Race and Ethnicity - Political realities



Astute politicians not only must be aware of broad-based national sentiment concerning a diplomatic issue, but also must give a hearing to ethnic minorities who have a particular interest in certain areas of the nation's foreign policy. Organized ethnic minorities can bring pressure on the government for specific policies that are peculiarly their own and that may favor their original homeland in relation to another nation or a particular political movement within the homeland, or simply reflect an attitude that is common to similar American immigrant groups.

So apparent and consistent are the desired diplomatic policies of some ethnic minorities that politicians can frequently anticipate what actions will solidify their support among these groups. Even though the resulting positions may flout foreign policy objectives outlined by the federal government, politicians have made attempts to please the large ethnic blocs within their constituency. Mayor William H. ("Big Bill") Thompson, for example, placated citizens of Irish extraction when in the late 1920s he threatened that he would "punch the snout" of the king of England should the monarch dare to enter Chicago.

New York City mayors Robert F. Wagner, John V. Lindsay, and Abraham D. Beame pursued a policy designed to meet with the approval of the city's three million Jews by refusing to welcome Arab rulers on goodwill tours of the United States. Politicians across the political spectrum share their contempt for Cuba's Communist dictator, Fidel Castro, in seemingly endless verbal assaults when the goal is to win the support of Cuban Americans.

Mayors and other local officials may irritate foreign leaders, but the extent to which such actions affect American diplomacy is relatively slight. More serious consequences can arise when ethnic minorities place sufficient pressures on the national government to alter the direction of foreign policy. During the first half of the twentieth century, for example, the development of a close understanding between the United States and Great Britain was blocked on several occasions by persistent Anglophobia that centered among citizens of Irish and German ancestry. These two minorities opposed early American intervention to aid Britain in both world wars. Partly on account of such opposition, the United States not only postponed early wartime alliances with Britain, but also handled peacetime rapprochement with extreme caution.



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