Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What are the worst U.S. foreign policy decisions of the last 50 years?

As a first cut and being very telegraphic:

1. Vietnam 1965
2. Cambodia 1969-70
3. Chile 1973
4. Iraq 2003
5. Nicaragua and El Salvador 1980s

Number 5 is a series of decisions (or course of policy) rather than a discrete decision. Same for what might be my number 6, the backing of the resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan and then forgetting about the country after that (until 9/11). Number 7 might be the failure to stop the Rwandan genocide.

Update to the list: The Bay of Pigs (as Hank mentions) and subsequent Cuba policy. Some might want to throw in the failed Iranian hostage rescue mission, but that was a question more of implementation/execution or just bad luck, I think. Open to correction though. Then there are the omissions rather than the acts, e.g., failure to do anything very effective about al Qaeda until after 9/11.


hank_F_M said...


I did some arithmetic so I suppose the Bay of Pigs does not make the cut usless we do some rounding of the numbers.

Actually, they are all series of decisions.

Vietnam should be 1961-75.

Abandoning the boat people at sea 1975 is right up their.

Intervening is Somalia is also up their. 1991-2

Cambodia seems problematic. It is part of the whole Vietnam thing.

Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

LFC said...

Good point on the Bay of Pigs. I had overlooked that.

You know what else I'd throw in, speaking of the Bay of Pigs? The trade embargo on Cuba, from the 1959 revolution to the present (outside the 50 year cutoff, but not if you treat it as an ongoing, renewed decision). Dumb, dumb, dumb policy.


"Cambodia seems problematic. It is part of the whole Vietnam thing."

Yes and no. Mostly no. Nixon and Kissinger made a decision to expand the war into Cambodia. They had their reasons, such as they were, but if they had not been committed to "peace with honor," if they had just declared victory and gotten out (in George Aiken's phrase), they wouldn't have had to bomb Cambodia and then invade Cambodia and Laos. To try to get N Vietnam to negotiate an "honorable" peace settlement, Kissinger needed some way to keep up the military pressure (cf. M.J. Smith's succinct discussion in his chap. on Kissinger in Realist Thought from Weber to Kissinger, pp.213-14). There was also, I suppose, the aim of trying to interdict the supply routes, was it part of the Ho Chi Minh trail?, that ran through Cambodia, but given the strategy of Vietnamization it was probably too late for that to make much if any strategic sense by 1969-70. In short, the bombing and invasion of Cambodia is a separate decision, connected to the Vietnam war of course, but not a necessary, inevitable part of the war. If N&K had taken a different approach, it would not have been necessary.

e julius drivingstorm said...

Didn't the UN vote to almost unanimously censure the Reagan administration for his bombing of Tripoli and again for his war against Grenada?

I would say that if you were to consider the damage to US reputation world wide, perhaps the fiasco when Reagan sold arms to Iran (not long after taking office) has to take the cake, given the fact that Iran had only released the 55 hostages coinciding with his inauguration.

While many consider President Reagan's legacy of having proactively created the circumstances to bring the cold war to a close qualifies him for Mt. Rushmore consideration, a case can be made for his bare hindquarters on the opposite side of the same landmark.

LFC said...

Re Reagan's sale of arms to Iran:
Yes - I had intended my telegraphic reference to 'Nicaragua 1980s' to encompass the Iran-Contra scandal. Should have made that clearer.

I don't recall offhand whether the UN censured Grenada and the raid on Tripoli; but probably it did.

Reagan and the end of the Cold War: this is an area of controversy. But on the whole I am not a fan of Reagan's foreign policy. The so-called 'Ivan and Anya' speech is one exception. I referred to it in this post. So is his willingness to negotiate the removal in '87 of the intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe that he had put in at the beginning of his admin.

LFC said...

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Trying again: