America had remained mostly an isolated country until the late 1800’s when the United States was faced with the opportunity of building a colonial empire. By 1890 the United States, like Europe, had began to expand its influence onto islands in the Caribbean and South Pacific areas. They entered in other countries’ affairs claiming that it served the interests of all peoples and were motivated by Idealism. In reality, the United States was mostly after its own self-interest.
The Spanish-American War, the United States’ Open Door policy, and the control over the Panama Canal zone make it unclear if the United States was pursuing its own self-interest or was inspired by Idealism.In the Spanish-American War the United States was supposedly fighting for Cuba’s independence from Spain. Though Idealism might have been present in the United States’ reasons for war, there is evidence of America’s self-interests in the war. The United States did fight to defend the Cubans but it also fought to profit out of the war. When the war ended and the United States won, it offered Cuba self-government only if they agreed to the terms of the Teller Amendment which states, “Cuba should allow the United States the right to buy or lease naval stations”. Though there were advantages for the United States in the Spanish-American War, America fought mostly for the welfare of Cuba.
A good example of America’s pursuit for their own advantage in foreign affairs was the Open Door policy. China was expected to become a sphere of influence for European nations. The United States had a small percent of trade with China and was hungry for more. They issued the Open Door policy with the goal of preserving equal trading opportunities in China for all foreign nations. The United States was obviously only concerned for their own self-interest rather than the interest other countries trading with China.The United States claimed that they would build the Panama Canal for the advantage of Panama. Roosevelt said that he advanced “the needs of collective civilization” by speeding up the building of an interocean canal. The Canal was built by the United States for the use of the United States.
The United States needed a shorter route from one ocean to the other for its warships. This was a perfect example of how America was interested only in itself.The United States Argued that American foreign policy was inspired by Idealism. Though in some cases it was, like in the Spanish-American War, it was mostly for their advantage. The United States had ended isolation for thier benefit. Examples of how this is true is the Open Door Policy and the building of the Panama Canal.