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Custodians of a tradition: Republican leaders and the development of American foreign policy, 1944-1949

Tyrrell, Anthony John

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Anthony John Tyrrell


A study of the attempt by leading members of the Republican Party to define a coherent Republican attitude to foreign affairs at a time when America’s role was being transformed. The principal Republican leaders are identified as Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan and John Poster Dulles, foreign policy adviser to Thomas E. Dewey. The study is based on research in archive collections in the United States, including the personal papers of Dulles, Vandenberg and Herbert Hoover, and on analysis of the published writings of Republican leaders.
Conceptually the study rejects the notion that the Republican record on foreign affairs was "isolationist" and it re-interprets the Republican Tradition as being one of Nationalism. The Internationalists in the Republican Party are seen as a small but disproportionately vocal minority who, unlike the Nationalists, accepted Wendell Willkie’s concept of inter-dependence. The dominant leaders, Dulles and Vandenberg, are revealed as pragmatists who consciously avoided close identification with the Internationalists in order to maximize their influence in the Republican Party.
The study demonstrates how a majority of Republicans in Congress had continuing reservations about the direction of American foreign policy. They critized Roosevelt and Truman for their alleged failure to stand up for American principles and interests at the war-time conferences and they were opposed to the promotion of post-war policies which stood in the way of the restoration of domestic "Normalcy". Many Republicans were, however, manoeuvred into supporting the British Loan, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan by Administration exploitation of the anti-communist issue, but by 1948 still only a minority had come to accept the underlying assumptions of American post-war planning. In consequence, Republicans tended to press for a policy that was more consistently anti-communist than that which the Administration appeared to be following, whilst at the same time looking for a reduction in economic, military and political commitments. The most prominent articulators of this viewpoint were Hoover and Rebert A. Taft, but as this study demonstrates, elements of this apparently contradictory position were present in the thinking of both Vandenberg and Dulles. To the end of his life Vandenberg never lost his concern that the United States might impair its own economy and way of life by over-commitment. Dulles also, who was extremely sensitive to domestic political constraints on foreign policy, tended to emphasize American moral and intellectual leadership and to argue for less costly initiatives such as a world-wide Intelligence service and promotion of European unity with the ultimate end of making Europe self-supporting. As the study demonstrates, the surprise defeat of Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election was a blow to Vandenberg and Dulles' leadership; in the aftermath of defeat the initiative although not the final victory belonged to those who, with Taft and Hoover, had had deep reservations about the development of American foreign policy in the post-war years.


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