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  • Back to the Future: Rediscovering America’s Foreign Policy Traditions
  • Ivan Eland (bio)

In January 2009, the new occupant of the Oval Office will face a US foreign policy “wasteland” inherited from the Bush administration. For starters, any new chief executive will be left holding the bag in two losing wars of occupation included in a counterproductive general “war on terror.” In both Afghanistan and Iraq, de facto US occupations are fueling Islamist fervor and spiking terrorist attacks and suicide bombings worldwide. In Somalia, the Islamist threat was minimal until the United States began supporting corrupt warlords, fueling the Somali public’s resentment of foreigners and making the Islamists popular enough to seize the country. The United States then supported a third non-Muslim invasion and occupation of a Muslim land — which provokes Islamists into a frenzy — by aiding the Ethiopian invasion of that nation. Similarly, in Lebanon the Bush administration tacitly supported an Israeli war against Hezbollah, which merely enhanced the group’s status in that country and in the Islamic world as a heroic fighter against non-Muslim aggression. Furthermore, the administration’s policy of exporting democracy to ensure stability failed as the radical Hamas group won elections in Palestine, and democratic governance eroded in more countries than those in which it advanced.

The administration’s invasion of Iraq seemed to make North Korea and Iran — two countries farther along than Iraq on the path toward successfully launching a nuclear weapon on a long-range missile — so nervous that they, respectively, withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and explosively [End Page 88] tested a nuclear weapon, and accelerated their nuclear program. These countries believe that the only thing that will deter the United States from an Iraq-like attack on them is nuclear weapons.

Despite popular perceptions on the left and in the middle of American politics, however, President George W. Bush did not invent such an interventionist foreign policy. Past presidents, both Democratic and Republican, since Truman have pursued this nontraditional US foreign policy of creating permanent, entangling alliances, establishing US military bases all over the world, and meddling egregiously into the affairs of many nations around the globe. After the Cold War ended, America could have reduced its global footprint. Instead, the United States increased it by expanding NATO, tightening its alliances in East Asia, establishing new military bases in the former Soviet Union such as those in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq.

This policy should be replaced by the founders’ original policy of military restraint overseas. With the advent of a new administration, President Bush’s foreign policy foibles should provide a catalyst for a long-needed national debate that could lead to such an urgently needed policy change.

More Continuity than Variation in Post–World War II US Foreign Policy

Despite the intense criticism by liberals of President Bush’s neoconservative policy of invading and occupying Iraq, it must be remembered that conservatives threw barbs at similar nation-building efforts by Bill Clinton, who used the US military to intervene in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo. And US interventionism did not stop there. Although there were sporadic US interventions (especially in Latin America) before World War II, interventionism became standard US policy during the postwar era in both Democratic and Republican administrations up to the present.

The policy began with the Truman administration’s interventions in Greece and Korea and was continued by Dwight Eisenhower’s sending of US troops to Lebanon and the copious use of Central Intelligence Agency covert operations around the world — for example, to overthrow the democratically elected governments of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz Guzman [End Page 89] in Guatemala. The interventionist imperative was also evident in John Kennedy’s support of Cuban exiles in the Bay of Pigs invasion and the even more profligate use of covert action, such as

  • • the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo;

  • • Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of Eisenhower and Kennedy’s involvement in Southeast Asia and invasion of the Dominican Republic; and

  • • Richard Nixon’s continuation of a lost cause in Southeast Asia and his overthrow of the democratically elected Allende government in Chile...


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pp. 88-98
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2019
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