An American Lack Of Introspection On Failed US Foreign Policy – OpEd


As usual, with the current surge of Venezuelans coming across the southern border, the American news media, both mainstream and right-leaning, focus on the immediate “crisis” while usually neglecting to mention or downplay any role that American foreign policy has in creating or exacerbating that crisis.

For example, it is true that Venezuelans are now trying to migrate en masse to the United States because they are exhausted by years of destruction of a once prosperous Latin American economy primarily by the authoritarian socialist governments of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro.

However, the U.S. government, going way back to the Cold War, has interpreted the Monroe Doctrine—originally conceived in 1823 to keep the United States out of European affairs and new European intervention or colonization out of the Western Hemisphere—to mean actively trying to rid the hemisphere of indigenous socialist or communist movements. Under this twist in the doctrine, the Colossus of the North, for example, used assassination attempts (against Fidel Castro in Cuba), CIA covert operations (Bay of Pigs invasion against Cuba and Contra operations against the Nicaraguan socialist government), direct military interventions (in the Dominican Republic in 1965 and in the invasion of Grenada in 1983), coups and coup attempts (against Salvador Allende’s government in Chile), and economic sanctions (against many left-leaning regimes in Latin America).

In Venezuela, the latter two tools have been used. The Trump administration backed Juan Guiado’s attempted coup against Maduro, and administrations of both parties have imposed stringent economic sanctions against the Chavez and Maduro governments. Although the gross mismanagement of the Venezuelan economy, especially of the largest known oil reserves on the planet, is mainly responsible for the current influx of Venezuelans at the southern border, harsh U.S. economic sanctions against Venezuela exacerbated the desperation of the average Venezuelan and allowed the socialist governments there to blame all their economic problems on such foreign meddling. Although Venezuela was run by socialists, it has been no threat to U.S. security. The sanctions merely hurt the Venezuelan people while helping the government stay in power by blaming a foreign bogeyman.

American policy toward communist Cuba has been an even greater travesty. John F. Kennedy supported a 1961 invasion by Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs in a harebrained and failed attempt to oust Fidel Castro. The plot had been unlikely to overthrow Castro and had the unintended knock-on effect of almost causing a nuclear Armageddon in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. This brush with potential nuclear destruction, however, taught the United States nothing; planning to oust Castro continued. General economic sanctions, originally imposed against the Castro regime in 1960, have continued to the present day, even as Cuba now poses little threat to American security; these sanctions, like the ones in Venezuela, have helped impoverish the population while allowing a leftist regime a foreign threat to blame, thus outlasting thirteen American presidential administrations.

And these are not the only foreign policy crises in which the U.S. government and the nationalist American media have exhibited amnesia about U.S. involvement in causing or exacerbating the original problem. For example, Iran’s influence in the Persian Gulf predictably increased after George W. Bush demolished one of the few counterweights to it with the unjustified invasion of Iraq in 2003. The United States not only fought an exhausting eight-year counterinsurgency after the main invasion was “successful,” but went back for more after the vicious Islamic State militant group, which had its roots in fighting the U.S. invader, took over a third of the country from the weak Iraqi government. Iraq survived, but only as an Iran-influenced “democracy.”

In 2011, in Libya, the Obama administration, even after seeing the chaos caused by Bush’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, couldn’t help trying to take advantage of the Arab Spring to get rid of the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who actually had made nice with the West. Again, popping the top off of an authoritarian regime in a splintered country unleashed forces that are still fighting a civil war and flooded nearby African countries with Gaddafi’s weapon stocks to fuel Islamist insurgencies there.

Although Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is inexcusable, the U.S. government and American media have been too quick to attribute it entirely to the Russian autocrat’s desire to reestablish a Russian Empire. Ukraine, like Belarus, is very strategic to Putin because Russia has poor intrinsic security on its western flank and has been invaded through those corridors many times. After the Cold War, instead of wisely inviting the defeated enemy into European structures, the United States drove multiple rounds of expansion of the NATO alliance right up to Russia’s borders.

In April 2008, at NATO’s Bucharest summit, George W. Bush pushed the alliance to state formally, “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO”; shortly after taking office in 2021, the Biden White House renewed Ukraine’s dormant hope by using the code phrase that it was “supporting Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.” Denying that expanding a hostile alliance up to any nation’s borders and pledging to admit a neighboring country that is strategic to that nation, and that Russia’s security fears played any role in prompting Putin’s invasion, is self-serving and attempts to get the U.S. government off the hook for previous bad policy.

Americans have very little introspection about their government’s overly interventionist foreign policy because the compliant and complicit American media, both left and right, feed U.S. government propaganda about American actions into the public sphere when the intervention occurs but conveniently absolve them when future crises arise because of the bad policies. Without such introspection, U.S. interventionist foreign policies will continue to cause blowback that the American people believe just arrives out thin air.

This article was also published in The American Conservative 

Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.

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