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The History of US Foreign Policy

Man walking with a sign around his neck that says "Curtis Anderson, my son."
Snapshot from Who Invited Us? Digital image. Films On Demand. 13 April 2018,

Foreign policy has been in the spotlight recently. Tensions with China are growing as President Trump places blame on the country for its handling of COVID-19. American tourists are restricted from traveling to many countries. The Trump administration has pushed for Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel.

Are current international political tensions “normal”? It depends on whom you ask. There will inevitably be conflicts with other nations. However, leaders can control their responses to those conflicts. US foreign policy interests change with each President and also change over time. Having a President with comparatively limited foreign policy experience plays a role in the unprecedented times we are living in.

Although foreign policy is ever changing, we can look to history to get a better grasp on international relations. Below are some documentary films that explore the history of US foreign policy. 

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Media Services has a wealth of online resources for your viewing needs. All of the films below are available through streaming with the use of your IU credentials.

Who invited us?

Capitalism vs. socialism. The search for petroleum. Ideology vs. investment. Does US intervention help solve other nations’ internal problems? The documentary Who Invited Us? explores these topics and others while examining US involvement in other countries. From intervention in Cuba to Japan to other Latin American countries, this film addresses economic, political, and military reasons for US intervention abroad. This 60-minute documentary helps viewers gain a more nuanced perspective on world politics and US foreign policy in the 20th century.

Is America In Retreat?

Armed military officer in uniform outdoors.
Snapshot from Is America In Retreat? Digital image. Films On Demand. 30 August 2018, 

Curious about US foreign policy in the 21st century? Explore US entanglement and policing in this film. According to this documentary, the political role of the US has been changing in the past two decades. How does this affect world order? American retreat from countries such as Syria and Ukraine opens the door for other powers to get involved. What happens when the US is absent from world affairs?

Now With Bill Moyers: Mark Hertsgaard On The World’s Love/Hate Relationship With America

Globalization vs. Americanization. In this interview, journalist and author Mark Hertsgaard discusses his own experiences while traveling and recounts several perceptions of the US abroad. Many other countries have a love-hate relationship with the United States, a relationship which has been under scrutiny in the 21st century, according to Hertsgaard. He believes that most of the world likes Americans, but that the American government can be problematic in the international sphere. This interview offers policy decisions in the last two decades that have been divisive at the international scale.

Headshot of Mark Hertsgaard being interviewed on a television stage set.
Snapshot from Now With Bill Moyers: The World’s Love/Hate Relationship With America. Digital image. Films On Demand. 05 March 2009,

Other Films to Watch

Media Services has a wide array of thought-provoking and informative titles on the subject of US Foreign Policy, past and present. The department provides ongoing media support to IU faculty and students, as well as campus entities like the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. Our materials are also available to the greater Bloomington community with a Borrower’s Card. Below are a few more titles of interest. If you want to connect with specific media resources but don’t find them among our holdings, feel free to contact us!

American Umpire

Will the rest of the world crumble if the US ceases to police international affairs? Is there room for another country to take on this role? This documentary depicts how the US became the “world’s policeman” and presents viewpoints on how long the country can and will keep playing this role.

Witness To History: US Intervention In Latin America

This 15-minute program offers a short history of US-Latin American affairs since the mid-19th century. Gain a better understanding of American involvement in the region.

What Price The Drug War?

This documentary film offers insight into the War on Drugs on both a national and international scale. Learn how the American national drug policy was used to intervene in Latin America and expand US policy interests abroad.

Guest student blogger Isabella Salerno is a senior majoring in Political Science and American Studies. In her free time she enjoys listening to music, drinking coffee, and doing puzzles.

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