Friday, August 19, 2011
Top Ten Foreign Policy Presidents: Part II
And now the conclusion....
5.) James Polk: Another polarizing figure since many perceive him to be entirely culpable for igniting the Mexican-American War. Though this is true to some degree that war's origins are more complicated with Mexico bearing much of the blame as well. Nevertheless, you don't have the the SW territories (mostly due to the aforementioned war) or the Oregon Territory without the clever diplomacy of Polk, especially concerning the latter since Polk was constantly having to work around the schemes of his Secretary of State James Buchanan who at every turn attempted to subvert Polk's foreign policy objectives.
4.) Theodore Roosevelt: TR not only originated the saying "speak softly and carry a big stick" but embodied it as well. Among his many foreign policy achievements: a closer alignment with Britain (the US/British relationship had become significantly stagnated over the years); sending the Great White Fleet around the world in order to display the Naval might of the United States, being the force behind the building of the Panama Canal, and earning a Nobel Peace Prize for mediating an end to the 1905 Russo-Japanese war.
3.) Thomas Jefferson: During a time when Europe was being turned upside down by Napoleon, Jefferson deftly managed the foreign relations of the United States, especially tempering his prior Francophilia to maintain a healthy balance between US interests with France and Great Britain and carefully keeping the country out of their conflict but also taking advantage of it by purchasing, at an amazingly cheap price, the Louisiana Territory (Napoleon was in dire need of funds to keep his campaigns going) which made way for the successful Lewis and Clark expedition. Also, Jefferson achieved victory in the Barbary Wars chiefly by intensifying the construction of the US Navy (started by his predecessor John Adams during the Quasi War with France) that ultimately proved requisite for our "success" against the Royal Navy during the War of 1812.
2.) James Monroe (John Quincy Adams): The Monroe Doctrine was a watershed moment in the history of the foreign policy of the United States. It essentially stated that any attempts by the European powers to intervene in the affairs of the countries in the Western Hemisphere (meaning chiefly Latin America) would be viewed as an act of aggression. This astute move by Monroe was pivotal in ensuring two things that were essential for the future growth of the United States: economic advantage and national security. (I'm cheating here a bit by including John Quincy Adams with Monroe but the fact of the matter is that Adams deserves much of the credit for the Monroe Doctrine because he was one of its chief architects.)
1.) Franklin Delano Roosevelt: There should be no surprise here. Though not personally a fan of FDR I cannot doubt that at a time when the American populace was fiercely isolationist it is admirable how ingeniously FDR involved the US in WWII (thus it is no surprise that many conspiracy theories developed so quickly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that suggested FDR either knew about the attack ahead of time or, more maliciously, orchestrated it himself). He achieved this by implementing such policies as the Lend-Lease Act which significantly aided Britain while the US was still "officially" not a participant in the war. I don't think any other President would have been able to juggle American isolationism with the pressing need to become more involved on the world stage. And for that FDR gets the top spot on my list.
Well, that's that. My top ten...for what it's worth. I know that many will disagree with some of my choices but at least it succeeds in being a much more comprehensive list than most I've seen. In summary, here's the complete list:
10.) George Washington
9.) Richard Nixon
8.) Abraham Lincoln
7.) Harry S. Truman
6.) George H.W. Bush
5.) James Polk
4.) Theodore Roosevelt
3.) Thomas Jefferson
2.) James Monroe (w/ John Quincy Adams)
1.) Franklin D. Roosevelt