In a recent address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney denounced proposals for so-called “defense” cuts as motivated by a desire to make America a “lesser power” — which, in turn, “flows from the conviction that if we are weak, tyrants will choose to be weak as well; that if we could just talk more, engage more, pass more U.N. resolutions, that peace will break out. That may be what they think in that Harvard faculty lounge, but it’s not what they know on the battlefield!”
To listen to Mitt, you’d think American foreign policy for the past 70 years has been about “defending peace and freedom” and deterring “aggressors” — America as babe in the woods, minding its own business, forced to defend itself against “tyrants” who “hate us” because, well, they’re just evil. This is wrong on so many levels, once you subject the middle-school civics-class view of America’s role in the world to some critical examination, that it’s hard to know where to begin.
First, American foreign policy isn’t about rainbows and puppies. It’s about promoting interests. The American government’s policies, like those of all states, serve the interests of the ruling-class coalition that controls the state. This applies to foreign as well as domestic policy. American foreign policy, like that of every other state, operates in the interests of a domestic system of power.
As Noam Chomsky put it, the Cold War was — as a first approximation — a war by the United States against the Third World and a war by the Soviet Union against its satellites. In 1984, Orwell used the image of three sheaves of wheat propped up against another to describe the mutual dependency of Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. The three superpowers used the perpetual conflict among themselves to justify their control and exploitation of their domestic populations.
The primary purpose of American foreign policy since WWII has been to prop up a corporate world order and to discipline renegade countries that attempt to defect from that order. And in propping up that global system of power, the United States has usually been the aggressor in the actions it has undertaken. The United States, since 1945, has maintained military garrisons in dozens of countries and has probably overthrown and installed more governments than any other empire in history. And it has done so not primarily in self-defense against the “Soviet menace,” but as the inheritor of Pax Britannica’s mantle as guarantor of a world order.
Most of the countries the United States. has attacked in recent decades were not “threats,” because they were incapable of attacking the United States. They were countries on the other side of the world, with third-rate military forces, which lacked the logistical capability to project military force more than a few hundred miles beyond their own borders. If the United States wasn’t such a good sport about meeting countries like that more than halfway, we’d never get to have any wars.
What’s more, there’s a pretty good chance that the so-called tyrants out there were installed by the United States in the first place, to protect the interests of American ruling circles from the ordinary people of those countries. The Western Allies, after “liberating” Axis territory, dispossessed left-wing resistance movements from their gains on the ground and installed provisional governments under former Axis collaborators. Starting with Arbenz in 1954, continuing with the overthrow of Brazil’s Goulart in the 1960s, and culminating in Operation Condor and the overthrow of Allende in South America, the United States installed military juntas or backed death squads in most countries of the Western hemisphere. In the rest of the world, country after country, story: Mossadegh, Sukarno, Lumumba… to borrow a phrase from the Clash: “Those Washington bullets again.”
When the United States has trouble with a “tyrant,” as often as not it’s a former client of the Pentagon and CIA who stopped taking orders and became a liability. Like, for example, when Saddam “launched wars of aggression against his neighbors” and “used weapons of mass destruction against his own people.” The folks in Washington oughtta have known Saddam had WMDs — after all, they saved the receipts. And in Saddam’s biggest war of aggression, the Reagan administration had a ringside seat, cheering him on and providing aid and support against the so-called Iranian menace.
Sorry, Mitt. It’s the U.S. government that needs to be deterred. Romney claims to be a “small-government conservative.” He claims to distrust government. But he’s either stupid or a liar. A government doesn’t stop being a government at the water’s edge.
Originally published at the Center for a Stateless Society