Since the end of the World War II, with United States acting as the “global police force”, Foreign Affairs has been one of the most important tasks of USA’s leaders. However, the report card on their handling international issues over the last 65 years would score an Average grade for them.
During the Cold War, “Containment” emerged as the predominant US policy using military, economic, and diplomatic strategies to stall the spread of communism, enhance America’s security and influence abroad, and prevent a “domino effect”. This was further substantiated by the Truman doctrine. Varied forms of actions such as appeasement, rollbacks, ‘advisors’ and armed interventions were used across various theaters to carry forward this policy.
The US Presidents and their State Department were, however, blatantly myopic while using this policy to counter the communist – where the end resulted in justifying the means – as to fulfil their unsavoury ambitions the Americans ended up using the wrong partners. In several cases, they ended up feeding milk to the proverbial snake, which came back to bite them:
– Afghanistan – to create “Russia’s Vietnam”, the Americans funded and trained the Afghan resistance (with Saudi support) resulting in the creation of Al Qaeda, the Taliban & many unpalatable Jihadi outfits
– Iran – the CIA overthrew the democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh to enthrone Shah in 1953. The Shah was ultimately deposed by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. Anti-US feelings among the leading maulvis are virulent after so many years
– Iraq – to counter the Iranians, the US supported Saddam Hussain and his Baathists in their long war against Iran. The US has finally extricated itself from the Iraq mess – but the story hasn’t finished yet.
– Nicaragua – the support to Contras against the Cuban-style Sandanistas eventually resulted in egg on their faces and innumerable convictions for senior operators
– Panama – US also supported Manuel Noriega and turned a blind eye to his corruption and drug dealing, even as he emerged as a key player on behalf of Pablo Escobar
– Supported dictators like Pinochet (by engineering a coup to depose democratically elected Marxist Allende), Mubarak in Egypt and the Saud family in Saudi Arabia
See some more strange bedfellows: http://egoist.blogspot.com/StrangeBedfellows-X.gif
Learning from History
The US has never been short of a pliable excuse to stick its nose in. While many are strongly justified (like WWII and Desert Storm), the spurious ones stick out conspicuously:
– The WMD of Iraq were as hard to find as the Scarlet Pimpernel [They seek him here,/ They seek him there,/ Those Frenchies seek him everywhere./ Is he in heaven,/ Or is he in hell?/ My own elusive Pimpernel]
– Kennedy was determined to “draw a line in the sand” and prevent a communist victory in Vietnam. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, (where allegedly the North Vietnam navy sank attacked USS Maddox) served as Johnson’s legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam
– Spanish American War (1898) – After the mysterious sinking of the American battleship Maine in Havana harbor, the US declared war on Spain to wrest control over Philippines, Guam and the Caribbean including Puerto Rico & Cuba, to implement the Monroe doctrine [“further efforts by European countries to … interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed as acts of aggression requiring US intervention”].
So, history does repeat itself. Or it pays to be repeated if successful the first time.
End Game Problem
But, US’s predominantly glaring concern has been with “closure”. Apart from successes such as Clinton’s intervention in erstwhile Yugoslavia & the Balkans, the Berlin airlift and the Korean armistice, the US has mostly stumbled at the finish line.
– The exit from Vietnam was the most inglorious of all – the vision of the airlift from the embassy roof in Saigon must still be searing hearts across the land
– US forces had to extricate itself from Somalia after “Black Hawk Down” and has since kept away from that part of the world leaving the hot potato to the ineffective African Union to handle
– Reagon found the heat too hot to handle in Lebanon and had to unceremoniously pull out his troops (see smokescreen tactics used below)
– After the last Russian tank rolled out of Afghanistan in 1989, the US just pulled up tents and moved on – leaving behind a trained guerrilla army with an arsenal to match, and a tottering government in a powder-keg nation.
– Iraq is still too recent an exit to bear comment. It would take too brave or too foolhardy a Middle East expert to announce a “Mission Accomplished” for that endeavour
The proof of the pudding will be in the way the Americans handles the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The tea leaves are ominous!
Learning from the Masters
Interestingly, the US could do well to learn from the master of the game – the British. The mandarins of Her / His Majesty’s Government have run a better and tighter ship. They also had a wider canvas to paint. The Brits have excelled in departing amiably and leaving a clean slate for itself, as evidenced in the post-colonial era exits from its various dominions:
– The Balfour Declaration on 1917 sympathised with the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. The US has since shouldered the Middle-East load, not the UK
– For India & Pakistan, they wheeled out Mountbatten and Sir Cyril Radcliffe for the “two for the price of one” tango!
– From most of its African colonies (Kenya, Zimbabwe & South Africa), the British government exited seamlessly. The ones to suffer were the white settlers, not HMG.
– All the ex-colonies still look to the UK with tongue-tied reverence, celebrating their history of servitude under the garbs of Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
The British were not averse to using the Foreign Affairs “smoke-and-mirror” to handle domestic turmoil. Margaret Thatcher’s armed intervention in the Falklands fuelled national fervour and helped her party to victory in the 1983 general elections, which prior to the war was seen as by no means certain. Interestingly, Ronald Reagan tried the same gambit when US invaded Grenada in Operation Urgent Fury in 1983, just two days after the bomb attack on US servicemen in Beirut, Lebanon.
With multiple fronts to tackle (War on Terror, Mid-East & Maghreb, China, N Korea, Iran, Venezuela etc), the US needs to up its game and learn the (play)books fast – if it wants to get to the head of the class.