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Exorcising the ghosts of American foreign policy

Daily Trojan
Gavin Werbeloff
October 22, 2002
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In 2001, a book was released with the title, "Does America Need A Foreign Policy?" This book is thought-provoking not only because of its title but that it was written by Dr. Henry Kissinger, the man who guided the closest thing America has had to a foreign policy since World War II. The foreign policy Kissinger enforced did this but in a manner that would come back to haunt us decades after he had stepped out of office.

Kissinger's foreign policy was based on containment. The containment theory started shortly after World War I and lasted until the fall of communism. Containment focused on controlling and eventually destroying the perceived threat Communism posed to the existence of the United States. But, this policy was based on a zero sum game theory: The opposition of communism was the defense of democracy and vice versa.

Suddenly, American foreign policy was based on the opposition of communism. This was dangerous because it allowed us to justify heinous acts and oppressive governments by saying we did so in order to defend democracy. In truth our foreign policy was far more anti-communist than pro-democratic and can be summed up in a single word: hypocrisy.

The actions of America, undertaken during containment, were truly vile and out of line with the ethics and ideals we govern our own country by.

We helped overthrow Mossadegh in Iran and installed the Shah in a bloody coup d'état. Mossadegh was the democratically elected leader of Iran while the Shah never envisioned democratic elections in his wildest dreams. He was a dictator, yet he was our dictator because he was anti-communist.

After the fall of the Shah, we justified our support of another dictator, Saddam Hussein, by saying he was our ally due to his opposition of the Ayatollah, who succeeded the Shah in Iran. Saddam Hussein, has initiated two wars with his neighbors, and fired scud missile at two other countries, while utilizing weapons of mass destruction on his own people.

We continue to support the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia but they have never been nor never will be democratic. We do so because of oil interests in the region. We installed Augusto Pinochet, one of the world's most reprehensible human rights abusers, in Chile because he was anti-communist. We supported the contras in their attempt to overthrow the democratically elected Nicaraguan government because the claimed to be anti-Marxists.

We supported the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan because they were trying to expel the Soviets, yet we never helped them establish a democratic government. All these things were done because of the demented way our government saw the fight for democracy.

In truth, Communism's threat to America was nowhere near as great as what we thought it was. Even the USSR wasn't a true communist state but rather a skewed ideology that only served to satisfy a very few and never really employed Marxism. We were afraid not of the theory of communism, but the government that supposedly espoused it. Yet we are still seeing the effects of passed foreign policy in a phenomenon known as blowback. Many leading academics partially attribute the events of Sept. 11 to blowback for U.S. foreign policy decisions of the past.

Another major problem with American foreign policy is the domestic political aspect. Foreign policy is only used by presidents, with a few exceptions, as a talking point for domestic politics. How many of the Democrats who voted against the latest bill on invading Iraq, would have voted for it if there were a Democrat in office?

The answer is most likely a large majority. This is outlined by the fact that presidents have taken short views on foreign policy issues because in their mind it doesn't really matter what happens more than eight years down the road. Up until this point, American foreign policy has had a very short memory and very little forward thinking.

We have not looked at the history of the region we are working in nor have we examined the long-term ramifications of our actions there. One could argue that South Korea is an exception, but one only has to look to the threat we see that North Korea, an avowed communist nation, embodies, to see the justification for the American presence.

Yet, in my opinion, one can look at Sept. 11 as a new starting point for American foreign policy. We have seen the effect of our shortsighted decisions in the foreign policy realm.

Now we can move ahead with a goal of spreading democracy in responsible manner. The way we handled the toppling of the Taliban was consistent with others coups we have rigged in the past. Yet, it is our actions afterwards that are the basis for my hope. We have stayed, along with other nations, and helped to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan.

I am again filled with hope when I hear of the demonstrations by Iraqi Americans outside the courthouse in San Diego last week. They proclaimed that Saddam doesn't represent the people of Iraq, that the Iraqi people must represent themselves. Perhaps when we invade Iraq, we will do so not only for our own good, but to bring democracy to the people of Iraq.

To answer Dr. Kissinger's question: yes, America does need a foreign policy, but a far cry from the one of his era. America needs a foreign policy that's stated goal is solely the promotion and true protection of democracy. In this way we will avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, with an eye focused clearly on the future.

Copyright 2002 by the Daily Trojan.