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Top 10 Foreign Policy Presidents, Number 8: Theodore Roosevelt

The history of American foreign policy can be divided between pre- and post-1898, meaning before and after the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt was one of the leading advocates for war with Spain after the USS Maine exploded, even though it was suspected to be an accident even at the time. He famously led the Rough Riders up Kettle (not San Juan) hill, becoming the biggest hero to emerge from the war. This not only helped Roosevelt’s political career but, in his mind, redeemed his family after his father abstained from fighting in the Civil War.

(Roosvelt's Big Stick Foreshadowed Ike's New Look)

Roosevelt became President after McKinley’s assassination and his foreign policy is credited with establishing America as a world power. He backed Panamanian independence from Colombia when the latter rejected America’s offer to build a canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Roosevelt became the first President to leave the country while in office to oversee the canal’s construction. The canal was part of his larger scheme to transform America’s navy into one of the greatest on Earth. The Navy became his famous “big stick,” allowing America to project its power abroad.

Bismarck unified Germany in 1870, destabilizing the relative peace in Europe that Metternich designed at the Congress of Vienna. Roosevelt defused two conflicts which could have ruptured the European system and brought World War I almost a decade early. The Russo-Japanese War was the more famous of the two and brokering its end won Roosevelt the Nobel Peace Prize. Britain and Germany were each contemplating interventing for their respective allies (Britain was allied with Japan and Germany was allied with Russia), meaning Roosevelt halted the conflict before it reached global proportions.

The other crisis occurred in 1902, when Germany sought to force Venezuela to pay its debt as a pretext for colonialism. Roosevelt sent a fleet to encounter the Germans off of Venezuela’s coast. He told the German ambassador that the Kaiser had ten days to back down before he would ask Congress to declare war. The Kaiser did. Roosevelt handled the crisis so quietly and skillfully that it remained little known until the 1970s, by which time, the similar and noisier Cuban Missile Crisis had passed.

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