Criminal Justice and Foreign Policy

Criminal Justice in America does not exist in a vacuum.  International and trans-national crime are major issues for local, state, and national criminal justice agencies.  That’s why Florida Tech Online Criminal Justice students take a course in Global Perspectives, another in Terrorism and Homeland Security, and a course in Compardative Criminal Justice Systems as requirements for the Bachelor of Arts degree.

Colonel Scott Caldwell, US Army, Retired, is a lead instructor in Terrorism and Homeland Security as well as Global Perspectives.  He has extensive knowledge of such matters through both his distinguished military career and his academic endeavors.  We often wonder how the United States has become the target of terrorists, and how we became involved in so many foreign affairs.  I have asked Colonel Caldwell to share some of his insights.

US Foreign Policy – Isolationism on the Eve of Resurrection? (Part I of a Two-Part Series)

By Scott P. Caldwell

Adjunct Professor-Terrorism and Homeland Security; Global Perspectives

Based on the wars that we observed between the prevailing powers in Europe at the end of the 18th Century and the beginning of the 19th Century, our forefathers adopted a foreign policy that would keep us free from involvement in other nation’s political affairs.  They were acutely aware of the cost of such relationships in men, materials and money, and the unpredictability of both friend and foe.  In his Farewell address at the end of his final term as President, George Washington said:

 “’There can be no greater error than to expect, or calculate upon real favours from Nation to Nation. ‘Tis an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard….’Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent Alliances, with any portion of the foreign world”.

Jefferson echoed this policy in his inaugural address, “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”  For almost our first 170 years as a nation, we continued with an isolationist foreign policy.  Perhaps isolationism was one of the contributing factors in our rapid development as a nation, continual improvements in our quality of life and the growth of our industrialization and economy.  Of course, being surrounded on two sides by sizable bodies of water, a like-minded neighbor to the north and a nation to the south that posed no direct threat certainly set the conditions for this policy’s success.

Although our first departure from isolationism came during World War I, we were able to quickly return to it at the end of the war, refusing to accept the Treaty of Versailles and avoiding membership in the League of Nations.  Although our involvement in World War II was thrust upon us, directly and indirectly, it was events and the world situation that followed that ended isolationist policy to date.  We can’t accept total blame for sticking our noses into the affairs of other nations.  Although our alliance with Russia during WWII was a necessity, our reservations remained about their post-war motives.  These became a reality with the separation of Germany and the beginning of the Cold War.  Virtually the only nation remaining with the resources to lead other like-minded nations in deterring the forced expansion of Communism by the new USSR, we began our meddling.

America jumped into its new foreign policy with both feet, finishing neck deep, with some believing that we are in over our heads.  A seemingly unending series of diplomatic, political and military entanglements followed over the next 60+ years, leaving us with as many enemies as we have friends, financially broken, our reputation tarnished and without 600,000+ of our citizens who paid the ultimate price for our new policy.  Assistance programs such as the Marshall Plan and aid to Greece and Turkey under the Truman Doctrine followed by membership in NATO and the UN, and military support for the UN resolution in Korea started the ball rolling.  These were quickly followed by military and clandestine activities in the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, troops to the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Grenada, Panama and involvement in civil wars throughout Central and South America during the 70s and 80s.  We also intensified our involvement with countries such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan and others in the Middle East in order to control the spread of Communism there.

With the end of the Cold War, we were provided with the opportunity to return to familiar ground with our foreign policy.  But with the USSR out of action, our “just pride” got in the way and we continued our entanglements.  Our belief was that our security rested in actively setting conditions for democracies around the globe.  In 1990, I was part of a US-led coalition to stop the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.  This was followed by our involvement in Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo and likely many other places that we don’t have the right level of security clearance to know about.

When you push your way through a crowd, you are bound to step on some toes.  The 9/11 attacks were the wake-up call we finally heard, confirming for us that a careless foreign policy can have unintended results.  Our active support of Israel, involvement in the Middle East and political “puppetry” in many other nations crossed the line for Al Qaeda and other similar groups and their supporting nations.  Without question, the attacks demanded a response to bring the terrorists to justice to reduce, if not eliminate, their ability to repeat such attacks.  With our egos on our sleeve and all of the best self-serving intentions possible, we decided that we could eliminate Al Qaeda, create a new democracy in Afghanistan (and maybe Pakistan) and clean up some unfinished business in Iraq in short order.  Instead we found ourselves in military and political quick sand, unable extricate ourselves from either war for nearly10 years and at a cost of somewhere between $1 and $3.7 trillion taxpayer dollars and more than 260,000 deaths of coalition forces and civilians….our reputation food for the buzzards. 

Debatable questions remain: Are we safer from our change in foreign policy since 1945?  Is the world a better place than it would have been if we had returned to an isolationist policy?  Are we stronger economically, financially in America because of our foreign policy?  Is the average American better off?  Do we stand in good stead with our global neighbors like we believed we did during our first 170 years as a nation?  Can we continue with our current foreign policy and survive?

Perhaps a more answerable question is “Are we on the verge of a return to a foreign policy of isolationism?”


Colonel Caldwell will return in a future post for Part II.  My next blog will ask how all this matters to those of us studying or practicing Criminal Justice.

photo credit: <a href=””>KamiSilenceAction</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

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