “The Lessons of Classified Information”, pp.329-331
– Logevall, “Structure, Contingency, and the War in Vietnam”, pp.332-343
Johnson, “Peace without conquest” (on Sakai)
To think about:
– Why did the US intervene in Iran?  Why in Vietnam?

M 2/24 Film: Apocalypse Now
6:30pm CNS 112

W 2/26 Late Cold War
Required readings:
– Reagan, “Evil Empire” speech 1983, pp.346-348
– Beckhusen, “New Documents Reveal…”, pp.349-351
– Meisler, “Reagan recants” (1988), pp.352-354
Red Dawn
Day After

F 2/28 Now What? Debates at end of cold war
Required readings:
– Maynes, “America Without the Cold War”, pp.355-366
Reading reflection #3 on readings about World War I to the Cold war (2/14 – 2/28).


After the Cold War

M 3/2 Democracy promotion
Required readings:
Reagan speech to House of Commons 1982 (on Sakai)
– Lynn-Jones, “Why the US Should Spread Democracy”, 368-378
– Robinson, “Promoting Polyarchy: 20 years later”, pp.382-288
To think about:
– Contrast the views of Reagan and Lynn-Jones to Robinson’s analysis.  Why do they differ?
Take-home Exam #1 due by 4pm on Sakai

W 3/4 Presentations #1 & 2

F 3/6 No Class (film screening earlier in the week)

M 3/9 – F 3/13 Spring break, no classes

M 3/16 
Al Qaeda  and 9/11
Required reading:
– Tierney, “The Twenty Years’ War”, pp.389-393
– Excerpts from Al Qaeda in its own words, pp.395-415
Links of interest:
– Letters from Abbottabad (internal Al Qaeda communications)
To think about:
How and why Al Qaeda came into existence.  What were its goals?

W 3/18 – F 3/20 Bush, Afghanistan, and Iraq
Required readings:
– Judis, “Chosen Nation”, pp.426-432
– Rhodes, “The Imperial Logic of Bush’s Liberal Agenda”, read pp.434-444 (Up to the note “Stop here”)
National Security Strategy of the US (2002) (on Sakai)
National Security Strategy of the US (2006) (on Sakai)
– Smith, “From Woodrow Wilson in 1902 to the Bush doctrine in 2002”, pp.457-477
– TBD, Time/Date TBD
Presentation # 3 on Wednesday 3/18

M 3/23 Presentations #4 & 5

W 3/25 Obama
Required readings:
– Obama Nobel speech, pp.479-486
– Rose, “What Obama Gets Right”, pp.487-497
– Stephens, “What Obama Gets Wrong”, pp.498-501
To think about:
What are the ideals that Obama lays out for his foreign policy? How do they contrast to those of Bush? Of earlier presidents?

F 3/27 Obama
Required readings:
– Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine”, pp.502-534
National Security Strategy of the US (2010) (on Sakai)
Reading reflection #4 on readings on After the Cold War (3/16 – 3/27) due

Presentation #6

F 3/27 is the last day to withdraw from the course


Current issues

M 3/30 Trump
Required readings:
– Mead, “The Tea Party and American Foreign Policy”, pp.535-542
– Anton, “The Trump Doctrine”, pp.543-550
– Trump foreign policy speech April 2016, pp.551-560
– Goldberg, “A Senior White House Official Defines the Trump Doctrine”, pp.561-563

Volume 3 of the course reader starts here

W 4/1 Trump
Required readings:

– Landler, “Trump the Insurgent”, pp.564-570
– Ikenberry, “The Plot against American Foreign Policy”, pp.571-578
National Security Strategy of the US (2017) (on Sakai)

 F 4/3 – M 4/6 Russia 90s to today
Required readings:

– Cohen, excerpts from Failed Crusade, pp.580-599
– Bender, “Russia Beating US in race for global influence, Pentagon study says”, pp.608-610
– Graham, “Let Russia be Russia”, pp.611-623
Presentation #7 on Friday 4/3

W 4/8 North Korea
Required readings:
– McNeill, “Unknown to Most Americans…”, pp.624-626
– Osnos, “The Risk of Nuclear War”, pp.627-649
– Osnos, “No laughing matter”, pp.650-652
– Cassidy, “Is it time to accept the reality of a nuclear-armed North Korea?”, pp.653-655

 F 4/10 Iran
Required readings:
– Review materials on Iran from 2/24 on Cold War Interventionism
– Benjamin and Simon, “America’s Great Satan”, pp.656-665
– Coasten, “The Iraq War hawks are back”, pp.666-669
Presentation #8

M 4/13 China
Required readings:
– Wang, “China’s Search for a Grand Strategy”, pp.670-681
– Carlson, “The World According to Xi Jinping”, pp.682-688

W 4/15 China
Required readings:
– Allison, “The Thucydides Trap: Are the US and China headed for war?” (2015), pp.689-698
– Allison, The Thuycdides Trap” (2017), pp.699-700
Presentation # 9

 F 4/17 China
Required readings:
– Yan Xuetong “How China Can Defeat America”, pp.702-706
– Yan Xuetong, “The Age of Uneasy Peace”, pp.707-713

M 4/20 – W 4/22 Trade *
Required readings:
– He and Ye, “World Economic Order: Present and Future”, pp.714-716
– Goodman, “Grand Bargain to Strengthen the Global Economic Order”, pp.717-719
– Clinton on China Trade Bill, 2000, pp.720-725
– Rodrik, “Too late to Compensate Free Trade’s Losers”, pp.726-72
Presentation # 10 on Monday 4/20
Reading reflection #5 on readings on Current Issues (3/30 – 4/22) due on Wednesday 4/22


The Future

F 4/24 Future of the Liberal International Order
Required readings:

– Mearsheimer, “Bound to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order”, pp.728-771
Presentation #11

M 4/27  Liberal Order debate
Required readings:
– Lind & Wohlforth, “The future of the liberal order is conservative”, pp.772-782
– Ikenberry, “Why the Liberal World Order Will Survive”, pp.783-794

W 4/29 Grand strategy debate
Required readings:
– Hurlburt, “More Diplomacy, Less Intervention”, pp.796-800
– Fuchs, “America doesn’t need a grand strategy”, pp.801-805
Suggested reading:
Bacevich, “Tyranny of Defense Inc.” (on Sakai)
Friedman & Sapolsky, “Unrestrained: The politics of America’s primacist foreign policy” (on Sakai)

 F 5/1 Grand Strategy – politics
Required readings:

– Ward, “2020 Democrats’ foreign policy divide”, pp.806-808
– Fonte, “The Trump Doctrine: The Future of Conservative Foreign Policy”, pp.810-824
– Kahl & Brands, “Trump’s Grand Strategic Train Wreck”, pp.825-833

M 5/4 Conclusions
Presentation #12

Exam #2 Due by Friday 5/8 at 4pm