The U.S.-Mexican War began on April 25, 1846. It ended nearly two years later with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, on February 2, 1848. The origins of this war can be traced to two significant causes.
The first cause was the U.S thirst for expansion of its territories driven by the idea of “manifest destiny”. John O’ Sullivan coined this phrase in order to explain American conquest of new lands and expansion of its frontiers, “… the right of our manifest destiny to over spread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federaltive development of self government entrusted to us. It is right such as that of the tree to the space of air and the earth suitable for the full expansion of its principle and destiny of growth.” As Americans occupied and settled into territories which did not belong to the U.S., they sought to introduce their own ideologies, culture, and institutions to the exclusion of the beliefs and culture of the natives of that land. The attitude of the settlers was that the ethics and the democratic ideals of the Americans would result in better governance in these territories. These ideas motivated the U.S to offer to purchase areas like California and Texas from Mexico, but Mexico refused to give up its lands.
However, not all of America’s expansion was unwelcome. In the 1820’s, many American settlers had colonized Texas and established themselves and their families in this region. Mexican dictator General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna sought to reverse this trend by abolishing slavery and preventing further American settlement in this region. This fact, “…coupled with a growing suspicion of the intent of the central Mexican government, caused the Texans to support a federal organization of the nation” (Bauer 5). In 1835, Texans revolted and set up a provisional government which Santa Anna refused to accept, and Mexico still claimed ownership of Texas under a rebel government. The U.S recognized Texas as an independent state, and it maintained sovereignty for nine years. Texas wished to join the United States but this was blocked for many years by anti-slavery forces in the U.S. who were worried that new slave states would be created. However when the British began to express an interest in independent Texas, the administration in the U.S proposed terms for annexation of Texas. The Mexican government considered this to be an act of war.
On July 4, 1845 a Texas convention accepted the U.S. offer, a decision that was overwhelmingly affirmed by the voters of Texas in the fall. On December 29, 1845, Texas was formally admitted to the Union. On April 25 1846, a Mexican ambush on American forces led to a declaration of war by the U.S. on Mexico.
The Mexican War was an important event in American history as it embodied the principles of “manifest destiny” and the expansion of the American state to include new territories. The experience in Mexico show how deeply entrenched the ideas of Anglo-Saxon supremacy were in people’s minds. The soldiers opinions about the war was divided, some believed in the westward expansion and America’s right to settle new lands whereas others were disillusioned by the racial tinges of this conflict. This discontent was to a certain extent responsible for America’s limited gains from this war. The actions of the Americans in Mexico “…reveal the perplexing ways in which soldiers and others confused issues of race, ethnicity, religion, and economic status, making damning judgments based on peculiar configurations of personal experience, prejudice and received propaganda” (Foos 5).
In 1848 the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty declared that, “There shall be firm and universal peace between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic and between their respective countries, territories, cities, towns and people without exceptions of places or persons” (The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 1848). The terms of the treaty required that the Mexican government recognize Texas as a part of the United States, fix its boundary at the Rio Grande and also that Mexico give up the territories of New Mexico, and both upper and lower California.
The Civil War
To examine the history of U.S. imperialism, it is essential to discuss the American Civil War and its causes. The Civil War is considered the single most important turning point in the life of the nation. Robert Cruden wrote, “… the war ushered in the dominance of business values in economics, politics, and social life and thought which has since characterized American society” (1).
At the root of the conflict was the institution of slavery, which has existed since colonial times. The Revolutionary War had been fought to preserve the belief that all men are created equal, but ironically slavery existed in all of the original thirteen colonies. By 1787, slavery was largely gone from Northern states, but it was still an integral part of the U.S. Constitution and supported by Northern delegates who realized that there was money to be made in the slave trade (Harrison).
Prior to the time leading up to the war, the South was a predominantly rural, agrarian society dominated by the plantation aristocracy that depended on black slaves for its labor. The rising industrial economy of New England and the challenge of abolition pressured the South to rise in support of slavery. Southern leaders united to put together a skewed picture of reality for their constituents—men were born into a social order that protected them and they were subject to its laws and institutions. To justify slavery, “Clerics cited appropriate Biblical passages to show that slavery had divine sanction. Scientists proved the inherent inferiority of blacks . . . Although blacks had lived for thousands of years in Africa they had never developed a civilization” (Cruden 17). The role of God and the Bible in the Southern way of life was critical to the Confederacy. According to Snay, "With secession and the outbreak of the Civil War, Southern clergymen boldly proclaimed that the Confederacy had replaced the United States as God's chosen nation" (Snay 193).
Slavery was also considered crucial for the economy. With the invention of the cotton gin, the cultivation of cotton on large plantations with slave labor became profitable. It was noted that, “The slave became an ever more important element of the southern economy, and so the debate about slavery, for the southerner, gradually evolved into an economically based question of money and power, and ceased to be a theoretical or ideological issue at all” (Harrison). So in light of the prejudice that existed, Southerners needed slavery to maintain and foster wealth.
While slavery was growing in the South, the Industrial Revolution began in the East and a new dichotomy developed. American society could be split into two classes: industrial capitalists and property less proletarians (Cruden 5). In addition to black laborers, there was a mass migration of foreigners in the 1840s that entered into an exploitive relationship with industrialists—they were forced into cheap labor. But there was a common thread of pride and freedom between the people of what would later become a united North. Workers wanted better wages, businessmen desired greater profits, social reformers were trying to improve society, women were battling for equality, and abolitionists struggled to end slavery.
The Civil War is also viewed as the product of “… economic and political issues: Northern and Southern rivalry for control of Western public lands, deemed essential for the expansion of both sections; or from Northern determination to make the South subject to Northern economic interest; or from Southern resolution to transform the Union into a vast slave state” (Cruden 3). Much of the expansion of U.S. territories that preceded the Civil War can be traced to the South’s desire to extend slavery to new states, and the corresponding interest of the North to quell slavery.
The U.S. Mexican War and the annexation of Texas were dividing factors between the North and the South. Prior to the war, these two sides struggled for equal representation in Congress; the South pushed for the addition of Missouri as a slave state since the North had a greater number of Congressmen in the House of Representatives, and the result was the Missouri Compromise whereby Maine was admitted as a free state and Missouri was admitted as a slave state. But the “peculiar institution” of slavery was not the most effective means for driving an economy, and the South began to notice this as the North continued to expand in wealth and population.
Texas was originally settled by American farmers who supported the abolishment of slavery. But Southerners were soon to follow, and after creating various conflicts with Mexicans, they proposed annexation of Texas from the country of Mexico. Once Texas was officially assimilated into the Union, the South proposed to divide Texas into five states and send ten senators to Congress, thus overthrowing the balance of power in U.S. legislature (Martineau 212). From a strategic standpoint, the border between Texas and Mexico offered a way for the Confederacy to escape the Union naval blockade.
Besides Texas, “the Confederacy also had western designs on the U.S. territories of New Mexico and Arizona and parts of northern Mexico, especially Baja California” (Coerver and Hall 31). After secession, the Confederacy concentrated its efforts on expanding into the South West to acquire more slave states. The South even had hopes that California would secede, and that the New Mexico Territory (the states of New Mexico and Arizona) would be a key link to California. However, the majority of the population in these states was Hispanic, and until recently Mexican citizens, and was not receptive to the desires of the Confederacy. But, “The Southerners in the Territory mistook their own views for those of a majority and also expected the US Government to sit idly by while they seceded” (New Mexico Campaign).
Horace Greeley, the outspoken journalist who launched the New York Tribune, viewed the results of the U.S. Mexican War as a dangerous territorial dispute between the North and the South. He referred to the annexation as a “gross political mistake, as well as a crime” (Maihafer 46). The gross atrocities committed against the Mexican population are often ignored. General Ulysses S. Grant contrasted the beauty of the country and the weakness of the people by saying, “Of all the countries and all the climates on Earth, no other people are so blessed by Nature . . . They [Mexican soldiers] fight and simply quit. Poor fellows; if they were well drilled, well fed, and well paid, no doubt they would fight and persist in it; but as it is, they are put to slaughter without avail” (Maihafer 41).
The Spanish-American War
At one point Spanish territories extended from Virginia in the eastern coast of the U.S south to Tierra del Feugo at the tip of South America excluding Brazil, and westward to California and Alaska. By the year 1800 however Spain no longer remained a major force in Europe. The Seven Years War, which ended in 1763, resulted in the victory of Great Britain over the French and Spanish forces. As a result the French surrendered Canada to the British and Spain gave up Florida. Internal conflicts between France and Spain after Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 1807 further weakened the Spanish regime. By 1825 much of the Spanish empire had disintegrated and had fallen under the control of other colonial powers. The only remnants that remained in the empire in the Western Hemisphere were Cuba and Puerto Rico and across the Pacific in Philippine Islands, and the Carolina, Marshall, and Mariana Islands (including Guam) in Micronesia.
The United States had always been interested in expanding their empire to include Cuba. Different sections of the population had their own vested interests in this region. For the south it had the potential as a place to expand the plantation and slave system and for the north it had unexplored possibilities for trade. As Senator Thurston of Nebraska remarked, “War with Spain would increase the business and earnings of every American railroad, it would increase the output of every American factory, it would stimulate every branch of industry and domestic commerce” (Centennial of the Spanish-American War –1898-1998). Also Cubans were not entirely averse to the annexation of Cuba by the U.S. As the authors suggest, Cubans believed that the admission of Cuba as a state would be “…a process similar to that of Texas in 1845…U.S policymakers, however, were thinking in terms of replacing Spain in a colonial relationship to the island” (Coerver and Hall 28).
Cubans were the first to start their struggle for independence from Spain. In the period from 1868-1878 Cuban guerillas know as mambises fought for autonomy from Spain. This ended with a treaty that was never enforced and in the 1890’s this struggle was revitalized under the leadership of Jose Marti. President William McKinley came under intense pressure to defend American interests on the island—by the 1890’s American citizens owned about fifty million dollars of Cuban property. Also the atrocities committed by the Spanish rulers stirred public outrage in the U.S.
Two incidents bought this tension to a head and forced the hand of the U.S to intervene in Cuba. The first incident was a publication of a secret letter written by the Spanish Minister to America to his friend describing the President McKinley as "a weakling...a bidder for the admiration of the crowd" (Centennial of the Spanish-American War –1898-1998). The second was the sinking of the U.S.S Maine, a battleship that had been sent to Havana to provide a naval presence. The cause of its sinking was an explosion and resulted in the death of around 260 sailors.
The U.S demanded the independence of Cuba from Spain and on 25th April 1898 Congress responded to McKinley’s request for armed intervention. The Teller Amendment to the declaration of war on Spain indicated that the U.S was motivated solely by the cause for Cuban independence and did not have any colonial interest in Cuba.
The signing of the treaty of Paris on 10th December 1898 marked the end of hostilities between Spain and the United States. As a part of this treaty the U.S. received Puerto Rico and purchased the Philippines for 20 million dollars. This treaty declared Cuba to be an independent country but also allowed American military occupation for an indefinite duration.
After four centuries of Spanish colonial rule, the period between 1860 and 1898 witnessed a pro-independence rebellion, colonial reform, and the establishment of the first national political parties, the abolition of slavery, and a short-lived experiment in autonomy under Spanish rule. The political and military strategies of a decaying Spain and the emerging regional power of the United States at the end of the nineteenth century, however, placed Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, at center stage in the Caribbean (Bras).
The U.S in the nineteenth century was interested in Puerto Rico for both economic and military regions. It provided a very strategic naval base in the Caribbean and also served as an outlet for excess goods manufactured in the United States.
During the Spanish American war, as a part of the American offensive, around 3000 American troops landed in Guanica, Puerto Rico and quickly overran the island. Other than a few minor skirmishes, the native people of the country received the American soldiers with enthusiasm.
As a part of the provisions of the treaty of Paris, at the end of the war with Spain, Puerto Rico was formally transferred to the United States. There was some resentment among the people of Puerto Rico to the establishment of a U.S. government, as it had not suffered under the Spanish rule. However Roosevelt, then governor of New York, believed that, though there was no danger of a rebellion by the people of this island, it was incumbent upon the Americans “to give it the best type of government” (Collin 511).
The Philippines were also dissatisfied with Spanish rule of their country and were striving to gain independence under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo. In the run up to the Spanish American war Americans sought Aguinaldo’s support. Believing that Philippines would be given independence in return for their support the Filipinos were not hostile to the Americans. The Spanish delegates gave up Philippines to the United States as a part of their agreement to the treaty of Paris for the sum of 20 million dollars. McKinley deemed the people of the Philippines too "uncivilized" to govern themselves and established military rule in the country (Buschini).
Aguinaldo felt betrayed and led his troops to the jungle. From there he waged a bitter guerilla war against the armies of the United States but they were no match for the superior forces of the Americans. They were defeated and many were confined to what could be called concentration camps. American rule over the island continued till after World War II.
There was a whole section of the American population against this annexation of the Philippines. They formed what is known as the American anti-imperialist league. Among its members were Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie.
The war established Theodore Roosevelt as a hero. He successfully led the “Rough Riders”, a U.S voluntary cavalry in the Battle of Kettle Hill. He was nominated to the Congressional Medal of Honor and later became the governor of New York.
The war with Spain had a wide range of implications for the United States and greatly strengthened its position as a power to reckon with. Puerto Rico and Cuba were strategic possessions in the Caribbean, in fact were American colonies. Yet the Americans did not consider themselves a colonial or imperial power. “The Monroe Doctrine—originally envisioned as a defensive policy—was being transformed into an offensive one. The war not only signaled the arrival of the United States as a world power; it was also the first phase in a more interventionist policy in its traditional region of concern” (Coerver and Hall 45).
U.S. Interventions in the Last Century
Reflecting on the last hundred years of American history, the U.S. has not explicitly considered itself an empire intent on colonizing other nations. In fact, even in 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We don’t seek empires. We’re not imperialistic. We never have been. I can’t imagine why you’d even ask the question” (qtd. in Full Spectrum Dominance 9). However, the interests of the nation, primarily economic in nature, have led to the development of an interventionist foreign policy. The chief justification of this foreign policy is the promotion of democracy and freedom that forms the foundation of American government. In this way, the U.S. endeavors to be the protector of democratic institutions and human rights violations in less-developed nations.
Despite these idealistic goals, the reality of the country’s interests in any other nation can be aptly summarized by the State Department Policy Planning Study 23, issued in 1948. George Kennan wrote:
The U.S. has about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming, and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about such vague and unreal objectives as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better (qtd. in The New Crusade 102).
Though American foreign policy is not so outwardly harsh as described, the fact remains that our political and economic interests frequently overshadow any benevolent motives that the country may have. The following sections will examine recent examples of intervention in foreign nations in order to give a clear picture of the manifestation of this “new imperial” policy.
The United States and Panama
In 1821 after separation from Spanish control Panama joined the Confederation
Of Gran Columbia. The importance of Panama to the United States and other European powers was due to its location, which serves as a land bridge between North and South America. The strategic value of an interoceanic crossing was well understood by these countries. Recognizing the importance of gaining concessions and crossing rights in Panama, the Bidlack-Mallarino Treaty was signed between the United States and Columbia. This treaty gave the U.S transit rights along with the right to intervene militarily to protect its transit interests in return for U.S promises to protect Columbia’s sovereignty over Panama. However the Clayton-Bulwer treaty of 1850 proposed that the construction of any canal be a joint venture between England and America. A French project to build a canal in Panama in the 1880’s ended in failure due to tropical diseases and poor planning. There were 14 major interventions by the American forces in the period between 1856 and 1903, which led to clashes between American troops and the people of Panama.
In the first few years of the 1900s attempts were made by the U.S. to reach agreements with either Columbia or Nicaragua to build an isthmian canal. However these efforts did not reach any logical conclusion. In 1903 the United States helped Panama create an independent state and negotiated the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty for the canal. The conditions of this treaty were extremely favorable to the U.S. but did not completely serve Panama’s interests. In fact John Hay, secretary of state, said that the treaty was “very satisfactory, vastly advantageous to the United States, and we must confess, with what face we can muster, not so advantageous to Panama…” (Dent 301). The canal was a project that cost the U.S a total of $352 million in addition to thousands of people who lost their lives to disease and accidents.
After the construction of the canal the U.S Panama relations were strained due to a number of reasons. Differences in compensations based on race, the feeling of being forced to work with a treaty which did not treat them fairly, and resentment over U.S efforts to control more land in Panama were some of the grievances of the people of the country. In the 1930s the 1903 treaty was revised to allow for a more generous compensation to Panama. In 1946 the U.S. Army founded a training center in Latin America that was later named the U.S. Army School of the Americas. During the cold war era Panama clamored for recognition of its sovereignty in the Canal Zone and the right to display both the U.S. and the Panama flags side-by-side. This demand for sovereignty continued till President Jimmy Carter negotiated two canal treaties in 1977 that allowed for Panama to govern the canal beginning the year 2000.
General Manuel Antonio Noriega came to power in Panama in 1981. He had close ties with the CIA in America and was on their payroll since 1966. Noriega was known to be a corrupt dictator and was involved in drug trafficking, arms smuggling, money laundering, and the ruthless oppression of his people. He was also said to have doctored the election results in 1984 in favor of his hand-chosen candidate. However the U.S turned a blind eye to these facts because of his cooperation with U.S Intelligence and military agencies. He helped smuggle guns to the Contra and helped them set up a Contra training camp in Panama. In fact American actions in an undercover drug operation sent Noriega a message that his drug activities would be overlooked if he would support the United States in the battle against the Sandinistas (Gilboa).
In 1988 Noriega was indicted in Florida for drug trafficking and money laundering and the United States then sought to remove him from power. In fact, at first the U.S suspended aid to Panama, then tried negotiations, economic and diplomatic sanctions and military threats to force him to resign, but none of these produced any effect. Noriega grew more defiant in resisting the U.S. Grand juries in the United States indicted him on the charges of drug violations and the President came under intense pressure to overcome his indecisiveness and what was seen as a weak stance against Noriega and take stern action against him. The Time magazine labeled Bush a wimp and his party considered him a coward who did not have the resolve to deal with Noriega.
On the 15th of December 1989, the Panamian National assembly appointed Noriega chief of government and declared Panama to be in a state of war with the U.S. This declaration was followed by severe harassment of Americans forces by the Panamian Defense Forces. George Bush ordered an invasion called “Operation Just Cause”. Although “… Bush justified the invasion on the grounds that he needed to protect U.S. citizens in Panama, help restore democracy, and bring an end to a brutal dictatorship…,” the real reason can be traced to Bush’s efforts to get rid of the “indecisive” image that he had been labeled with (Dent 309).
Both political parties in the U.S. and also the majority of the people supported this war. After several weeks Noriega surrendered and was convicted and sentenced to a U.S. prison for racketeering, money laundering and violations of drug laws.
In recent times, the war against drugs, which is now more a joint operation with the Panamians, requires U.S. military presence on the island. This has in fact been approved by a majority of the people in that country as they realize the economic potential of the U.S presence. Today, the “U.S. drug policy in Panama faces a fundamental contradiction between promoting a high volume of unimpeded commerce—which the U.S. and Panama embrace—and introducing mechanisms needed to reduce the profitable drug trade. As long as the underlying incentives for the narcotics industry are in place, Panama—a crossroads for trade of all kinds—will continue to be a transit zone for such contraband” (Lindsay-Poland).
The United States and Guatemala
U.S. intervention in the Latin American country of Guatemala has had a profound impact on its people. After a liberal revolution in 1871, the U.S. established a presence in Guatemala by exporting bananas through the United Fruit Company (UFC). UFC became a major force in Guatemala and the government was often subservient to its interests. It was estimated that, “The UFC controlled over 40% of the country's best land and port facilities” (History of Guatemala).
In 1944, the dictatorship of General Jorge Ubico, a leader supported by the U.S., was overthrown and replaced by the democratically-elected president Juan Jose Arevalo. The years of governance under Arevalo proved to be a time of great social progress and reform for the people of Guatemala. He guaranteed basic freedoms of speech and press, as well as protection of the rights of workers. Arevalo’s minister of defense, Jacob Arbenz, won the presidential election in 1950. He redefined Guatemala’s relationship with foreign investors, and particularly the UFC, by passing the Agrarian Reform Law to expropriate unused land from large landholders. Companies owning unused land would have to return the land to the families that needed it (“U.S. Coup: Guatemala”).
Despite the beginnings of successful democratic government in Guatemala, the U.S. government reacted strongly to the Agrarian Reform Law by immediately cutting off aid to Guatemala. The UFC began dealings with the CIA to plot a removal of Arbenz. In 1953, the CIA trained, equipped, and financed a Guatemalan mercenary force led by Carlos Aromas (“U.S. Coup: Guatemala”). The CIA then launched an invasion from Honduras, but the attack failed to spark an uprising against the Guatemalan government. The CIA increased the pressure by spreading anti-government propaganda and initiating a bombing campaign on major Guatemalan cities. Eventually the army refused to support Arbenz and the U.S. and UFC were able to put Armas in power (History of Guatemala).
Under Armas and direct support of the U.S., the expropriated land was immediately returned to the UFC. Some of the worst atrocities imaginable were committed, including the murder of 200,000 civilians, with the aid of $80-$90 million dollars from the U.S. Around 1966, the U.S. sent hundreds of Green Berets to Guatemala to train the national army. This led to the development of a “scorched earth” policy. It was an extermination policy of rounding up women, children, and elders in the church to then spray the building with machine gun bullets and set it on fire. Young men were kept alive and forced to join the army. The worst period of violence was from 1980 to 1983, when the government came under power of the evangelical protestant Rios Montt, a president backed by Reagan administration (History of Guatemala).
Government terrorists blew up a newly opened Guatemalan newspaper called La Epoca in 1988. While a potentially independent voice in Guatemala had been silenced, the U.S. called for the overthrow of the government and support of a U.S.-run terrorist army. A journalist at La Epoca, Julio Codoy, later said, “One is tempted to believe that some people in the White House worship Aztec gods—with the offering of Central American blood” (qtd. in “Making Guatemala a Killing Field”).
During a historic visit to Antigua, Guatemala, President Bill Clinton publicly apologized for the U.S. involvement in Guatemala. However, this has not stopped the exploitation of the country for the benefit of the U.S. economy. Current president Alfonso Portillo has strong ties with the U.S., and Guatemala remains a target in the U.S. war on drugs. The United Fruit Company is currently known as Chiquita Banana and is operated by Carl Linder. Linder has made enormous financial contributions to politicians such as Bob Dole and Bill Clinton in effort to protect and bolster the production of bananas (“U.S. Coup: Guatemala”).
The United States and Nicaragua
Nicaragua is yet another nation that has had a history of U.S. intervention. This history begins with a U.S. interest in a canal across the isthmus, and this interest was stimulated by the discovery of gold in California. In 1894, General Jose Santos Zelaya seized power and became president. He sought to extend Nicaraguan authority and had financial dealings with Britain, which aroused the suspicion of the U.S. and caused him to be overthrown (BBC News). In 1912, the U.S. imposed a puppet government lead by provisional president Adolfo Díaz. By 1914, Emiliano Chomorro took over as president and signed the Bryan-Chomorro Treaty with the U.S. The U.S. acquired the right to build a canal across Nicaraguan territory, lease the Great and Little Corn Islands, and establish a naval base in the Gulf of Fonseca for a sum of three million dollars (Stanford Center for Latin American Studies).
The U.S. was able to establish military bases in the following years. But an anti-occupation force began to grow, and by 1927, there was much guerilla warfare led by Augusto César Sandino. U.S. forces were finally expelled from Nicaragua in 1934 after five hundred battles, but “under the tutelage of Arthur Bliss Lane, U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza masterminded the assassination of Augusto César Sandino” (http://www.stanford.edu/group/arts/nicaragua/discovery_eng/timeline/). With Sandino out of the picture, Somoza officially became president in 1937 and went on to lead a harsh regime for 20 years (“Nicaragua History”).
The Somoza family was able to control the government of Nicaragua for many years to come. Somoza's son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, was elected president in 1967, and resigned later in 1972 but remained in charge of the military. In 1974, Somoza Debayle returned to the presidency to squelch objections to his harsh regime. Despite his efforts, a large opposition group called the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), also known as “Sandinistas,” took control of the government to institute social, political, and economic reform for the people of Nicaragua (“Nicaragua History”).
For the first time in history Nicaraguans could decide their own future, but this was short-lived. The U.S., unsupportive of the Sandinista government and suspicious of Communist ties, cut off economic aid and began to support of counterrevolutionary military forces, or contras (“Nicaragua History”). The Reagan-Bush administration was the leader behind this plan to undermine the Sandinista regime. In fact, it was part of a larger scheme, known as the Iran-contra affair, by which funds were provided to Nicaraguan contra rebels from the profits of selling arms to Iran. To summarize the cost in Nicaragua, one author noted, “This ten-year war was fought at the cost of 60,000 lives, 178 billion dollars, and the Nicaraguan infrastructure and economy” (Stanford Center for Latin American Studies).
In addition to secret funding of the contras, the U.S. illegally mined Nicaragua's principle export harbors in 1984 and was later condemned by the World Court. In 1985, the U.S. issued a trade embargo against Nicaragua. The Sandinista government continued to be popular with the people because it offered representation for peasants and urban poor, and this was evident in the election of Daniel Ortega in 1984 (“Nicaragua History”). But this was not destined to last, as the U.S.-backed National Opposition Union defeated the Sandinistas in the elections and placed Violeta Chomorro in the presidential office. Despite U.S. funding, the FSLN retains popularity and life in Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega is again the head of the Sandinista party, while Liberal party member Enrique Bolanos resides as the nation's president (“Timeline: Nicaragua”).
Current U.S. Foreign Policy
From historical evidence and examples presented so far, it should be clear that the U.S. has maintained a foreign policy of intervention. As Scott Burchill writes, “... the United States has been addicted to regime change around the world since the end of the Second World War. From Syria in 1948 to Afghanistan in 2002, the list of countries subject to various forms of intervention by the United States is staggeringly long” (Burchill). This list would now have to include Iraq as well. Based on its unilateral actions, the U.S. has ignored international rules, such as those imposed by the United Nations, as being an effective guide for global relations.
It is a commonly held belief that we are living in a “unipolar moment,” where the U.S. employs its unchallenged power to guarantee world dominance. The roots of this era have been formed through the actions of neoconservatives, the Christian right, and the economic interests of large corporations. The final spark to ignite the flame was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which has been used to justify U.S unilateralism. Noam Chomsky wrote, “The most powerful state in history announced a new National Security Strategy asserting that it will maintain global hegemony permanently: any challenge will be blocked by force, the dimension in which the U.S. reigns supreme” (Dominance and its Dilemmas).
Prior to the 21st century, the U.S. was regarded by many nations as a benign global leader. The country saw itself as a major force in the world that could promote peace, take part in multilateral policy, and work toward globalization. Of course, there have always been views amongst our leadership that the U.S. must take strategic action to maintain its predominant position and strive to remain the most powerful nation in the world. In earlier times, “The ideological and military rivalry of the cold war checked the geographical reach of U.S. hegemony,” and acted as a balancing force (Barry). The Cold War and the spread of communism were excellent justifications for U.S. intervention. The Soviet Union and its allies were threatening democracy and freedom.
But the more philanthropic and charitable intentions of the nation no longer seem to exist. Current foreign and military policy is largely dictated by narrow U.S. interests, rather than by the interests of society as a whole. The Bush administration now calls, “... for a world order based on U.S. supremacy and enforced by U.S. military power—a unipolar world in which the U.S. imposes the rules but, because of its own self-evident goodness, is not necessarily bound by them” (U.S. Foreign Policy – Attention, Right Face, Forward March). This new foreign policy is best highlighted by the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, which is part of the “War on Terrorism,” and the U.S. war in Iraq.
The War on Terrorism
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th served as a catalyst for advancing the rightist foreign policy agenda that had made great progress during the years of President Reagan. The Bush administration seized the opportunity to push forward a policy of militarism and unilateralism. To justify this new view that U.S. leadership wanted to take, the country declared war on terrorism and, more specifically, terrorism from the Arab world. Ironically, as Mahajan points out in The New Crusade, “... everyone had been saying that our world changed on September 11. In a sense, however, it was on September 20 that the world changed, the day that Bush announced the American jihad” (16).
To execute American jihad, Bush gave the world an ultimatum—you are either with us or against us. There could be no middle ground, and each nation would have to decide to either support terrorism or join in the U.S. fight against it. The U.S. response to terrorism seemed like the only possible response of right-thinking people, and the nation's leadership felt that any attack launched at any time could be justified as self-defense under international law (The New Crusade 20).
Culpability for the September 11th tragedy was assigned to Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network. He was traced to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, thus giving the U.S. a target for its rage. U.S. intelligence produced little evidence to support this claim, but the government must have been following the activities of many terrorist groups. Oddly enough, years earlier the CIA, “... recruited radical Islamists from many countries and organized them into a military and terrorist force, not to help Afghans resist Russian aggression, which would have been a legitimate objective, but for normal reasons of state, with grim consequences for Afghans after the Mujahideen took control” (Crucial Questions in the Age of Terror).
By blaming terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, the U.S. government sought to explain the hatred toward America. Bush repeatedly cited the Arab world's resentment for our freedom and democracy. But 40 years prior to this, Dwight D. Eisenhower asked the National Security Council why these nations hate us, and the response was that, “... the US supports corrupt and brutal governments that block democracy and development, and does so because of its concern to protect its interest in Near East oil” (Crucial Questions in the Age of Terror). The nation's economic interests seem to frequently win out over democracy and progress in foreign nations. U.S. foreign policy with regard to Iraq and the Israel-Palestine conflict must further exacerbate the feelings of animosity.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. economic interest at stake was the oil and natural gas of the Caspian basin. Natural resources in this area are virtually untapped. As Vice President Dick Cheney, formerly CEO of Halliburton remarked, “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian” (Ross). Construction of an oil pipeline from this region leading to the sea and Asian markets would be in the economic interests of several U.S. corporations, and the most likely route for this pipeline would be through Afghanistan. Mahajan best summarizes the options for an oil pipeline by writing, “There are three alternatives for piping oil and gas to those Asian markets: a pipeline through Iran, the most natural choice but prohibited to U.S. corporations because of U.S. trade and investment sanctions; a pipeline all the way to China, so long that it adds significantly to the cost of oil; and one through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian sea. Of those states, Afghanistan is the one most potentially controllable by the United States” (The New Crusade 32).
In 1998, the oil company Unocal informed the U.S. Congress that construction in Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government was in place. This is where the Taliban came into the picture. Central Asia expert Amed Rashid wrote in his book Taliban, “Impressed by the ruthlessness and willingness of the then-emerging Taliban to cut a pipeline deal, the State Department and Pakistan’s ISI agency agreed to funnel arms and training to the Taliban…” (Ross). Besides Unocal and oil companies, the Enron Corporation was building a power plant in Dabhol, India and needed cheap fuel to minimize power generation costs. The Caspian Basin has an abundance of natural gas, which coupled with the pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan, could serve this purpose.
The terrorist attacks of September 11th gave the U.S. the opportunity to use military force to establish a government in Afghanistan that would be favorable to our economic interests. It has now been nearly two years since the U.S. claimed victory in Afghanistan over the Taliban. However, there has been no improvement in the living conditions for the people of Afghanistan. Geov Parrish of Working Assets wrote, “… after the Americans promised a return to democracy, most of Afghanistan remains carved up among a collection of opulently thuggish warlords, many of them commanders of armies of mass rape, torture and murder from whom the country fled to the Taliban as an antidote six years ago” (Smith). Warlords still pose the greatest threat to the stability of Afghanistan. The social conditions are grim: most people live in abject poverty and are illiterate, and women still do not have basic human rights. Of the $10 billion dollars that the U.S. spent in Afghanistan, the 85% was spent on bombing and financing the Northern Alliance warlords and their private armies (Smith).
U.S. Invasion of Iraq
The war in Afghanistan set the global stage for U.S. unilateral intervention in the 21st century. The U.S. had engaged Iraq in combat previously in the Persian Gulf War over the invasion of Kuwait. U.S. leadership believed that dictator Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime posed a threat to free nations. Following the attacks of September 11th, the U.S. government declared a global war on terrorism and included Iraq in the “axis of evil”. After many failed talks with the U.N. and numerous failed weapons inspections, the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq without the support of the rest of the world. The invasion of Iraq started on March 20, 2003, when a large group of U.S. and British troops attacked. This led to the collapse of the Ba'asthist Iraqi government within about three weeks and began a U.S. occupation that continues up to the present (“2003 Invasion of Iraq”).
There were two main arguments used by U.S. government to validate war in Iraq. The first and foremost belief was that Iraq posed a direct threat to America. The source of this threat was the supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that were being held by a volatile Saddam Hussein. These weapons could be used directly on Americans or they could be distributed to terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda. The second chief argument for invasion was that this would be a war to “liberate” Iraq. Many leaders believed in a need for humanitarian intervention because of the gross human rights violations committed by the Iraqi government (Full Spectrum Dominance 74-75).
The immediate danger of Iraq to the U.S. is a hotly contested point. The search for WMDs was fruitless as U.N. weapons inspectors were shown Iraqi government facilities. It was noted that, “... no evidence has been offered, and certainly no proof that Iraq is such a threat to world peace and security that war is unavoidable” (Pironet). Even worse, the Bush administration propagated outright lies in regards to weapons intelligence. In regards to a charge that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger, it was discovered that the documents to support this were crude forgeries. Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, commented that the U.S. government's failure to uncover this forgery was “disturbing” (Full Spectrum Dominance 118). Also, many people believe that since Iraq used no WMDs against the U.S. during the invasion, it should be clear that they do not exist.
The idea that U.S. invaded Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people and improve human rights is suspicious at best. It is true that the Hussein regime crumbled. But, since the end of the Gulf War, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iraq that have made life grueling and miserable for many Iraqis. These sanctions were supposed to make Iraq yield to U.S. demands, but they involved preventing reconstruction and keeping out medicine and vaccines. Mahajan wrote, “To say that the deaths of 500,000 children due to the sanctions were a price worth paying, as then U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright did, and then to claim that the United States went to war to liberate the Iraqis is the most obscene hypocrisy” (Full Spectrum Dominance 159-160). The conduct of the war itself was not humane. There has been much shelling around Baghdad and cluster bombs have been used in residential areas. The Iraq Body Count Project, which draws from corroborated media reports, estimated that between 7,927 and 9,758 civilians have died as of December 3, 2003 (http://www.iraqbodycount.net).
Iraqi oil is undoubtedly the most significant economic interest for the U.S. During the 1990's, Iraq suffered from a shortage of capital and looked for foreign investment to finance new oil exploration. Iraq signed deals with almost any nation that was not the U.S. or the U.K., and no U.S. agreements could be made due to sanctions resulting from the Gulf War. But now that the government has been ousted and the country is in effect a blank slate, U.S. corporations will have a preferred chance in the bidding process for Iraqi oil. Oil has become a touch subject for the Bush administration because of many ties to the oil industry. As Mahajan points out, “... the preferences will likely not be as blatant as they have been in the initial awarding of reconstruction contracts, where the U.S. government has openly made the decisions, foreign corporations were often not invited to bid, and awards often went to companies like Halliburton and Bechtel, closely tied to the military-industrial complex and, in particular, to key figures in both Bush administrations” (Full Spectrum Dominance 15).
It is not clear that the nation of Iraq is better off since U.S. intervention. In fact, the U.S. military, along with the support of other nations such as the U.K., is struggling day by day in the occupation of Iraq. Among Iraqis themselves, there is a strong movement to end U.S. occupation. But besides the precarious state of Iraq, the outlook for the rest of the world may be bleak as well since the U.S. is showing a “new imperialism.” Scott Burchill wrote, “Those institutions of global order and common good such as the United Nations and international norms, were disregarded by Washington once they no longer served its interests by legitimating 'allied' intervention in Iraq.” If the U.S. continues to ignore international concerns, its authority will go unchecked and unchallenged.