America Between the Wars

In this book, CFR Senior Fellow James M. Goldgeier and Derek H. Chollet explore how the decisions and debates of the years between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Twin Towers shaped the world we live in today. Teaching notes by Dr. Goldgeier.

June 25, 2009

Teaching Notes

America Between the Wars surveys the ideas and politics that drove U.S. foreign policy in the aftermath of 11/9 (November 9, 1989–the fall of the Berlin Wall). It suggests that while 9/11 was a searing event for all Americans, it did not change everything for America's role in the world. Rather, it woke people up to problems that already existed: Islamic extremism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failed states and civil wars, and the upheavals caused by globalization. The book covers the evolution of the Democratic and Republican parties after 1989, analyzes both economic and national security issues, and demonstrates how the decisions and debates between the fall of the Wall and the collapse of the Twin Towers shaped the events, arguments, and politics of the world we live in today.

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This book, along with the teaching notes, discussion questions, and suggestions for further projects, are ideal for courses on American foreign policy, American national security policy, and modern American history.

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Discussion Questions

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  1. What was 11/9 and why is that date so pivotal in the recent history of American foreign policy?
  2. What was the doctrine of containment, and why was it so hard to replace it when the Cold War ended?
  3. Why did the end of the Cold War lead to splits within the Republican Party? In what ways did the end of the Cold War provide an opportunity for the Democrats?
  4. What role have the neo-conservatives played during the past two decades?
  5. What did George H. W. Bush mean when he spoke of a New World Order?
  6. Why has Iraq dominated the American foreign policy debate since 1990?
  7. Why was Bill Clinton's approach to globalization so radical for the Democratic Party? Why was the passage of NAFTA in 1993 so significant—both then and now?
  8. Why did NATO conduct its 1999 military campaign against Serbia even though it had no authorization from the United Nations Security Council? How are those events similar and different to the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War?
  9. What are the foreign policy legacies of the Bill Clinton years?
  10. Who was the interventionist hawk and who was the champion of a more humble foreign policy in the 2000 campaign?

Further Projects

Debate

Divide students into small teams and organize a debate on one or more of the issues raised in the book:

  • The pros and cons of an active American role in the world
  • The ability of the United States to promote democracy in other parts of the world
  • The importance of a strong United Nations for an effective American foreign policy
  • The benefits and costs of a free trade policy
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Role Playing

Groups of students would represent different agencies in the United States government—e.g., U.S. State Department, U.S. Treasury Department, and Pentagon—as well as the National Security Council staff and the Office of the Vice President. A crisis erupts somewhere in the world—a meltdown in an important nation's economy or a military coup, for example—and each group has to make an argument to the president about what to do. Each group can work on an "options memo" ahead of time, and then one student is responsible for arguing the position of the group. The president should be prepared to ask questions and make a decision in a mock meeting of the foreign policy principals.

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Political History and Theory

United States

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