James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

TWE Remembers: The Fight over the Panama Canal Treaties

by James M. Lindsay Wednesday, March 16, 2011
President Jimmy Carter at the White House discussing the Panama Canal Treaty during a nationally televised fireside chat. (Courtesy National Library of Congress)

President Obama begins his Latin America trip on March 19. When he stops in Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador the official business will range from trade to energy to regional security. One issue that won’t be on the agenda is the Panama Canal. That is because on this date in 1978 the Senate narrowly passed the “Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal,” thereby removing what had been a long-standing irritant in U.S. relations with Latin America. Read more »

TWE Remembers: The Lend-Lease Act

by James M. Lindsay Friday, March 11, 2011
American twin-engine bombers, provided by lend-lease, are shown being hoisted aboard ship in an American port. (Courtesy the National Archives)

Americans like to imagine that in days long past politics stopped at the water’s edge and America spoke with one voice to the world. More often than not, however, our foreign policy debates have been rough-and-tumble affairs, more a cacophony of angry voices than a harmony of sweet ones. Nowhere was this more true than in the pitched battle over one of the most important pieces of foreign policy legislation in American history, the Lend–Lease Act, which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law on March 11, 1941.

The seeds for the Lend-Lease Act were planted in the late fall of 1940. FDR had just been elected to an unprecedented third term, a race he won at least in part by pledging to an American public worried about war with Germany: “Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” (Upon learning of what FDR said, his opponent, Wendell Wilkie, erupted: “That hypocritical son of a bitch! This is going to beat me!” That’s one political prediction that turned out to be correct.)

In December 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote to FDR with the chilling news that Britain was verging on bankruptcy. The “Battle of Britain” over the previous summer and fall had taken a heavy toll. Churchill confessed that: “The moment approaches when we shall no longer be able to pay cash for shipping and other supplies.” Without supplies from the United States, Britain might not be able to hold out against the German onslaught.

Read more »

The World Next Week: A No-Fly Zone for Libya?

by James M. Lindsay Thursday, March 10, 2011
U.S. Navy F-18 fighters would likely be used in any U.S. effort to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

U.S. Navy FA-18 fighters would likely be used in any U.S. effort to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. (KYODO Kyodo/courtesy Reuters)

The podcast for The World Next Week is up. Bob McMahon and I talked about the upcoming G8 foreign ministers meeting in Paris, where the Libyan crisis will top the agenda; intensified violence in Cote d’Ivoire; the continued drama over the federal budget as the two-week stopgap spending bill will soon expire; and the new Irish prime minister’s work to solve Ireland’s fiscal woes.

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The highlights:

  • France and Great Britain are proposing to impose a “no-fly zone” over Libya, but Russia’s vow to veto the idea at the UN Security Council may kill the proposal before it gets off the ground.
  • President Obama has condemned the increasing bloodshed in Cote d’Ivoire as “abhorrent,” but there are no signs that the United States or anyone else intends to intervene to stop the violence.
  • Democrats and Republicans continue to bicker over the budget, but neither side looks eager to force a government shutdown—at least not yet.
  • Enda Kenny, Ireland’s new Taoiseach (or prime minister), has his hands full trying to recapture the glory of Ireland’s days as a “Celtic Tiger.”

Read more »

TWE Remembers: Pancho Villa’s Raid on Columbus, New Mexico

by James M. Lindsay Wednesday, March 9, 2011
A U.S. Army camp in Columbus, New Mexico. (courtesy Library of Congress)

The events in Columbus, New Mexico had a back story. It began five years earlier when Porfirio Díaz was pushed out as president (more accurately, dictator) of Mexico after thirty-five years in power. (Díaz is credited with uttering the line, “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!”) His ouster ushered in years of political instability as Mexico went through several leaders and was wracked by revolutionary currents. Read more »