It is a remarkable testament to the American propaganda machine and the degree of mainstream media consensus that the United States’ foreign policy is still seen as primarily benign and humanitarian by so many people. Such a narrative has been created seemingly in complete denial of the facts. Even a cursory glance at the history of US militarism since 1945 would surely suggest that something is amiss. In the last four years alone, the United States has bombed seven Muslim countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Libya), rather putting the ‘War on Terror’ into perspective. Prior to 9/11, the US intervened militarily in Yugoslavia (1999), Panama (1989), Grenada (1983), Vietnam (1965-73), Cuba (1961) and Korea (1950-3), among many others. It must be asked then: What are the true aims of American foreign policy? And what have its consequences been?
The general aims can be defined as follows, as outlined by William Blum in his book, Rogue State:
making the world open and hospitable for neo-liberal globalisation
preventing the rise of any society that might serve as a successful example of an alternative to the capitalist model
expanding the empire: establishing political, economic and military hegemony over as much of the globe as possible to facilitate the first two imperatives
It would be impossible to enforce such objectives if it was widely known or believed that these were the true aims of US foreign policy. Therefore, an alternative narrative must be created to manufacture consent, promoting the US as the world’s heroic defenders of freedom against an existential threat, be it the looming spectre of the Soviet Union and Communism, or the newest menace in the form of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.
One would have thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union would mean that there was no further need for militarism on the scale that had previously been seen. Yet before 1989 was over, the United States invaded the small Central American country of Panama, and overthrew the regime there. Long before 9/11, American strategic planners and foreign policy advisers were plotting the next era of US global dominance. Think tanks, such as the Project for the New American Century, were advocating foreign policy objectives such as the regime change in Iraq many years before it was thought to tie-in Iraq and Saddam Hussein with al-Qaeda or the events of 9/11.
In fact, policy towards Iraq is perhaps the best demonstration of American foreign policy’s true aims and consequences. Throughout the Iraq-Iran war (1980-90) the United States fully supported Saddam Hussein, providing him with weaponry, including chemical weapons, even after his infamous gassing of the Kurds at Halabja in 1988. Iran was also being supplied to ensure the war was as destructive and profitable as possible.
After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991, US-imposed sanctions and bombing against Iraq resulted in more than a million deaths even prior to the invasion of 2003; that event caused at least a million further Iraqi deaths.
At the height of the sanctions in the 1990s, 5,000 children per month were dying of avoidable conditions due to the blockade of essential medicines and vaccinations. American policy towards Iraq and the Muslim world in general before 9/11 is certainly at least partially responsible for the tragic events of that day, and the rise of violent Islamic extremism.
Al-Qaeda’s founding statement in 1998 highlighted American troop presence in the Arabian peninsula and Muslim holy lands, particularly Saudi Arabia, and the US sanctions and bombing of Iraq. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the United States trained and funded the forerunners of al-Qaeda, the mujahideen, in Afghanistan in the 1980s to counter the Russians there, as well as Osama Bin Laden.
However, this is not at all contrary to the United States’ foreign policy goals; perpetual war and conflict is beneficial. It is profitable for many American corporations (military-industrial complex), and provides justification for further interventionism abroad to protect these interests. Meanwhile, the much-exaggerated threat of terrorism is also used to curb civil liberties at home.
It can be observed that the pursuit of America’s foreign policy objectives includes:
supporting dictatorships and repressive regimes that defend US interests
repressing popular and democratic movements that threaten US interests
engaging in covert or military action, including war, to protect these interests
Many popular and progressive movements and governments across the world have been subverted or overthrown, because they presented an alternative to the American system. It was simple to paint these movements as radical communist takeovers, when in reality most were democratically elected socialist governments who attempted to implement modest reforms.
The War on Terror is just the latest justification provided for the necessity of US global dominance. It is self-sustaining, as continued occupation and bombing of Muslim countries will create ever more terrorists. So long as the United States can guarantee a regular supply of oil from the Middle East, even barbarous groups such as Islamic State provide little actual threat to the United States’ interests – hence why they are being indirectly supplied with weaponry rather than wiped out. If and when Islamic fundamentalism is defeated, you can be sure that something new will rapidly take its place – a global war on drugs, perhaps.
The United States in reality has no interest in promoting democracy and human rights in its foreign policy agenda, unless this helps achieve another specific aim. Dictators and repressive regimes are not unduly pressurised if they are compliant with US military and business interests. To quote William Blum again, US foreign policy: ‘has caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned millions more to a life of agony and despair’.