August 29, 2013, 8:55 pm

Burning the White House, 1814

Dan Drezner posted a list of his nominations for the 10 worst foreign policy decisions in American history, using William Shatner’s The Transformed Man recording as a measure of appalling awfulness:

In honor of the above clip, what are the “Shatners” of American foreign policy? I mean, what are the true clusterf*cks that constrained U.S. actions, haunted future generations of American policymakers, and wreaked the greatest costs on the rest of the world?

The list is good, but post-World War I centric. I’d like to nominate a few from earlier:

1) Taking the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. At one stroke it sucked the United States into the eastern Pacific, put us athwart the lines of supply for Japanese raw materials and basically helped lead to World War II. All for a decision that President McKinley claimed he made by pulling an all-nighter:

When I next realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do with them. I sought counsel from all sides—Democrats as well as Republicans—but got little help. I thought first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then other islands perhaps also. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me…


2) The War of 1812. Any decision that ends up with Washington being burned by an occupying army and with a good chunk of the country potentially threatening to secede has to rank up there, right? Madison got lucky that the British were war-weary, that Francis Scott Key could write a rousing song with the best of them, and that Andrew Jackson managed a victorious battle (after the war was over) that was well-remembered.

I can’t imagine why Professor Drezner is thinking about foreign policy blunders right now.

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