U.S. History of Colonialism and the New Imperialism
Joel Coburn (SUID 4880712)
Janani Ravi (SUID 4900825)
E297A – EDGE
Professor Bruce Lusignan
December 5, 2003
Despite a lack of approval from the United Nations, the United States invaded the nation of Iraq in a unilateral war waged for the ideals of democracy against a totalitarian regime. The search for “weapons of mass destruction” and the elusive head of state Saddam Hussein continues, along with a larger world-wide fight against terrorism. The second Bush administration asserts a no-tolerance policy for acts of inherent evil. But it can be said that current U.S. foreign policy is a new imperialism, reminiscent of colonialism and the arrogance of a unilateral superpower.
Many would agree that the U.S. has reached a level of political, economic, and military dominance, but this does not completely characterize American unipolarity. One author notes that, “the United States also dominates world politics by providing the language, ideas, and institutional frameworks around which much of the world turns” (Ikenberry 284). The economic strength and market dominance of the U.S. puts it on a pedestal to be admired by the rest of the world; it is believed that freedom and democracy are the pillars of our achievement as a leading nation. Early settlers of the U.S. came to escape the perils of the English monarchy. The first American colonies, followed by the Revolutionary War and the U.S. Constitution, serve as the basis for modern leadership and government. However, this country’s leaders have followed a policy of expansion and colonization to further develop and strengthen the nation.
The institutions of democracy have provided the U.S. with ways to make it seem less threatening to the rest of the world. American principles of innovation and progress, coupled with ethnic diversity and civic nationalism, give us an unusually strong role in world development. Historical context, particularly the world setting during events such as World War II and the rise of Communism that led to the Cold War, has laid the groundwork for the U.S. emergence as a global power.
U.S. unilateralism in the post Cold War era has continued to increase, disrupting the nation’s relationships with other countries in the world. There is an increasing resentment against the intrusiveness of U.S power, market, and culture. According to Rahul Mahajan, “The United States has reached a new zenith of political dominance—capable of flouting the express wishes of the vast mass of humanity and the vast majority of nations and still force them to assimilate into its ever-expanding structures of control” (Full Spectrum Dominance 27-28). The author likens the U.S. to an empire, and questions whether empires can be benevolent. He says, “… the considerations of the empire-builders cannot possibly align with the considerations of the people being ruled” (Full Spectrum Dominance 28).
Modern U.S. policy towards other nations can be explained by the history of colonialism and imperialism dating back to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Subsequent events such as the U.S.-Mexico War, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War highlight early evidence of tendencies toward expansion and intervention. The emerging demographic of authority consisted of Anglo-Saxon Christians intent on preserving their interests. Throughout the 20th century, the U.S. engaged in various foreign interventions to protect its economic and political concerns. These events lay the background for the current U.S. attitude and guidelines in dealing with foreign nations.
The goal of this paper is to examine the emergence of the U.S. as a unilateral force in the world. From evidence as recent as the invasion of Iraq and the following occupation, it can be seen that U.S. foreign policy is clearly motivated by the interests of large corporations and conservative right-wing leaders. This paper explains this position through historical references and a study of contemporary U.S. actions. The current U.S. administration has a strategic vision of the future, a vision that may not prove to be in the best interests of the rest of the world, and hence not supported by other nations. It is clear that, “While the American empire has never ridden higher in terms of absolute power, its base of acquiescence and support is getting weaker by the day” (Full Spectrum Dominance 190-191).
The Monroe Doctrine
The Monroe Doctrine is an American diplomatic decision which has greatly influenced the world and, in particular, America’s policy with regard to international affairs right up to the present day. This policy was initiated by President James Monroe in the year 1823 and aimed at limiting European expansion into the Western hemisphere.
This doctrine strove to achieve a balance between an isolationist policy, which advocates minimal participation of a country in the internal affairs of another nation, and, an interventionist policy, which believed that certain forms of intervention or involvement is necessary to protect economic and political national interests. The Monroe doctrine in its original form tended to be an isolationist policy, but with the increasing power of the United States, it was modified and interpreted in such a manner as to allow the U.S. to use unilateral force to deal with situations in Latin America and other nations in the Caribbean. According to David W. Dent “Monroe tried to justify his new policy through a simple distinction between the “good” politics of Republicanism (representative democracy) in the Western hemisphere and the “bad monarchies” then widespread in the Old World (Europe)” (2).
The doctrine proposed the following key elements:
The American continents should not be considered for future colonization by the European powers.
The nations in the western hemisphere were inherently different from European countries in nature.
Any attempt by these powers to impose their system on any nation in the western hemisphere would be considered by the U.S to be a threat to their own peace and safety.
The United States in turn would not interfere in European affairs.
The Monroe doctrine was a unilateral pronouncement of foreign policy. The new states in the U.S were not consulted when it was drawn up so it did not represent the decision of the entire spectrum of people in the country. Also, it allowed the U.S to interpret it in any manner in order to best suit its foreign interests. With the growth of U.S imperialist tendencies, the scope of the Monroe Doctrine was broadened to cover not only the exclusion of European and other non-American powers from the Americas, but also the possible extension of U.S. hegemony in the area. This condition explains why the Monroe Doctrine, although it was not formally used to justify American intervention, was viewed with suspicion and dislike by Latin American nations (Dent 4-7).
The Monroe doctrine was drawn up without a deeper understanding of the Latin American countries, their people and international politics in that region. It was not ratified by any congressional legislation nor did it obtain a place in international law. The U.S. was not prepared to convert it to a binding inter-American commitment. In fact, when propositioned by Colombia and then by Brazil, Secretary John Quincy Adams declined to negotiate defensive alliances with Latin American nations. European powers dismissed it as having no legal foundation.
According to Dent, “…the Monroe Doctrine served as a rationalization for U.S intervention and coercive diplomacy in dealing with Latin America” (7). In 1845, President James K. Polk cited Monroe's message as a precedent when claiming that the United States rather than Britain should get the disputed Oregon territory, and when warning Britain and Europe not to interfere in the controversies between the United States and Mexico that were to lead to the Mexican War of 1846-1848. In 1895, President Grover Cleveland explicitly invoked the doctrine when demanding that Britain submit to arbitration of a dispute over the boundary between its Guiana colony and Venezuela. These are just a few examples of times when the Monroe doctrine was cited to further U.S colonial, economic, and political interests in the American continent.
In 1904 and 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt developed what came to be known as “the Roosevelt corollary” to the doctrine. He said that under certain circumstances, countries would be justified in taking military action against a nation in the Western Hemisphere, stating that every nation has a responsibility to “…keep prepared, while scrupulously avoiding wrongdoing itself, to repel any wrong, and in exceptional cases to take action which in a more advanced stage of international relations would come under the head of the exercise of the international police” (The Roosevelt Corollary). Also in keeping with the Monroe doctrine, the U.S. was justified in exercising aggression to put an end to chronic unrest or wrongdoing in the Western Hemisphere. The Roosevelt Corollary states, “…chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.” The irony of this was that the Monroe Doctrine had been sought to prevent European intervention in the Western Hemisphere while the Roosevelt Corollary justified American intervention throughout this region.
Roosevelt and his successors applied this corollary until 1929, when the executive branch declared that the Monroe Doctrine warranted only opposition to European action against states in the hemisphere, not U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of those states. This interpretation became part of the “Good Neighbor” policy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This doctrine was redefined to be more of a multilateral undertaking to be applied by all nations of the hemisphere acting together. In the Cold War era this doctrine was cited once again in order to curb the expansionist policies of the Soviet Union and Cuba and also to overthrow President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954 (Dent 14).