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Problems with U.S. Foreign Policy

As inhabitants of this planet, we should regard a greater priority to the good of the world than simply to what those in power tell us is best for the U.S. Here I present my criticisms of U.S. foreign policy.

by Scott Teresi
© Copyright 2004

Do We Stand for Democracy?

Noam Chomsky

A brilliant thinker, Noam Chomsky is critical of unjust power structures in the world. An excerpt from his essay, “Deep Concerns,” March 20, 2003:

... The “imperial ambition” of the current [U.S. administration], as it is frankly called, has aroused shudders throughout the world, including the mainstream of the establishment at home. Elsewhere, of course, the reactions are far more fearful, particularly among the traditional victims. They know too much history, the hard way, to be comforted by exalted rhetoric. They have heard enough of that over the centuries as they were being beaten by the club called “civilization.” ...

Even before the Bush administration sharply escalated these fears in recent months, intelligence and international affairs specialists were informing anyone who wanted to listen that the policies Washington is pursuing are likely to lead to an increase in terror and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, for revenge or simply deterrence. There are two ways for Washington to respond to the threats engendered by its actions and startling proclamations. One way is to try to alleviate the threats by paying some attention to legitimate grievances, and by agreeing to become a civilized member of a world community, with some respect for world order and its institutions. The other way is to construct even more awesome engines of destruction and domination, so that any perceived challenge, however remote, can be crushed — provoking new and greater challenges. That way poses serious dangers to the people of the U.S. and the world, and may, very possibly, lead to extinction of the species — not an idle speculation. ...

>> Read more Chomsky.

Virtually all first world countries would have voted against us at the U.N. on the matter of starting war with Iraq in 2003. Countries like Germany and France have been through thousands of years of armed conflict on their own soil, both on the winning and losing sides. Countries like Russia and China (who might like a few regime changes themselves) felt the situation wasn’t as clear cut and moralistic as we were made to believe. Our government’s rhetoric left them unconvinced, as Noam Chomsky explains in the sidebar.

Germany, France, Turkey, Russia, Canada, to name a few—these countries acted in accordance with their citizens’ majority opinion on the matter. We as Americans seemed to attach little value to these starkly democratic votes of no confidence. What does this say about our true ideology, as Americans?

"None of our allies supported us. Not Japan, not Germany, not Britain or France. If we can't persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we'd better reexamine our reasoning." When former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said this, he was referring to Vietnam.

Our nation is in fact bound by international law as a result of the treaties we’ve signed with the U.N. When one of our leaders devalues democracy by proceeding as if we are above the law, why should I or any American citizen believe that his reasons truly are altruistic or geniune? Can’t this be compared to a leader bypassing his government’s legislative branch and declaring his own laws? Where are the checks and balances?

As I’ve described in another essay, our justification for attacking Iraq was dubious. Our national security was not threatened by Hussein, and virtually no Middle Eastern country felt war was necessary at the time for their security. While many American citizens were tacitly lead to believe otherwise, deposing Iraq would not hurt Al Qaeda, and in fact the war had the opposite consequence, as may be seen many years down the road.

Our government has proven to be influenced by a number of self-seeking, ulterior political motives. Our motives often include:

  • bowing to multinational corporations
  • supporting enormous military contracts (which consume 50% of our national budget)
  • influencing foreign elections
  • seizing international power and influence
  • maintaining control over natural resources
  • invoking fear through heightened aggression
  • distracting from domestic issues [1]

Bringing the world into our foreign policy decisions helps give perspective on the enormous temptations and conflicts of interest faced by our powerful elected leaders and our military industry and bureaucracy.

Our Country's Democratic Hypocrisy

Below is a brief list I've collected of some of the most anti-democratic actions our leaders have been involved in in recent history. (Thanks to Howard Zinn's A People’s History of the United States [2] for inspiration.) Unfortunately the vast majority of Americans are either unaware of these harmful practices or have been misled about their necessity.

These are some clear examples of why we should not trust the military rhetoric:

  • At the top of the list, of course, is the war in Vietnam, where we fought to free people who didn’t want to be freed, much less killed, and against a country which had little chance of threatening us.
  • But besides that, instead of responding with outrage, we’ve bowed to our own self-interest and supplied actual money and military manpower to torturous regimes and murderers of their own citizens in such countries as the Philippines (in 1980), Nicaragua (early 80’s), El Salvador (80’s), East Timor (90’s and earlier), and Colombia (now).
  • For dubious or even manufactured reasons, we’ve invaded Cuba (Bay of Pigs, 1961) and Grenada (1983).
  • The Nixon/Kissinger government supported a brutal dictator as he overthrew a democratically-elected socialist leader, Salvador Allende, in Chile in 1973. ITT, an American telecommunications company, had an interest in keeping Chile's copper mines from being nationalized. [3]
  • The Eisenhower administration outright overthrew a democratically-elected government in Guatemala (Jacobo Arbenz) in 1954 and replaced it with a dictatorship, kicking off four decades of oppression and 200,000 deaths. [4] Arbenz had tried to nationalize unused land owned by the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita), offering compensation for it equal to what the U.S. company had claimed the land was worth on its tax forms. High level U.S. administration officials had ties to United Fruit, including the CIA director and his brother, and the Secretary of State.
  • We long supported the brutal Shah of Iran even as he was finally overthrown by a popular revolt in 1978.
  • We continue to give millions in aid to the torturous regime in Colombia, which ranks third in military aid from us after Israel and Egypt.
  • Cuba has imprisoned its critics but has no bloody record of suppression as does China and other governments that receive U.S. aid.
  • We ran the School of Americas in Panama to guard (often brutally) against internal subversion of dictatorships in the region.
  • We’ve supported oppressive regimes in Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan in the 80’s and then, when the fickle winds of self-interest shifted out of their favor, attacked and tried to overthrow them.
  • We still support brutal warlords in Afghanistan, as our short-sighted strategic military partnerships bore out unintended political consequences which we are still not fixing fast enough.
  • In 1962, Juan Bosch was elected president in the Dominican Republic's first democratic election of the 20th century. Seven months later, he was overthrown in a coup and a dictatorship was installed again. After another two years, Bosch's government again took over, causing a civil war to break out in 1965. Under the flimsy pretense of fighting communism and protecting Americans abroad (though almost all Americans had been evacuated), Lyndon Johnson took sides with the dictatorship and, with the help of dictators from Brazil, Paragua, Honduras, and Nicaragua, U.S. troops overthrew the popular Bosch government. [5]
           "Most American politicians and media commentators readily accepted the official line, along with the reported death toll of 31 U.S. troops and 3,000 Dominicans, many of them civilians. Four decades later, the invasion is scarcely remembered in the United States. Yet there's a familiar ring to its story line, featuring a disingenuous administration and a deferential press corps selling the public on the dire need for an invasion. Key facts were lost in the kind of exculpatory fog that often prettifies the nation's view of its own military actions." [6]

Our very own country is continuing these practicies to this day. But what do we hear on the evening news? The government parrots the message of fighting for democracy and against oppression. This might be all well and good, but our actions often totally contradict that message.

  • In April 2002 we tacitly supported the coup of democratically-elected Hugo Chavez, worker’s party president of Venezuela, embarrassing ourselves days later when Chavez put down the revolutionaries. Then in December we thumbed our nose at democracy again by encouraging early elections, even though their Constitution didn’t sanction them for another eight months. [7]
  • U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a special trip to Azerbaijan to congratulate its new leader, Ilham Aliyev, brought to power in an election generally viewed as a sham by the international community. After the election, street protests were brutally suppressed, opposition figures tossed in prison and opposition press muzzled. Yet there was Rumsfeld, expressing his support, and negotiating a U.S. military base, most probably thanks to Azerbaijan’s enormous oil and gas reserves and proximity to Iran. “It’s a troubling echo of events that occurred 20 years ago, when Rumsfeld traveled to Baghdad to greet a man named Saddam Hussein.” (Only weeks before that meeting, Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iran. At the time, Rumsfeld ignored this too.) [8]
“Throughout the world, on any given day, a man, woman, or child is likely to be displaced, tortured, killed, or ‘disappeared’, at the hands of governments or armed political groups.

More often than not, the United States shares the blame.”

Amnesty International, 1996 [1]
Repeatedly, we’ve meddled militarily in foreign affairs and provided support to extremely brutal leaders, and the media isn’t doing its job of trumpeting this loud and clear to more Americans. The world already painfully knows these things. Our method of choosing our enemies first, then choosing whether to support a corrupt dictator or brutal regime as a result does not fit well with our country’s supposedly democratic and humanitarian ideals.
  • We hurt the Iranian people by providing battle-planning assistance to Iraq while we knew Saddam was using chemical weapons against them [9], and then we hurt the Iraqi people by sanctioning the country for invading Kuwait. This is how we screw with the lives of the poor and oppressed, just to get a slight edge against our competitors and enemies, when we should just stay out of it. If we hadn’t actively supported Hussein in the 80’s and hadn’t shown indifference to his plan to attack Kuwait when he bounced the idea off of us [10], then there’s a good chance he would’ve thought twice before attacking Kuwait, and the escalated state of world confrontation we later found ourselves in would never have happened.
  • The embedded values of our foreign policy have changed little since Marine Corp General Smedly Butler candidly confessed: "I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."

With this in mind, we regretably cannot afford to place blind trust in our commander in chief to make the best decisions for our foreign policy. The world and the U.N. are often needed to balance ulterior motives and interests of one country against everyone else’s, in a way similar to our legislative, executive, and judicial branches which try to maintain a balance of power within our borders. The U.S. is often an antagonist, rather than a motivator. We often encourage corruption, oppression, and violence by quietly siding with warlords and dictators. Without international law, it’s our president’s version of “justice” against the rest of the world.

My sense of patriotism for our government would be rejuvenated if our leaders understood the need to be credible and honest to the Americans who are watching them closely. “When it comes to fighting foreign wars, American presidents have been most successful when they adhered to a set of democratic principles: act with the consent of Congress, fight in alliance with other nations and exhaust diplomatic measures before going to war.” [11]

>> Also see my essay on the U.S. School of the Americas military training facility
, and its ties to the Nicaraguan Contras during the Reagan years.


[1] America’s Terrorist Roots

[2] A People’s History of the U.S., by Howard Zinn

[3] The Other Sept. 11

[4] Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas

[5] U.S. Interventions in Latin America

[6] Intervention Spin Cycle, by Norman Solomon

[7] Shifting Stance, U.S. Calls for Early Election in Venezuela

[8] World Knows our Foreign Policy Better Than We Do

[9] Officers Say U.S. Aided Iraq in War Despite Use of Gas

[10] Missing U.S.-Iraq History

[11] Steps Before War


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