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In times of peace, the population is quick to become discontent. They stop caring about foreign politics and turn their eyes on domestic issues. United in a struggle against a common foe, the populace will overlook its basic domestic problems, until said foe is defeated. This tactic was implemented since the dawn of time, enough times to be considered a classic. These tenets lie within the core of the USA’s modern foreign policies.
The United States of America is causing and participating in military conflicts worldwide in order to assert its military and economic dominance, to distract its people from domestic problems at home, and uses the existence of foreign enemies in order to take away civil rights in the name of national security. This paper is going to be exploring this thesis.
The USA had entered world politics as a state only at the beginning of the 20th century. Before that, it was mostly preoccupied with the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush, the American Civil War, and the reconstruction efforts that followed. The ties that the country kept with the rest of the world were mostly economic, based on exports and imports.
The first major experience of the USA in global foreign politics came with the beginning of the First World War. The German submarines attacked the American trade convoys, as the Germans wanted to stop the flux of American goods towards their enemies.1 The USA was thus justified to enter the war. The treatment of German-Americans was not justified, however. As the country mobilized for war, an entire national minority was given the status of “foreign enemies.” Many of their civil rights immediately revoked. President Wilson declared that some Americans were “born under foreign flags” were guilty of “disloyalty … and must be absolutely crushed.” 2
Those who failed to comply with many restrictions were branded dangerous. They were sent to internal camps. The situation repeated itself during the Second World War when Japanese-Americans faced the same treatment. 3 The Government had discovered that in times of crisis, it could easily deprive anyone, or any group, of their essential rights, as long as they justify it to the population.
USSR – the New Enemy
After the Second World War, the USSR became the main opponent for the USA. Both countries used the demonized image of one another in order to put restrictions on certain social groups and overinflate the military budget. It was also used as an excuse to impose their will on other countries. The weapon manufacturers enjoyed the abundance of government funding, even though the USA and the USSR were on different sides of the globe, meaning that any attempts of a direct invasion were impossible. The USA went through a demonization campaign of anything socialist, which became prevalent under President Truman. The USSR banned anything even remotely connected to the West.
Bases were placed around the world, and proxy wars were waged in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and other countries. During that time, the USA had expanded its influence greatly. It had the capability to influence its allies. There was a card blanch for almost any military intervention under the guise of fighting communism, as it happened in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. The justifications were usually accepted, as long as the casualty numbers were kept to a minimum. Otherwise, the Government was in danger of experiencing a backlash like during the Vietnam campaign. With the ability to exert political and military will, the USA was able to promote its interests in the countries it was protecting.
The Bear has Fallen. Now What?
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, American foreign politics suffered a crisis as well. The great confrontation was over, the USA won. No other nation in the world was capable of challenging its military might, or its economy. This also meant that the easy justification of any foreign action or restrictive policy at home would suffer as well. The only real deterrent remaining was the people of the United States. As the events of the Vietnam campaign showed, the population had the will and the power to oppose any governmental decision, if it was not properly justified. 4 It also meant that there were no more answers to questions about military spending, education, and healthcare. This meant that the USA needed a new enemy.
The War on Terror
Everybody remembers the date of 9/11. The destruction of the World Trade Centre by the Al-Qaeda terrorists cost over 2000 American lives. The official position is that the terrorists have carried out the attack on their own. Some theorists say that the event was staged. 5 Nonetheless, it served as a trigger for the American Administration to proclaim the “War on Terror.” When addressing the nation, President G. W. Bush said the following: “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” 6
It was just what the Government needed in order to get its gears moving once more. It was the justification for any future wars that the USA government had in mind. The proof was not necessarily required, as it happened after the Iraq campaign. The US military expenses grew, as its army engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The USA had expanded its influence into the region, known to be rich for its oil basins. 7 The Intelligence services promoted systems of data collecting and espionage on the American citizens, effectively breaching the 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution. 8
ISIS and the War on Terror 2.0
The USA spent a decade after the declaration of the War on Terror, fighting and working against various dictators in the Middle East. However, as memories of the 9/11 were becoming vague, the discontent of the populace grew. The Iraq War turned out to be harder than it was expected to be, and the situation in Afghanistan was still far from being resolved. The Bush administration was criticized for the Iraq campaign after it was discovered that Saddam did not have any WMDs. 9
ISIS rose from the ashes of the dethroned dictatorships. These dictatorships, while totalitarian and corrupt, were capable of holding the situation under control. Unlike the shadowy Al-Qaeda and the Taliban – organizations funded by the USA against the soviets, this threat looks obvious and very real. Once more, history repeats itself. The population is now clamoring for war once again and is willing to forfeit its rights in the name of security.
The chronology presented in this paper clearly illustrates an evolution in foreign politics. The state learned to use the “justified wars” in order to promote its interests, and, bit by bit, rob its citizens of their rights. In so doing, the country is acting similarly to all the empires and totalitarian regimes that it claims to be standing against. There are two choices here – either to return to being the land of justice and freedom the USA claims to be or embrace its new image as a new empire. 10
- Foner, Eric, Give Me Liberty! An American History. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), 840.
- Zinn, Howard, A People’s history of the United States (New York: Harper Collins, 2005), 345.
- Loose Change 9/11. 2005. Video. United States: Dylan Avery.