Failures Of U.S. Foreign Policy
Since World War II, U.S. foreign policy often failed to realize its objectives and proved to be counterproductive. Although anti-communism posed as the principal guide to foreign policy, the same policies continued after the Cold War. Counter-insurgency rarely encountered insurgents and at times promoted insurgency. In almost all cases, force replaced diplomacy and military policy dictated foreign policy.
Although it might seem logical to examine the policies chronologically, a regional approach exposes a similarity of failures. A comprehensive review of American foreign policy towards countries in different regions in different eras shows that foreign policy exhibited the same elements--ineffective diplomacy degenerating into military excursions, and a lack of statesmanship. If the presentation appears one-sided, it is only because the policies have been one-sided, exhibiting common patterns that continue their trajectory to international catastrophes.
The European Scene
During the Cold war, opposing forces faced one another across a thin line. Nevertheless, no military confrontations occurred. The U.S. succeeded in stabilizing Western Europe and preventing the Soviet Union from encroaching upon West European territory. The communist state maintained its sphere of influence in East Europe and the U.S. reluctantly permitted it. After the demise of the Soviet Union from internal policies, the U.S.appeared to have achieved its objectives without firing a bullet on European soil. The length of the Cold War, and its social and economic strains on the United States during the 1960's and 1970's, signaled the policy was not a complete success. Without the military demands of the Cold War, it is entirely possible that internal struggles in the Soviet Union might have provoked the Soviet state into a different and more acceptable path than it has achieved in the post-communist era. Other U.S. foreign policies, which also highlighted internal interference and military confrontation, have rarely resolved situations and usually caused havoc.
Greece - 1946
The Truman Doctrine, the first major post-war military policy decision, allowed active military support to the anti-communists in the Greek 1946 civil war. U.S. participation occurred although the Soviet Union refused to provide assistance to the Greek communists and refrained from interfering in the struggle. The U.S. succeeded in preventing a communist government in Greece. The successful interference added to the initial frictions between the East and the West and started the Cold War.
Berlin - 1948
Rather than a simple case of harassment, the USSR tested U.S. intentions in Berlin. Viewing the allied sectors in Berlin as espionage bases and of no importance to the allies, the Soviets probed Western decisiveness on a vital issue. The USSR leaders theorized that if the allies desired satisfactory relations with the USSR, they would compromise and evacuate Berlin. The Berlin airlift convinced the Soviet leaders that the West would struggle for each advantage, leading them to conclude they could not easily find a rapport with the West . The U.S. successful response to the Soviet's efforts became the critical event that moved the Cold War to the preparatory stage of confrontation and initiated the drastic arms race.
Marshall Plan - 1948 to 1960
The Marshall plan, provided the economic resources for West Europe to recover from the war. It is undoubtedly the finest U.S. foreign policy achievement. Proposed and guided by General George C. Marshall, the plan assured markets for U.S. exports and smoothed the transition from a war economy to a peace economy. It is an example of using U.S. policy in a "win-win" situation, benefiting the American people and providing sustenance to others.
NATO - 1948 to Present
NATO grew in size and strength and sat silently all through the Cold War. Despite opportunities to provide assistance to Czechoslovakia in 1948, Hungary in 1956, the Czechs again in the Prague spring of 1968 and the Poles in the 70's, NATO refrained from modifying its doctrine of only attacking after being attacked. In the post Cold War era, after the Soviet Union had been humbled and could not retaliate, NATO changed its position. As a component of U.S. foreign policy NATO's existence succeeded in preventing any military action against Western Europe. The same component aggressively promoted U.S. policies in the Balkans.
The words Balkan wars creates images of armies with long muskets and early 20th century colorful uniforms. Despite two World Wars, the creation of two international peace organizations, and several resolutions that resolved the Balkan borders, the area's problems continually revive and persist. The ferocity of the antagonisms, killings, dislocations, and brutalities committed in the Balkans, and the military involvement of the U.S. and NATO, indicate that a capitalist/communist hostility, the most accepted reason for previous disputes, and one that had never resulted in military strife in Europe, may have disguised other reasons
- the assurance of trade and markets,
- the control of a major portion of world resources,
- the need to have all nations conform to a unified economic plan,
- world domination by one party, and
- rendering powerless those nations that threatened an emerging New World Order or did not conform it.
Although the return of the Kosovar refugees to their towns and villages seemed to prove that the ends justified the means, all the results of the war should be considered--testing of weapons in all types of conditions that caused victims and destruction, strong nations now able to attack weaker nations with the pretext of unfair treatment of their minorities, revival of the cold war, renewal of an arms race, the loss of sovereignty, and the uncomfortable feeling that no matter where you are in the world, if you don't agree with a specified policy you may become a target of a guided missile.
Considering the extent of the strife and mayhem, can U.S. policy in the Balkans be considered a success? The diplomacy did not prevent the violence, the "ethnic cleansing," and the military confrontations. The policy resulted in deaths of many persons and in the destruction of the Yugoslavian nation. The policy has not resolved the issues and has left the Balkans with an uncertain future. The aggravation of the problems, the manner of their resolution, and the resulting partition of the Balkan nations, indicates that the past Cold War policies were only a prelude and not an end to carelessly formed European foreign policies. Today's Europe contains a united and powerful Germany, a disintegrated Soviet Union, a divided Czechoslovakia, a fragmented Balkans. Europe is buffeted by the tendencies of one nation (non-European) that possesses a military and cultural dominance that controls the activities of the other European nations, although it does not have a geographical presence on the Western continent. It almost seems that the West has accepted a Nazi vision of Europe, including separation of peoples by ethnic identity.
European Strife - 1946 to Present
Throughout the post - WWII years, the U.S. had no severe conflicts with the Western European countries, even with those which had socialist orientation. Yet, the U.S. applied pressure and force to Third World countries that were either antagonistic to U.S. policies or had socialist oriented governments.
The U.S. tried to destroy the leftist government of the former Portuguese colony of Angola, and did not confront Angola's former parent country, Portugal when it was governed by the leftist leader, Caravalho.
Leftist regimes in Greece and Spain replaced former rightist regimes that had championed U.S. policies. The communists were always Italy's major political party and they had several opportunities to achieve power. In France, Mitterand's Socialist government had characteristics that normally alarmed the U.S. State Department. DeGaulle's leadership pursued independent policies that conflicted with U.S. policies. The reason for U.S. acceptance of adversarial European regimes - Americans would not support attacks on Europeans, nor would other Europeans remain silent if any European country became a victim of an attack. A touch of cowardice and bully is also apparent - The U.S. has only attacked small and less industrialized Third World nations. Racism guides U.S. foreign policy.
The Asian Scene
U.S. foreign policy and military adventures in Asia have been disasters.Without resolving controversies in its favor, the U.S. temporarily destroyed the Indo-Chinese countries, allowed repressive regimes to flourish in other countries and did prevent an event it fought against-- China's rapid development.
Korean War 1948-1952
U.S. policies had forged no alternative to military intervention in the Korean Civil War in order to prevent the Korean peninsula from becoming totally controlled by the Northern communists. Although the two Koreas had been threatening one another, and it had become obvious that the stronger North Korea showed itself ready to settle the conflict by military force, in 1948, the U.S. still had not prepared a constructive Korean policy.
Shortly after the war started, with U.S. troops trapped in a small part of the peninsula, MacArthur launched a counterthrust by landing troops at Inchon. Deemed a suicide venture by military experts, and ignored as an impossibility by the North Korean command, the surprise maneuver doomed the North Korean army and cleared the South of all but enemy guerrilla forces. At this point, instead of calling a truce, U.S. foreign policy drifted into its first great post-war error--a chilling prelude to a future of military catastrophes--U.S. troops continued into North Korea. This excursion generated a military confrontation with China, an additional 30 to 40 thousand American deaths, many more wounded, and hundreds of thousands of Korean casualties.
After the truce, Korea remained divided as it had been in 1948. Uncertainty and war has threatened the Korean peninsula for decades. The military move across the 37th parallel escalated the Cold War, and gave the Soviet Union closer support from China. A strategic foothold on the Asian mainland and the progress of South Korea were successful ingredients of the Korean policy. The losses in American and Korean lives, the human tragedies due to the lack of reunification, and the escalation of East-West tensions offset the successes.
Vietnamese War 1961-1975
The greatest foreign policy blunder in U.S. history brought America 47,382 military dead, 10,811 non-combatant deaths, 153,382 wounded, and 10,173 captured. The American military devastated both North and South Vietnam, inflicted 1 million casualties upon their peoples and brought environmental catastrophes to large areas. Washington claimed counter-insurgency as the U.S role in the war. The war escalated because the United States, defender of free elections, acted to prevent the Vietnamese people from voting on the unification of Vietnam. Those guiding U.S. foreign policy used facetious exaggerations, such as the dubious Tonkin Bay attack on U.S. warships by small North Vietnamese speed boats, to justify intervention, and then cited doubtful SEATO treaties and an amateurishly created "domino effect" to give it legitimacy. After years of turmoil and violence in Vietnam and at home, the U.S. gained its policy of "no elections" in Vietnam. The North took control of all of Vietnam without any election.
The destruction in Cambodia started before the end of the Vietnam campaign. Not willing to have the North Vietnamese military use a neutral territory to bring troops and material to the South, the U.S. carried the war into Cambodia with extensive bombings and military excursions. This "secret" war signified the first time after WWII that the U.S. attacked a sovereign country in an undeclared war, and set a precedent for future attacks. After realizing that they could not convince Prince Sihanouk, Cambodia's ruler, to take action against the North Vietnamese, the CIA engineered Sihanouk's overthrow. The years following this action are one of the saddest of any country's history. Sihanouk, who brought a measure of stability and prosperity to his country during a wartime crisis, did not want to antagonize the U.S. He simply wanted to remain neutral. His disposal, exile and replacement by Lon Nol brought violence and civil war to the country. The Khmer Rouge captured the leadership and brought the country to civil and economic ruin. The new Socialist Republic of Vietnam invaded the country, ostensibly to create order. The war, and further civil wars, increased the death and destruction that had started with the U.S. policy of replacing Sihanouk.
China 1948 to Present
Containment guides United States' China policy. The policy is designed to prevent China from developing into a world economic and military power that may challenge U.S. hegemony. The world's countries recognize that superior nations react aggressively to a challenge to their invincibility, and tacitly accept the policy if it does not cause a world catastrophe. Since 1948, U.S. policy towards China has grown from intense hostility without violent intent to a "constructive engagement," that cajoles it, insults it, accuses it, and tries everything to get it to do...what? Nobody is sure and so, regardless of what we state or imply, China has done what it wants--wars with Vietnam and India, incorporating Tibet, controlling its people in a manner in which it feels they should be controlled. Meanwhile China grows economically and militarily more powerful each day. And each day the U.S. perceives China as an increasing threat. Since our containment of China has not succeeded and has had only one direction, we can expect the U.S. attitude towards China to become more severe. The trajectory of the U.S. policy towards China is leading to a world catastrophe, and to an eventual conflict that will undoubtedly use the mightiest weapons to achieve victory.
Economic interests have dictated U.S. policy towards other Asiatic countries. In Japan and Taiwan, the U.S. has assisted in creating economic powerhouses in order to have stable, friendly governments that allow the U.S. to maintain military bases. Other countries have not been as fortunate. Indonesia and the Philippines maintained totalitarian and corrupt governments for decades. The U.S. policies have generated insurrections, retaliations and violent confrontations. After years of prosperity turned into economic collapse, these countries have started to evolve more stable institutions.
The Mid-East Scene
The immediate post-war Middle East policy liberated the Arab countries from foreign domination. It also enabled their governments to exercise greater control of their oil resources and develop them in partnership with Western interests. The United States had superior resources for assisting the oil producers, and initially became the favored partner. As energy became the most significant resource to the fast growing Western world, U.S. policy in the Middle East retreated to one sentence--Keep the oil at any cost. Nevertheless, several powerful oil producers remain antagonistic to the United States and the U.S. policy towards the Arab world has been one cause of terrorism. The hypocritical policy has created havoc for some of the areas people. Lacking any apparent change, it portends a dangerous future.
Iran 1946 to Present
In 1946, after the Soviet Union had occupied Northern Iran for contradictory reasons, Truman demanded and succeeded in removing the Russian troops. This overlooked event signified a basis existed for cooperating with the Soviet Union. The U.S. government ignored the signal and headed into the Cold War. The next major Iranian event occurred in 1954 when Mossadegh threatened to nationalize the oil industry. By evening he had been forced from office and the U.S. had its colleague, the anti-communist and anti-nationalist Shah Pahlevi, firmly in power. The State Department failed to realize that the Shah considered Iran his personal fiefdom and that the uneven economic progress he brought to Iran did not have the support of the masses, especially those inclined to a more rigid Islam. This failure proved fatal.
In 1979, the Iranians deposed the Shah and an Islamic movement, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, gained control. Instead of using diplomacy with the new government and demonstrating restraint, U.S. policy reflected its bias against a regime that did not follow its dictates. Despite Iran's protests, the government allowed the Shah to enter the U.S. for medical treatment. This event precipitated extreme groups in Iran to seize the American embassy and hold U.S. citizens as prisoners.Within a short time, the Shah returned to Panama and eventually died in Egypt. Relations with Iran rapidly declined to a total separation. The U.S. quickly lost any economic and strategic advantages it had established in Iran.
U.S. policy planners could not admit mistakes and their policy towards Iran continued on a destructive path. In Iraq's war against Iran, the U.S. provided arms and support to Saddam Hussein. U.S. moved warships into the Straits of Tiran to protect the straits and Kuwait against possible Iranian aggression. Yet, the only aggression in the Straits was the bombing of a U.S. warship by the Iraqi air force, which at that time, was considered a U.S. friend. Later, the U.S. became forced to defend Kuwait against an aggressive Iraq, the country that the U.S. had supported against the "supposed aggressor." The Iran/Iraq war, encouraged by U.S. military support to Iraq, caused massive destruction to both countries and, as a side effect, to the Kurdish peoples of both countries. The hostilities in the Straits of Tiran damaged Iranian shipping and brought death and losses to their flimsy navy. In a coda to the macabre concerto, a U.S. warship shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in their territorial waters, killing all on board. After all this, the U.S. has tried to establish friendly relations with Iran and can't imagine why the Iranians are obstinate.
Iraq 1980 to Present
U.S. policy towards Iraq has been the reverse of its policy towards Iran. The U.S. made Iran its enemy and later tried to become more friendly. The U.S. started with supportive relations of Iraq, and later reverted, almost over-night, to become an enemy of Iraq. For almost twenty years the U.S. treated Saddam Hussein's Iraq favorably until the invasion of Kuwait changed everything. Like Jekyll becoming Hyde, the U.S. suddenly turned all its power against Iraq and within one month destroyed the country's infrastructure, brought death to thousand of its citizens, including those who felt safe in hardened bomb shelters, and created a road of death in which U.S. war planes bombed and strafed fleeing and defenseless Iraqi soldiers. Those left dying remained unattended, and, according to reliable reports, were bulldozed alive into permanent graves. Estimates are that 250,000 Iraqis and only 160 allied contingent soldiers died in the war. Did all of this have to happen? By being cordial to Saddam Hussein for many years, the United States reinforced his power. State department dispatches indicate that Ambassador Glaspie gave Iraq a "green" light to invade Kuwait, or at least did not apply sufficient pressure to prevent the invasion.
Iraq could make a good case of legitimate complaints against Kuwait: Kuwait had siphoned oil from the shifting sands of Iraqi territory: Kuwait owed a prostate Iraq some remuneration for having defended Kuwait against a possible Iran incursion:. Kuwait walked out of discussions on the complaints and totally rebuffed Iraq. These were not difficult complaints to resolve. They could have been easily arbitrated or forced into compliance by the United States. The U.S. policy makers had options. They chose to be complacent and indirectly paved the path to a punishing war. The post-war policy has continued the pattern of established ferocity. Iraq was bombed, almost on a daily basis. The U.S. destroyed more "command and control" facilities than existed in any country. U.S. and British air power destroyed more "radar bases" than Iraq can possibly have. This senseless and vicious policy has transformed Iraq from an emerging country with a moderate prosperity into an impoverished country with a starving population. Estimates are that one million Iraqis have had their lives shortened by the punishing embargoes and bombings, and that future generations will inherit the suffering. What were the purposes of this unstated policy?
Is the U.S. assuring that Iraq does not have any weapons of "mass destruction?" The final UN inspections indicated that Iraq no longer possesses these weapons and the constant bombings cannot prevent their future developments. Most countries of the world possess some type of gas and germ warfare, some of which can be manufactured in a garage. No matter how long the U.S. bombed Iraq, an eventual Iraqi government would develop the weapons they want. They can't be policed forever. The U.S. continually attempted to overthrow Saddam Hussein and continually failed. The U.S. encourages rebellions by the Shiites and Kurds and reinforced Saddam's internal support. While the U.S. claimed to be protecting the rebellious Kurd and Shiite minorities, America still allowed Turkey to decimate the Kurds and the Oman government to terrorize its Shiite minority.
The reasons for the U.S. policy towards Iraqi have been ambiguous. If the results follow policy, then the results indicate our unstated policy is the opposite to what is believed. The U.S. does not want a new Iraqi government. It wants a continually unstable, embattled, embargoed and disrupted Iraq that maintains the country weak. Why? To maintain weak, a potentially strong Middle East country that could contend U.S. policy and arouse others in the region to challenge U.S. major partners in the Middle East, which are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Israel. And the number of Iraqis that may suffer from this policy--it doesn't matter.
Israel/Palestine - 1948 to Present
The Middle East policy is driven mostly by the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The U.S. has been intimately involved in the conflict since its inception in 1948. Although the U.S. had the military and economic power and many opportunities to force an acceptable solution to the strife and bring it to an end, its wandering and contradictory policies have kept the violence going. The contradictions include being the only country, besides Israel, to vote against a dozens of UN resolutions that criticized Israel and which, if implemented, may have forced a solution to the conflict. After 50 years of conflict and debate, the conflict and debate continue. The parties in conflict showed their distrust in U.S. effectiveness by not allowing the U.S. to participate in or be informed of the Oslo meetings that resulted in the Oslo accords from which a solution was attempted. Since Israel's strength is many times that of the Palestinians, the U.S. could serve to equalize the strengths. Yet, the U.S. insists the two parties compromise their differences. Everyone knows that a dominant Israel will not make make concessions to a weak, almost fragile Palestine. The U.S. policy has accomplished nothing. And the future is ominous. The conflict affects and involves many countries. It could lead to a nuclear war.
Lebanon - 1956 to Present
Once, the most prosperous, most beautiful and most hospitable of all of the Middle East countries, Lebanon has been destroyed by its indirect involvement in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. U.S. involvement in Lebanon's affairs has never had positive results. In the Eisenhower administration, during a short period of political uncertainty, U.S. marines landed on the Lebanese beaches. They stayed and they left. It was never clear why they had arrived. During the latter stages of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980's, the U.S. together with other European countries, dispatched warships and marines to Lebanon. Although the U.S. claimed it had entered a sovereign country to assist it, U.S. warships responded to spurious attacks on U.S. marines by shelling the Lebanese mountains and killing scores of people. A Lebanese group retaliated by blowing up the marine barracks and killing more than 200 marines. U.S. policy in Lebanon left many killed on both sides. It helped save Arafat's PLO and have him and his organization removed to Tunisia.
Afghanistan 1980 to Present
A feature of U.S. foreign policy is that the United States has often armed its eventual enemies to combat perceived antagonists. One example is our assistance to the Mujaheedin in Afghanistan.
The Soviet Unions's intervention in the internal conflicts of Afghanistan may have been improper, but it did not contain elements of economic exploitation or seizing of territory. Efforts to contain the internal political frictions, prevent a Civil War from creating anarchy that could undo the economic progress of previous governments, and a desire to maintain the status quo in East-West spheres of influence, impelled the Soviet Union to supply troops from 1980-1986 to assist Babrak Kamal's Afghan regime. The Soviet Union may have been doing the U.S. a favor. The Afghan internal politics, the Civil War, and the Soviet Union intervention did not directly affect U.S. world hegemony. The Mujaheedin, whom the U.S. supported, consisted of a radical Islam that had already shown itself to hostile to the American interests. Success of the Soviet objectives would have certainly created a more acceptable Afghan government than those that followed.
During the struggle, the United States, through Pakistan, provided arms, material and finances to the Mujaheedin that eventually assured their temporary victory. Published estimates show that 15,000 Soviets and 350,000 Afghans died in the Civil War. After the Soviets left Afghanistan in Feb. 1989, the United States had an opportunity to let the war play out among Afghans. Continued U.S. arms shipments through Pakistan to the Mujaheedin forced the Najibullah government, that tried to carry out some democratic reforms and create a coalition government of reconciliation, to fall in 1992. After a continuing civil war caused more than 50,000 additional deaths, the Taliban, a reactionary Islamic religious group by U.S standards, gained control of Afghanistan. The Mujaheedin, characterized as freedom fighters and brought to fighting capability by U.S. arms, destroyed Afghanistan, caused an immense number of deaths, could not compromise among themselves to form a government, and became responsible for the Taliban emergence and its control of Afghanistan. They Taliban also trained major terrorist groups that have brought death to Americans and destruction to U.S. facilities. The most prominent vestige of U.S. intervention in the Afghanistan Civil War is Ibn Bin Laden.
Knowing that the African countries don't possess economic and military muscle, the U.S. has generally treated central African countries with benign neglect. In some countries, notably Egypt, South Africa and Zimbabwe, U.S. policy has been mildly constructive.
Egypt has received financial and military assistance without compromising its national integrity. The assistance occurred after the U.S. refused to support the construction of the Aswan dam, an economic benefit to Egypt that the Soviet Union supported.
The South African policy, that included embargo of many goods, assisted in the termination of Apartheid and a government of reconciliation. In Zimbabwe, the United States has not fought the evolution of the former white led Rhodesia to a majority black led Zimbabwe. The political frameworks of the latter countries, where Nelson Mandela, an ardent communist became the president of South Africa, and where a leftist government gained power in Zimbabwe, demonstrate that the U.S. could cooperate with leftist governments and these government would not imperil U.S. interests. In most other parts of Africa, policy has been formed by reacting to sudden events. U.S. policies towards the African countries have not assisted them in alleviating their continual poverty, internal wars and economic catastrophes.
Republic of Congo - 1960 to Present
The Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, and previously the Republic of Congo, is an example of the complete cycle of a U.S. policy which ends in desolation. In 1959, popular revolts and demands for independence from Belgium, forced the Belgian government to negotiate with the rebellious parties. During elections in 1960, the Congolese National Movement (MNC), directed by Patrice Lumumba, became the country's strongest party. Lumumba, already recognized as one of Africa's most vociferous leaders of anti-colonial liberation movements, became prime minister of the Congo Republic immediately before the country's independence on June 30, 1960. He had a difficult task and could not control the many factions desiring the Congo's resources and riches. His socialist leanings and avowed non-alignment policies prevented him from acquiring the U.S. as an ally. Within one month, Katanga, the Congo's richest province, with the assistance of the major powers, seceded. On September 14, Colonel Mobutu Sese Seko effectively neutralized the Congo's institutions and its leaders. The military placed Lumumba under house arrest and protection of the United Nations. After several transfers of his confinement, Patrice Lumumba, and two his comrades were killed on January 17, 1961. The official reason for his death--accidentally shot while attempting to escape.
The complicity of the United States and the CIA in this unfortunate episode have not been definitely proved. Many informed persons take it for granted that the CIA played a leading role in Lumumba's demise. Nevertheless, the United States motivated the anti-Lumumba activities by demonstrating its disapproval of Lumumba and by not giving him adequate protection. U.S. total support for Mobutu, who seized power of the Congo in 1965 and reigned for 32 years, indicates the U.S. has been involved in determining Congo's government. After changing the country name to Zaire, Mobutu ruled as a despot. In 1980, he banned all political parties, except his own. Although he created unity among the country's 200 ethnic groups and nationalized the mining industries, he personally controlled 70% of the country's wealth, valued at 5 billion dollars. At his death in 1997, he was personally responsible for 80% of his country's debts.
The now deceased Laurent-Denise Kabila, completed the cycle. Originally an avowed communist and with a vision similar to Lumumba, he forced a dissipated Mobutu from power in 1997. Kabila, weakened by the years, inherited a country in ruins that soon found itself in a brutal civil war. The resource rich Congo, the most promising of the liberated central African countries, after 35 years of U.S. involvement in its affairs, returned to be an economically, political and socially bankrupt nation.
Angola 1970 to Present
Angola became a victim of the Cold War immediately after it achieved independence from Portugal. In Angola all insurgent groups, with the anachronisms MPLA, FLNA and UNITA had alliances with anti-American left wing international organizations. The MPLA had close ties to Moscow and received military training from Cuban forces. UNITA leader, Jonas Savimba, a late entry to the insurgency, considered himself a Maoist and was prepared to organize the country in accord with Mao's principles. Roberto Holden, an avowed Marxist, commanded the FLNA. After a group of disillusioned military officers. led by General Antonio de Spinola, overthrew the Lisbon government and granted independence to Angola on July 14, 1974, the three groups managed to form a short lived coalition. As their alliance broke down, the MPLA emerged as the most powerful group and obtained the government positions of the departing Portuguese. With Neto as head of state, the MPLA extended political control over much of the country. The FLNA and UNITA joined forces to combat the MPLA. The U.S. role in the Angolan civil war became obvious--spoil MPLA's nation building plan.
Initially, the U.S. supported the Marxist FLNA. As the MPLA became stronger, the U.S. also funded the Maoist UNITA. The State department initiated these policies although MPLA's Neto obtained business alliances with U.S. oil companies, tried to secure friendly relations with many Western countries and invited foreign investment. Rather than encourage investment and improved relations, the State department pressured the oil companies to cease operations in Cabinda, Angola's oil producing region. Neto died in 1979 and Jose Eduardo Santos, who became prime minister, preferred a mixed economy with an important role for the private sector. The United States still made no attempt to improve relations and blocked Angola's admission to the United Nations. After years, in which the CIA had continually funded the rival groups, and had promoted a covert program to solicit European and American mercenaries to fight with the FLNA, the U.S., in 1988, offered to normalize relations with Angola. The offer had one condition-a mutual settlement with UNITA. The MPLA agreed, and in that year the MPLA and UNITA negotiated a regional peace agreement. Although UNITA members served in the new Angola government of Unity and Reconciliation, Savimbi rejected a UN monitored election and retreated back to the provinces. The war resumed after the failure of peace accords the parties had signed in November 1994.
The U.S. had only a negative policy in Angola--remove the Cuban supported group from power. The only replacement, Jonas Savimbi, had a more radical philosophy than the MPLA and yet the U.S. supported him for a long time. Primarily due to that support, Angola is a ruined country and the people have suffered greatly. If Maoist Savimbi had gained power, what would the U.S. have done?
Somalia is another country that became caught in the East-West struggle. Muhammad Syad Barre, who became the Somalia leader after a bloodless coup in 1969, initially aligned his country with the Soviet Union. Problems with Ethiopia, a close ally of the Soviet Union, moved Syad Barre away from the East bloc and more towards an alignment with the Arab states. After the Ethiopians prevented the ethnic Somali that lived in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia from seizing the region, the U.S. agreed to provide humanitarian and military assistance to Somalia. In return, Somalia granted to the U.S. the naval base at Berbera that had previously been a Soviet naval base. As in other Third World countries, the United States found itself financing a leader whose regime slowly became repressive, corrupt and unpopular. Armed opposition to Barre started in 1988. On June 27, 1991, Siyad Barre, after ruling Somalia for 22 years, fled the country. The fighting that ensued between rival groups caused a societal breakdown that led to periodic famines in Somalia. U.S. financial and military support had achieved nothing for Somalia.
In December 1992, the UN responded to Somalia's anarchy and famines by dispatching a "peace-keeping" force that included 2000 U.S. marines. U.S. and UN policies in Somalia became intertwined. Nevertheless, U.S. actions in Somalia must be evaluated separately. And what were these actions? First, it appears that the U.S. humanitarian troops had arrived after the famine had subsided. News reports stated that the U.S. found no famine in the capital, Mogadishu. They expected to find it inland in Baidoa. No famine in Baidoa. The famine had retreated to the villages. Reports from the villages did not disclose famines. The UN and U.S. marines did not go home.
Instead, marines began house to house searches for weapons, and caused several casualties in the searches. On June 5, 1993, UN troops attempted to close the radio station commanded by Mohammed Farah Aideed, one of the contenders for Somali leadership. Aideed had credentials. He had been a Somali ambassador and had been elected chairman of the United Somali Congress by a 2/3 vote. He declared his faction to be the legitimate Somalia government. In repelling the attack, Somali militiamen killed 24 Pakistani troops. This action propelled the U.S. forces into a five month manhunt for Aideed. In the process, the marines engaged in several "shoot outs" with Somali, including the killing of two children who had climbed into marine vehicles and reached for their sunglasses. After 18 U.S. soldiers were killed and Somalis dragged some of their corpses through the Mogadishu streets, the U.S. military left Somalia.
According to the NY Times, December 8, 1993, UN/U.S. forces inflicted 6,000 to 10,000 casualties on the Somali. UN Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni estimated that 2/3 of the casualties were women and children.The Los Angeles Times, November 28, 1993, estimated that only a small fraction of the UN relief efforts benefited Somali. Foreign business people profited from fast food sales to the UN soldiers, a $9 million sewer system in the UN/U.S. headquarters and helicopter flights for Western officials. Twenty years of U.S. policy in Somalia- anarchy, wasted money, many Somali and American dead.
Libya 1970 to Present
U.S. policy towards Libya can be regarded as a policy of a country directed against one person-- Muhammar Qadhafi. In the two decades after the Libyan 1968 military revolution, Qadhafi assumed power in Libya as chief of the armed forces and a sometime Head of State (he relinquished his duties as general secretary of the General people's Congress in March 1979). Today, Qadhafi does not hold any public office, only the title of Revolutionary Leader. Nevertheless, his detractors claim he is still the "unofficial" Head of State. Officially Libya has a complete legislative branch with an elected head of government, a cabinet and a Supreme Court. Qadhafi has significant power in Libya, but by framing a policy that considers only his power, the U.S. is disregarding too many other Libyan power blocs.
The U.S. accepted a revolutionary Libya that expelled all foreign forces and closed their bases. It could not accept:
- Libya's perceived attempts to unite the Arab world against U.S. diplomatic and military presence in the Middle East,
- its initiatives against Israel,
- its nationalization of an economy that displaced foreign interests, and
- its weakening of foreign control of Libya's oil resources.
Actually, few of these policies followed U.S. perceptions. Libya could not unite the Arab world against the U.S. Except for the oil price rises during the 1970's; neither Libya or the Arab world harmed Western economic interests; Libyan policies have had little effect on Israel's development; and the U.S.oil companies are reasonably satisfied with their business relationship in bringing low sulfur Libyan oil to market. Nevertheless, the U.S. adopted aggressive policies towards Libya that escalated the confrontation over the years. The policies--Replace Qadhafi and stop Libya's contribution to terrorism. It is obvious that the first has been a total failure. The bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa and previous terrorist attacks in the U.S. indicate that Libya's contribution to terrorism must have been small. The aggressive policy also exposed the error of a supposed belief that U.S. polices are dictated by the East--West conflict. Since 1972, Libya's relations with the Soviet Union have been cool.
On May 30, 1973, U.S. aircraft, during maneuvers close to Libya's shores, violated the sovereign Libyan air space. Rather than intimidating Libya, the provocation increased the activities that most alarmed the U.S., the suspicion and accusations that Libya financed international terrorism and political subversion. Libya did not deny they had training grounds for recruits representing a variety of national liberation movements and that they provided financial support for Palestinian liberation organizations. Nevertheless, the Libyan role was a small counterbalance to the huge U.S. financial and military support of those who repressed liberation movements and, by their authoritarian actions, caused international terrorism. Another significant point: Libya gained no economic or material benefit from its small support of any movement. They declared in 1981 that, to them, it was a matter of principle. For the U.S., intervention has been mostly a matter of safeguarding interests and gaining economic benefits.
Having defined a policy towards Libya by the invasion of its airspace, the U.S. continually reacted to Libyan actions with an aggressive policy. Libyans protested U.S. policy in Iran by burning the U.S. embassy in Tripoli in December 1979. On August 19,1981, U.S. jets downed two Libyan air force planes during U.S. maneuvers in the Libyan Gulf of Sidra. On March 25, 1986, U.S. navy planes bombarded civilian targets in Libya's Gulf. They also attacked a Libyan Coast Guard boat in which all 10 sailors were reported killed. Another attack on a ship resulted in the crew leaving the ship. The Libyans claimed that all 42 men, while swimming to shore, were machine gunned to death. On April 14, 1986, the U.S. mounted air attacks on the Libyan mainland. In these attacks, a bombing of Qadhafi's house killed the leader's adopted child. President Ronald Reagan claimed self-defense as the reason for the attacks. The U.S. had countered a terrorist attack on a U.S. military club in Berlin, Germany that U.S. intelligence agency attributed to Libya. The attacks on Libya signaled U.S. determination to defend against other terrorist attacks on its citizens. No evidence has been presented that involved Libya or its agents in the Berlin club bombing. And the U.S. has not prevented terrorism. It managed to bring to trial two Libyans, accused of masterminding the explosion of the December 21, 1988, Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Two other incidents must be mentioned. On February 21, 1973, Israeli fighters shot down a Libyan civilian airliner over the Sinai and 106 Libyans died in the attack. On December 22, 1992, A Libyan air plane exploded over Tripoli and 158 Libyans died. Libya accused Western intelligence agencies of being responsible for the explosion. The Libyan toll in their struggle with the West has been brutal. Adding to the human toll has been an economic toll. In April 1992, the U.N. banned arm sales and flights to Libya after Libya refused to turn over two suspects of the Lockerbies explosion. This ban has been recently rescinded. In 1996, the U.S. tried to organize Trade Laws that could have amounted to an embargo against Libya. Other countries did not agree.
U.S. policy towards Libya has been guided by fear, miscalculation, mistrust and an unnecessary aggressiveness. It has not achieved diplomatic victories or accomplished any objectives. It has caused death and misery. It has exposed the fact that aggressive policies are not only a result of East-West relations.
Central American Scene
The Monroe Doctrine warned countries outside the Western Hemisphere not to interfere in Latin America affairs. The Western Hemisphere protectorate policy that the United States established in 1821 did not exclude the U.S. from interfering in Latin American affairs. The cold war reinforced the interferences. Unlike Africa, where the United States has neglected most of the Third World countries, the United States has actively intervened in the operations and functions of almost all Latin American countries. For the entire 19th century and almost the entire 20th century, the Latin American countries stagnated in poverty, illiteracy, corruption and disease. The active intervention in their affairs could not have been beneficial to them.
Cuba 1960 to Present
What could be more damaging to the United States in the 1960's than to have the Soviet Union gain a foothold close to U.S.shores and create missile bases within firing range of U.S. territory? U.S. foreign policy planners succeeded in accomplishing that. Not understanding diplomacy and compromise, Washington responded to the Castro government's agrarian reform and expropriation of U.S. properties by imposing a trade embargo. The embargo motivated Cuba to seek economic assistance from the world's Socialist countries. This further angered the U.S. Washington severed diplomatic relations with Cuba on January, 1961. The U.S. followed the diplomatic break with a U.S. trained invasion force that landed at the ill-fated Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961. The poorly conceived invasion didn't bring the fall of the Castro government. Ninety invaders from the Cuban exile community died and 1200 were captured. And the legacy of the invasion? Castro, fearful of further attacks, succeeded in convincing the Soviet Union to provide a missile umbrella to counter further attacks. U.S. diplomacy brought nuclear missiles close to its shores and the world close to nuclear war.
After settling the debacle by removing U.S. missile bases from Turkey, and promising never to attack Cuba, the U.S., either from spite or more likely from not wanting an independent and socialist government to succeed in the Western hemisphere, continued a policy of isolating Cuba from the Latin American community and imposed additional sanctions. The "ups" and "downs" of US/Cuba relations couldn't contain Cuba. The Caribbean country drew closer to the USSR and became a member of COMECON. Cuba provided combat forces for the government of Angola, for the Ethiopian regime in its war in the Ogaden, and for Socialist forces in Yemen. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cuba economy collapsed. The U.S. has taken advantage of this collapse with additional embargoes and attempts at isolation. The perilous condition of the Cuban people, at one time approaching starvation, did not deter America from its aggressive policy.
The Cuban policy almost brought the U.S. into a nuclear war. It had other damaging consequences. An influx of Cuban refugees into Florida displaced black workers and created racial problems. Mixed with refugees, Cuba forwarded many hardened criminals who committed crimes in the United States. American companies have seen foreign interests gain advantages in reconstructing Cuba.
In 1951, Guatemala elected Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, a reformer who considered the grievances of the lower and middle classes. By mentioning the words "land reform" and "organizing labor," Arbenz and his intended policies infuriated the banana companies and U.S. politicians. In 1954, a group of Guatemala exiles, armed and trained by the CIA, and commanded by Colonel Carlos Castillos Armas invaded Guatemala and forced out the legitimately elected president. After that time, Guatemala was ruled by military dictatorships.With U.S. military and economic assistance, these governments suppressed political activity and stimulated the forces willing to peacefully seek political and social change into pursuing the changes by violent confrontations. After a brutal suppression of guerrilla activity, civilian leaders in 1985 returned to govern with the military watching in the wings. Finally, in 1996, the Guatemalan government signed a peace accord with guerrilla forces, ending a conflict that had caused more than 100,00 Guatemalan deaths.
After the accords, a trail of evidence and admissions by the Guatemalan military began to confirm what many had suspected: The U.S. government had linked itself to a suppression that some claim caused 110,000 Mayan Indian lives, and razed thousands of villages in an effort to destroy a guerrilla force estimated at 2,000 armed rebels. U.S. and Guatemala officials acknowledged that the CIA transferred millions of dollars to the Guatemala military and provided intelligence to their army. Another example of a U.S. policy that went full cycle and during the cycle brought a nation to self-destruction.
In 1972, a coalition led by Jose Napoleon Duarte, head of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), appeared to win the El Salvador presidential election. Instead of taking office he found himself arrested and exiled by the military. During the following years, a repressive military government maintained power and provoked left-wing guerrilla groups to overthrow an illegitimate government. Partly due to the urgings of the U.S. government, the military junta in January 1980 offered concessions to moderate and leftist groups. Duarte returned from exile to become the country's leader. Despite social and economic reforms, the military still seemed to rule the nation.
The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition of rebel forces, armed itself with a variety of military equipment, including leftover weapons shipped from the battle fields of Vietnam through Nicaragua and to the FMLN. The equipped FMLN declared war on the government. The war had two characteristics--an overt war between military forces and a war against civilian populations. It has been estimated that the latter war claimed the most lives. Right wing death squads terrorized the local villages and assassinated political opponents. In 1980, they killed Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a Catholic "liberation" theologian. El Salvador troops violated and massacred four nuns. The wars escalated until the FMLN almost captured the entire country.The government repulsed the offensive and, although a "no-win" situation emerged, the violence continued.
The Reagan administration used counter-insurgency as the reason for interfering in El Salvador affairs. Economic and military aid to El Salvador from 1981-1992 amounted to $1 million/day in a country of 5.2 million people, and became contingent on political and social reforms. El Salvador, struggling for a democratic face, managed to have elections during that period. Military aid peaked at $197 million in 1984 and economic aid peaked at $462 million in 1987. The U.S. policy of countering insurgency and demanding reforms contradicted actuality. The U.S. did not demand the resolution of the murders of Romero, nuns and political opponents, and did not condemn the burning of villages and many other obvious human rights violations. U.S. troops advised the El Salvador military and "secretly" engaged in military operations. Amnesty International concluded that the paramilitary death squads received covert financial support and military training from the United States.
The El Salvador military realized that the collapse of the USSR meant the end of massive U.S. support. After years of war ravaged the nation, the competing groups finally agreed in 1990 to peace talks. Under the agreement, the FMLN and the El Salvador government disbanded their respective forces and formed a new civilian police force that included National police and FMLN members. In a 1994 election, ARENA, the already established government, retained their power and the FMLN established itself as a legitimate opposition party, able to operate without government suppression.
From the U.S. perspective, preventing the fall of an El Salvador government that might have led to government control by a leftist FMLN allied with the Soviet Union, vindicated Washington's policy. U.S. policy did not prove effective until the country had destroyed itself. El Salvador will not easily recover from its civil war. If the U.S. had been able to mediate the differences, and stop the destructive war much earlier, it could claim a successful policy.
U.S. intervention in Dominican Republic affairs have occurred often in the century. In 1962, the heir to Trujillo's reign, Joaquin Balaguer, was defeated in an election by Dr. Juan Bosch, a leftist reformer. President Johnson already occupied with preventing the communist North Vietnam from expanding to all of Vietnam, and still troubled by the Castro government in the Caribbean, decided he could not afford another Castro type government close to America's shores. U.S. troops entered the Dominican Republic and assisted a military coup against the Bosch government. After that incursion, the Dominican Republic sailed on choppy seas of fraudulent elections, corruption, and economic uncertainty. Finally, in 1990, the two contestants whose election precipitated the 1962 incursion from the U.S., and who now were octogenarians, returned as contestants in the presidential election. U.S. interference had made its usual full cycle. In the cycle, the Dominicans greatly suffered.
U.S. relations with Panama's Manuel Antonia Noriega were similar to U.S. relations Iraq's Saddam Hussein. For years the U.S. governments tolerated Noriega's authoritarian attitude. President Bush even praised him. When the United States declared drugs as a major threat to American society, and a Florida court indicted Noriega for drug trafficking and money laundering, the U.S. found a reason to remove Noriega from power. Having received mixed signals from the U.S. government over the years and believing that he had could reveal information that exposed the CIA and U.S. involvement in covert activities, Noriega felt immune from attack. His arrogant attitude further provoked President Bush. In the absence of cold-war considerations, the United States proceeded with full-scale military intervention against Panama and removed an insignificant leader from power. The invasion exhibited unnecessary brutality. The U.S. military demolished impoverished Panamanian neighborhoods, where Noriega had major support. Many civilians were killed. The American military captured Noriega and the American judicial system convicted him and sentenced him to prison. The legality of all the operations is questionable.
The severity of the invasion of Panama and its aftermath decry a meaningful policy. Previous events indicated that Noriega, rather than assisting the drug trade, had impeded it. By using known narcotics dealers as informants against him at his trial, the prosecution did not make a compelling case. Besides, it is well known that in other countries, principally Mexico, the governments have been in collusion with leading narcotics dealers and the U.S. has not interfered with those governments. Panama's involvement in drugs could never approach the large scale involvement of Mexico, nor has the imprisonment of Noriega diminished the drug supply. Noriega may have used his military role in a despotic manner, but he was fair to the poor people of Panama and he was not a threat to the U.S. and the Central American area. Since his demise, Panama has been mis-governed and the country remains in an economic crisis. U.S. policy towards a small country failed to use diplomacy and degenerated into a brutal military adventure. The reasons for the U.S. military adventure in Panama are not clear. One reason may be a stumbling policy that stumbled into a war that was used to prevent President Bush States from being humiliated by an insignificant dictator.
Little Grenada threatened the U.S. mainland as much as City Island threatened New York. The Reagan administration did not favor having the hard-line Marxist, Bernard Coard replace, in a coup, a moderate Marxist, Maurice Bishop. Citing anarchy, a state of martial law, the construction of an airport by Cuban construction workers that could be used for military flights, and a threat to United States students at a Grenada medical school, as sufficient reasons for intervention, the U.S. Marines invaded the island on October 25, 1983. President Reagan also told reporters that the Organization of East Caribbean States had requested the intervention. The facts did not entirely support the statements:
- Coups and revolutions have been daily affairs in Latin America.
- The martial law quieted an extreme situation.
- The airport had European financing and was being constructed for tourist purposes.
- The students did not seem disturbed until the Americans invaded. (some students did express fear).
- The Organization of American States (OAS) "deeply deplored" the invasion.
- The UN Security Council voted 11 to 1 against the attack.
Two dozen Cubans,18 U.S. military and 45 Grenadians died. When the caskets containing the Cuban dead arrived in Havana, U.S. reporters noted that most of the dead were men in their late fifties and sixties and were obviously not military personnel. Most of the Grenadians died in the U.S. military destruction of a mental hospital. Some felt that the invasion timing, two days after a bomb in Beirut had killed 241 Marines, an intended to offset the U.S. weakness in Lebanon, by displaying military prowess close to home.
The U.S. assisted in completing the tourist airport. Nevertheless, little has been done for the Grenada economy and the nation remains extremely poor. Grenada expressed its attitude to the U.S. invasion by inviting Fidel Castro to the island 15 years after the invasion. The Cuban leader unveiled a bronze plaque at Port Salines airport terminal that honored the dead Cuban construction workers who had assisted in the airport construction. The plaque hangs besides a plaque that honors the U.S. Agency for International Development, which helped complete the airport the U.S. did not want built.
Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, former proprietor of most of Nicaragua's industry and resources, mishandled the country's 1972 earthquake crisis and the international relief funds sent to alleviate the suffering. In an act of sympathy with the plight of the Nicaraguan people, the U.S. suspended military aid to Somoza and paved the way for Commandante Zero and his Sandinista compatriots, known as the FSLN, to seize power in 1979. At first, Washington with Jimmy Carter as president, provided aid to the new administration. Within a year, the policy changed. Fearful that the Sandinistas were allied with Moscow, could spread their influence throughout Central America, and were aiding the Salvador rebels, Washington suspended aid and became belligerent against an administration it had indirectly assisted in achieving power. Despite the U.S. House of representatives passage of the Boland Act, that prohibited the U.S. from supplying arms to those opposed to the Sandinista regime (Contras), the Reagan administration "covertly" armed the Contras. In an effort to destroy the Nicaragua economy, the CIA mined Nicaragua's harbors. In June 1986 the World Court sided with a Nicaragua law suit and found the U.S. guilty of violating international law.
The confrontation with Nicaragua escalated during the Reagan and Bush administrations. The Contras, illegally armed with U.S. funds from several sources, including those diverted in the Iran-Contra affair, ventured from bases in Honduras into parts of Nicaragua. They attacked and destroyed, but never held territory or could convince the Nicaraguan people to revolt. The actions had their toll and the Sandinista government wanted to end the bloodshed. The Sandinista government accepted the Arias Plan, devised by the Costa Rican president, and which had the support of Central American countries. Despite U.S. rejections of the plan, the plan was implemented. In 1990, Violeta Barios Chamorro, representing an opposition party, defeated Daniel Ortega, the FSLN candidate, in internationally supervised elections. The Nicaragua government and the Contras signed a permanent cease fire and the Contras demobilized. The Arias Plan brought the democracy and peace to Nicaragua that Washington had claimed as its objectives. Yet, Washington rejected the Arias Plan. It is possible that Sandinista Daniel Ortega might one day return to power in a Nicaragua that remains impoverished after the disposal of the previous Sandinista government.
Viewed totally and over many years, U.S. foreign policy has not exhibited diplomacy. The policies almost always degenerated into military ventures that did not resolve the policy issues. It seems incredible, but it can be shown that since the end of World War II, U.S. indirect, and often direct, intervention in all areas of the world, resulted in the deaths of more than two million persons, wounded and maimed many more, caused dislocations and uprooting of masses of persons, and destroyed infrastructures and economies. The American people have sent their children to die in several fruitless interventions that have served no beneficial purposes.
The Cold War served as an excuse for many illegitimate policies. Most of these interventions did not resolve Cold War issues and usually resulted in attacks on powerless countries. Similar provocations occurred after the end of the Cold War. It's unfortunate that the American people have been unable to fulfill their responsibility and prevent the disasters their governments have caused. U.S. foreign policies have had a habit of going full circle--the adversary conditions they intended to change have often come back again. The trajectories of the explosive weapons used to quell the adversary may someday follow a similar pattern--returning to explode at the original place of manufacture.
updated September 1, 2001
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