Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Another winning paper: the U.S. GOP's foreign policy shift

How could the U.S. Republican Party shift from an isolationist foreign policy in the interwar years to an internationalist stance that has dominated national politics since President Dwight Eisenhower?

Geoffrey Levin's 52-page answer to that question won him one of the three highest academic awards at SAIS Bologna's end-of-the-year celebration last month.

Levin's paper for a class taught in the 2011 fall term by Prof. David Unger traces the foreign policies of Republican presidential candidates from Teddy Roosevelt through Richard Nixon.

Bit by an intellectual bug, Levin expanded his work in the spring term to include Republican policies through 2003.

Geoffrey Levin receiving his C. Grove Haines
award from Prof. Marco Cesa
Levin's work, which won him one of three C. Grove Haines prizes at the May 26 commencement ceremony, is a tour d'horizon of the Republican Party's transformation in the first seven decades of the 20th Century,  Levin's work stands out as a digestible and relevant thesis that explains the factors that pushed the GOP towards a more internationalist stance: political players, global events, the media and policy papers.

"The changes of that era continue to have profound effects on today, as different forms of internationalism continue to dominate the political debate," Levin writes before concluding that the next big Republican shift would require major global changes, efforts by key actors and "a leader like Eisenhower who facilitates the shift by meeting the most important priorities of the doctrine it hopes to supplant."

To read Geoffrey's paper for Prof. Unger's "Policies and Politics of the American Emergency State" class, click here.

Some of our readers may recognize Geoffrey, a graduate of Michigan State University. We published a post earlier this year after he won first prize in a competition organized by the Atlantic Community and sponsored by NATO and the U.S. mission in Germany. Next year he will be studying political science while on a scholarship at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Geoffrey answered some of our questions after winning his award.

Q: How did you get the idea for your paper?
Levin: The paper started with a question. In the course "Policies and Politics of the American Emergency State", I asked how the Republican Party transitioned from championing non-interventionism as late as the 1950s to supporting internationalism and intervention as much as or more than the Democrats by the 1960s. Professor Unger said he did not know the answer, but that the it would be a great research topic. A few weeks later when I needed to decide what to write about, I ultimately chose that. Looks like I made the right decision.

Q: What was the biggest challenge for you?
Levin: Organizing the paper was a challenge. About halfway through, I remember having a moment of crisis; its hard to write for 40+ pages and not feel like you are rambling. I then restructured the paper in a very specific way, into four parts. Once I did that, things became much easier, as it made one giant task into four smaller ones.

Q: Were you surprised by your conclusions?
Levin: When thinking of the decline of American isolationism, Pearl Harbor is usually seen as the definitive moment. As important as Pearl Harbor was, it took decades for attitudes to change fully, starting with the election of 1940 and ending during the Eisenhower Presidency. Events shape perceptions, perceptions shape politics and politics shape events. They usually affect each other in unforeseeable ways.

So while I did not know what to expect when I started my research, I don't know if I would say if I was surprised. But I did find the research so interesting that I expanded the project this semester for my American Foreign Policy thesis, looking at the Republican Party's foreign policy evolution up until 2003. In total, the two-part project, "The Remaking of Republican Foreign Policy: From Isolationism to Iraq", is at 110 pages. The role of domestic politics in foreign policymaking is one of my main interests, so I expect to be writing more on the issue as time goes on.

Nelson Graves

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