About the Newsletter

The business and politics of foreign policy shapes everything that happens in the United States.

I’m writing Conflicts of Interest to help you understand — in simple, jargon-free language — how the history of what our country gets up to overseas impacts what’s happening in the world today.

It’s easy to take for granted that the United States has always been involved in the politics of other countries.

It feels like we’ve always had partners and allies around the world, from the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Germany in the Atlantic, to Australia, Japan and New Zealand in the Pacific.

But every hour, our media also reports on our country’s foreign enemies too, enemies like Russia and China, and smaller governments like Iran and Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, and Syria.

When we read about foreign policy in this way, the whole world can seem bound up in a struggle between East and West, good and evil, democracy under siege, and a creeping authoritarianism.

But living in constant fear of other countries is no way to live, and most importantly, it’s not even a factual, historical way to think about things.

Our country remains the most powerful military, political, and economic empire in world history. Over my lifetime, the fear that this is about to disappear tomorrow has sucked us into supporting deadly wars. It’s destroyed lives and resources which could’ve been spent building a future for all of us. It’s made us afraid and disconnected from each other, and the world.

It can be tough to know — beyond a vague sense that money and power are involved — what other countries are up to, or why we’re involved there. And if history is our guide, we shouldn’t expect big business, government, and the media to explain these things for us.

That’s our job. Reading this newsletter can help you explain these things for yourself the next time you see them in the news.

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About the author

If you’re looking for a newsletter written by a White House staffer, a war correspondent, or Ph.D. in political science, I’ve got recommendations, but that ain’t me.

I’m just a guy who grew up working class in the Midwest. My whole family works in customer service, and I did too.

I got lucky with a community college scholarship in the early 2010s, and have gotten to see, over the last ten years, a small sliver of how big business and national politics works in this country.

Mostly I learned how political power works by working. I spent midnights as a forklift driver, a landscaper, a warehouse picker, a fry cook, a busboy, a project manager, a grad student, and a political organizer for universal healthcare living off a credit card. Now I work at a small web agency and write to you on nights and weekends.

My credentials on this subject are basically the same as yours. I have some training in professional writing, and I have access to a world-class library, which are both real advantages. But basically, I’ve got all the information you do, and not much more. I’m just interested in this stuff, and I’m doing my best to pay close attention to what our country’s done, to remember how it turned out last time, and to ask if there are patterns we can draw for today.

I’m writing Conflicts of Interest, in part, to convince you that if I’ve got the tools to think critically about power, then you sure do too.

I haven’t yet, and don’t currently make any money from this newsletter. I do it because it was the best thing I could think to do with the lucky breaks I’ve been given in life. So if you like anything you read, the biggest show of support you can offer is to subscribe, like, comment, and share this work around the web.

I’ll talk to you in the next issue,


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A very basic history of US foreign policy.


Will Toms

Curating history. Learning to teach people, and to be taught.