And Carry A Big Stick

The Predicament Of US Foreign Policy

Just before the College of Cardinals locked themselves away in seclusion to elect a new Pope, several of them were talking to various media outlets.  They weren’t floating around names but rather the different sides of the Church.  Yes, even the Catholic Church has something close to political parties.  There is the more conservative side and the more progressive side.  One such individual being interviewed was on the progressive side and was asked about the chance of an American Pope.  It has been discussed in the news.  The answer that was given was that it was highly unlikely since it would be assumed that the Pope would then be under the guidance of the American government.  When I heard this answer, it got me to think.  It was only in 1960 that American voters were hesitate to even elect a President that was Catholic because it would be assumed that he would be under the guidance of the Pope.  It’s interesting how things can change.  But was the person being interviewed completely out of step with what he said?  Probably not since our government does have a way of intervening in affairs in other countries, and usually that intervention comes back to haunt us at some later date.

Let’s jump back to the early 1900s.  The American government, under President Theodore Roosevelt, wanted to build a canal across the isthmus of Panama.  At that time, it belonged to the country of Columbia whose government declined.  So in true Roosevelt fashion, the US began to ship arms to rebel groups in Panama, and the US Navy blockaded the coast so that Columbia couldn’t respond in force.  Within an hour of Panama declaring its independence, the US recognized the new nation.  In the end, Roosevelt got his canal much to the consternation of the Columbian government.  Today, as a result of a treaty with Panama, the canal has been returned to the control of the government of Panama and is currently being widened.  We might see this is a triumph for our nation, but it still didn’t help relations with countries in that part of the world.  Overall, though, this was fairly simple in relation to the messes we’ve gotten ourselves into by the end of the 20th century.

In 1980, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  These were the declining years of the Cold War.  The United States could not, and would not, let the Soviets invade a nation.  The people in Afghanistan were putting up resistance, but could they really stop the invaders?  The US government decided to send weapons to help the resistance fighters who would, with the help of the weapons sent by the American government, defeated the Soviets.  These resistance fighters were the Taliban.  In the fall of 2001, the US would go to war in Afghanistan and fight the Taliban for harboring terrorist Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  US forces were able to overthrow the Taliban government, but the Taliban continued to fight to regain what they had lost.  What weapons are they using when fighting our troops… the very weapons we gave them in the 1980s to fight the Soviets.

mideast1aFor a better example, I turn to Iraq.  It seems like everything spins around that nation these days.  It was the US government that put Saddam Hussein in power.  He was to be the buffer against Iran (more on that in a bit) after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.  He was our puppet, so to speak.  And he kept Iran in check… even going to war with the country.  Who gave Saddam all the weapons he would need to stay in power and even go to war with Iran?  The United States did.  Saddam would even use these weapons against his own people when he started attacking the Kurdish population in the north.  Yet the United States still turned a blind eye to the massacre that was taking place.  In 1991, Saddam went rogue and invaded Kuwait.  This threatened US interests in the area.  So now the US had to go to war against the very person it put into power.  The US and its Allies had the upper hand.  The Iraqi army in Kuwait either surrendered or withdrew, and Saddam was on the verge of falling from power.  In the end, Saddam was allowed to stay.  However, all of this would change in 2003 when the US would again invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam’s regime.  The result was a power vacuum and sectarian violence that destabilized the country, threatened the weak democratic government, and cost the US plenty in terms of casualties and money.

The overthrow of Saddam would also have other consequences… our current problem with Iran.  But let’s backtrack just a bit.  In the 1950s, the US government overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran to install the Shah.  This is also the time when we gave nuclear technology to the Iranian government. (see: Persian Rug)  In 1979, the people revolted against the Shah and overthrew their government.  Even today, we still do not have official ties to the Iranian government.  Since the overthrow of Saddam in 2003, we have come across the conundrum of Iran having a nuclear weapon which we are trying to prevent.  The irony of the situation.  As we look at the cluster-bomb (no pun intended), we have failed to realize that we created it by deposing the buffer.  Though Saddam was bad and did need to go, overthrowing his government has directly led to Iran pursuing a nuclear weapon.  Saddam would never have let Iran have a nuclear weapon.  It would have threatened his country.  He would have handled the situation himself… probably with another war.  And more than likely, past transgressions would have been forgiven, and we would have supplied with him with the necessary weapons to ensure that he was successful.  The only thing we despised more than Saddam in the end is still Iran.

Early in his presidency, President George W. Bush referred to three countries as an “axis of evil.”  Those countries were Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.  One of those nations was soon invaded and had its government overthrown.  Since then, the other two countries have been working to obtain nuclear technology so that they may possess a nuclear weapon.  In the past week, North Korea, as a result of joint war games by the American and South Korean navies and new sanctions placed on them by the United Nations, has terminated the 1953 armistice and threatened to attack the US.  The sanctions came after North Korea supposedly tested a nuclear device.  Is there the possibility that the governments in these countries (though authoritarian) might be trying to defend their own borders from US involvement?  They were once declared an axis of evil and saw one of the other nations on the list invaded and overthrown.

bigstickThe US government does have a tendency to meddle in other nations’ affairs.  Though they seem like good ideas at the time, they usually come back to bite us later.  For nearly three decades, we supported the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt despite how he oppressed his people.  Though the US government officially sided with the revolutionaries to oust Mubarak, we didn’t receive any major props.  When the military began firing on protesters, the tear gas canisters had “Made in the USA” written on them as we were providing military weapons to the Egyptian military.  Even today, we are supplying military equipment to the country of Bahrain, and that nation’s government is currently working to stop its people from rebelling and overthrowing it.  In Libya, we helped ouster Gaddafi.  Though we only supplied operational support and didn’t directly supply the revolutionaries with weaponry, other nations did.  And somehow, this could work against us as other situations have.  There have been calls to intervene in Syria.  The US has been walking a very fine line though we are not fans of the Assad regime.  It still goes back to the same conundrum.  Today’s grand moment could be tomorrow’s downfall.  We’ve seen it happen so many times when we’ve meddled in other countries.  Sure, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion if the French government hadn’t given arms to a rebelling army in the British colonies, but the act did work against the French, too.  We still signed our own separate peace treaty with England and left France (and Spain) alone to continue the fight against England.  Sometimes, and more often that we’d care to admit, we need to step back and make sure we are doing the right thing… not just in terms of our interests today but in the bigger global interests that may come tomorrow.

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