8: The Rise and Fall of Black Influence on U.S. Foreign Policy
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EIGHT The Rise and Fall of Black Influence on U.S. Foreign Policy Charles P . Henry I don’t believe we can have world peace until America has an “integrated” foreign policy. —martin luther king, jr. As I write, U.S. foreign policy is being constructed and implemented by its second consecutive black American secretary of state. While Condoleezza Rice is known for her extraordinary access to President George Bush, her predecessor, Colin Powell, was a widely respected military leader. Although both have linked their racial experiences to their work, neither has raised the status of Africa (excluding Egypt) as a foreign policy priority or moved aggressively to solve any of the continent’s many problems. On the contrary , they have been the most visible spokespersons for a foreign policy that many Africans and many African Americans reject. For most of their history in America, blacks have generally worked for and were perceived as working for subjugated communities of color in Africa , the Caribbean, and South America. While the actions of black Americans , especially in the nineteenth century, were often paternalistic, they generally did oppose the antidemocratic and unjust dimensions of U.S. foreign and military policies. Today not only do they help shape these policies , but a disproportionate number of the U.S. troops carrying out these policies in some sixty-five countries worldwide are black. At a time when African Americans enjoy unprecedented wealth and political access, this work critically examines the decline in a progressive foreign policy agenda for Africa. Tavis Smiley’s book Covenant with Black America totally ignores foreign policy. The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation report for 2004 ignores Haiti, Colombia, the International 192 193 henry ) Black Influence on U.S. Foreign Policy Criminal Court, the World Trade Organization, the Israel-Palestine conflict , aid and trade with Africa, the environment, and the war on terrorism. Neither Powell nor Rice’s nomination to the position of secretary of state received organized opposition from the black community. This work contends that the rise and fall of a progressive black voice in foreign policy may be attributed to a decline in political Pan-Africanism. More specifically, the cases of South African divestment and the Rwandan genocide represent the peak and nadir of black international influence. Finally , Darfur illustrates the continuing absence of an effective and progressive black voice in foreign policy. Identity, Ethnicity, and U.S. Foreign Policy Perhaps the first question to ask is whether ethnicity/race should play a role in U.S. foreign policy. To some extent the question is moot because ethnicity and race have always influenced U.S. foreign policy, whether overtly or covertly. Still, the question can be raised of whether the mobilization of particular groups around questions related to their countries of origin is always in the national interest. Of course, the response to this question is another question: who determines the national interest? Foreign policymaking, more than any other area of government, has traditionally been restricted to elites. With the United States isolated from the historic conflicts on the European continent and America’s individualistic liberalism devoted to the cause of material progress, for much of U.S. history many Americans were content to let the elite guide foreign affairs. Still, as a multicultural democracy with relatively fluid class hierarchies, the United States was more vulnerable to ethnic influence than most nationstates . While much lobbying remained dominated by for-profit professionals , on certain occasions ethnic consciousness played a role. After all, most social change in the United States has come from social movements and not political parties. Most scholars see foreign policy as being shaped by two competing camps—realists and idealists. Realists hold that the United States should avoid any entanglements or alliances that are not in the national interest. They define national interest as almost exclusively security and economic needs. For realists, the United States needs to maintain its superiority in military or “hard” power. If applied consistently, this thesis means that the United States has no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests . Idealists believe it is in the national interest to promote “American Rise to Institutional Global Power Positions 194 values” globally. Those values have historically included democracy, capitalism , and human rights. These values, “soft power,” are conveyed through American popular culture, diplomacy, academic exchanges, missionaries, and democracy and human rights training programs. If the concept were applied consistently, the United States would reward regimes that promote American values and punish those that do not. Obviously...


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Politics and government.
  • African American politicians.
  • African American legislators.
  • Political participation.
  • World politics
  • International relations.
  • United States -- Politics and government.
  • United States -- Foreign relations.
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