US Foreign Policy: Coherent or Contradictory?
Kathleen Belew, in her quite remarkable book, Bring the War Home, argues, as many have before her, that there was “a fundamental contradiction of the Cold War” by which the US, allegedly the moving force for democratizing the world, allied itself with “antidemocratic governments” in order to defeat communism. But whether this contradiction is real or not depends on how the Cold War was understood, whether it was being waged to bring democracy to the world or whether its purpose was, by means of “free enterprise,” to gain “global domination” for the US. Belew argues that by supporting antidemocratic regimes, the US broke the “bond between liberty and social responsibility,” a bond that was embedded in the New Deal, the civil rights movement, and other post WWII political policies. But what Belew doesn’t seem to notice, except somewhat tangentially, was that the Cold War was being waged precisely in order to break this bond, that because of the Cold War, the US and others could no longer afford to prioritize their “social responsibilities.” Realistically, the Cold War had to be waged for the sake of global dominance by the US, even or especially at the expense of meeting the demands of “social responsibilities.”
Put differently, “democracy,” understood as guaranteeing both “liberty and social responsibility,” was no longer taken to be a “realistic” goal by US ruling elites. Allegedly, in the face of “existential threats,” e.g.,, communism, such a view of democracy was no longer realistic or prudent. In the face of such threats, US “global dominance” was absolutely essential and was to be founded on “free enterprise,” eventually, free enterprise as “globalization.” And to advance this goal by these means, there was nothing contradictory about supporting a regime like Pinochet’s Chile, which was both anticommunist and based on free enterprise. That Pinochet’s regime practiced torture and “disappearances” was only a necessary evil that had to be tolerated to secure US global domination and worldwide oligarchy.
As Belew puts it: “This contradiction employed a definition of democracy that broke a long bond between notions of liberty and social responsibility. Instead, liberty was linked to with free enterprise.” And also linked with US global dominance. “Not only did this occlude a long American intellectual tradition joining democracy to with social welfare . . . but it further aligned US democracy with aspirations of global dominance.” [p.83]
But from this viewpoint, that is, once US elites decided to link liberty with “free enterprise” in order to gain “global dominance,” any contradictions in US foreign policy disappear. Supporting a oppressive regime like that of the Somoza family in Nicaragua, which embraced “free enterprise” in the guise of US companies operating there while kowtowing to the US, makes perfect sense, whether or not that regime’s enemies were communists or nationalists. It was enough that the “Sandinistas hoped to free Nicaragua from the influence of the US government and business” to make it incumbent on the US elites to oppose them. To pretend that the US elites had any significant interest in Nicaragua achieving democracy or respecting human rights is just that, a pretense. And, hence, those who entertained such pretenses seriously, like Jimmy Carter, needed to be gone or “educated.” They had to be “schooled” in what a politics of realism, that is, a politics of imperialism, is all about.
So, US foreign policy was, in fact, quite coherent, once you understand what its ends were, global dominance based on free enterprise. Which helps explain why US foreign policy has changed so little over the past few decades.