Digital History

The Past Three Decades: Years of Crisis - Years of Triumph

A New American Role in the World Previous Next
Digital History ID 3361



In his inaugural address in 1961, John Kennedy stated that America would "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, or oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." But by 1973, in the wake of the Vietnam War, American foreign policymakers regarded Kennedy's stirring pledge as unrealistic. The Vietnam War offered a lesson about the limits of American power. It underscored the need to distinguish between vital national interests and peripheral interests and to balance America's military commitments with its available resources. Above all, the Vietnam War appeared to illustrate the dangers of obsessive anti-communism. Such a policy failed to recognize that the world was becoming more complex, that power blocs were shifting, and that the interests of Communist countries and the United States could sometimes overlap. Too often, American policy seemed to have driven nationalists and reformers into Communist hands and to have led the United States to support corrupt, unpopular, authoritarian regimes. The great challenge facing American foreign policymakers was how to preserve the nation's international prestige and influence in the face of declining defense budgets and mounting congressional opposition to direct overseas intervention.

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