America's most successful foreign-policy moves
have always reflected a blend of realism and
idealism, unilateralism and multilateralism. There
are no finer examples than the Truman Doctrine
(1947) and the Marshall Plan (1948), both intended
to aid or rebuild Europe after World War II and to
strengthen it against possible communist takeover.
In the doctrine named after him, President Harry S.
Truman enunciated a principle that would guide the
nation until the fall of the Soviet Union: "I
believe that it must be the policy of the United
States to support free peoples who are resisting
attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by
steadfastness and generally good results, subsequent
presidents applied Truman's doctrine in various
ways, in different parts of the world. Although
there would be the debacle of the Vietnam
War--justified by Congress in the 1964 Tonkin Gulf
Resolution--the high human cost of that conflict
taught lessons that were, in a cautionary way, no
less instrumental to the outcome of the Cold War
than were the good deeds of the thousands of
volunteers in the Peace Corps, established by John
F. Kennedy in 1961. Containment ultimately
prevailed, and by the final decade of the 20th
century, the last of the pernicious "isms"
was discredited and defeated.
increasingly dominant role in international affairs
brought the world to the brink of a more hopeful
future for all nations? That would be the outcome
George Washington keenly desired. And though many
contemporary realities--from terrorist insurgencies
to civil strife in wretchedly poor nations--militate
against the fulfillment of that dream, the
experiment introduced by the United States remains,
in Washington's words, "recommended by
every sentiment which ennobles human nature."