While watching the withdrawal of American soldiers and civilians from Afghanistan, it dawned on me that our engagement with that country became so indicative of our misplaced priorities and readiness to be guided by politicians and news services. It seems clear now that, whether in collusion or in a semiconscious condition, they followed a narrative that had become all too common.
American interventionism was perhaps established by the Monroe Doctrine, where we allied with our southern neighbors in a pact for mutual protection. This served as another cover for manifest destiny, an indicator of a country that acts on the basis of taking, by force or fiat,what they believe is inherently theirs.
We have the examples of the Spanish-American War and the Bay of Pigs. After World War II, we tried to intervene in Korea, mainly succeeding in dividing the country in two. Then came Vietnam, which demonstrated that, once again, “hearts and minds”, not to mention carpet bombing, were not enough to win such a war. In an effort to flex America’s military, Ronald Reagan decided that it would be a good exercise to show our might by invading Grenada, a country that could not, or would not, offer any meaningful level of self-defense.
George H. W. Bush at least asked for and received a certain level of collaboration by other nations to invade Iraq. This seems benign, except that even that was driven by the urge to protect America’s oil interests.
American oil companies had a storied career with making agreements with Middle Eastern countries, like Saudi Arabia, to have access to their oil. There are pictures of the gold plated gifts that they bestowed on their royalty. Then came Gamel Abdel Nasser in Egypt. He had the temerity to nationalize oil production, throwing companies like Standard Oil for a loop. Our orientation to those countries became one of protection of our economic interests. This has become deeply interwoven into our economic system.
The events of 9/11 were indeed heinous, but even more so they opened a gate that had been artificially shut since the previous incursion in Iraq. Now we had justification to invade the Middle East that seemed to be pure. Someone had dared to hit us at home and we had to respond in a way that would make the lesson clear. The easy victory in Iraq emboldened an imperialist bloc that had George W. Bush’s attentive ear.
But our intercession was a hidden colonial agenda wrapped in the American flag. We would show those countries the power and righteousness of the American way. We paid dearly as, once again, forces that we did not understand played the long game, nipping at our heels and wearing down our resolve while expanding their rank and file.
How much more effect (I refuse to use the word impact) might it have had not to send in impersonal drones and cruise missiles but to offer a humanitarian approach? The money that was spent on food and refugee aid would probably have come to a small fraction of what was spent on the military invasion. We would have held the high ground and hopefully sapped the energy from the propaganda put forth by ISIS and Al-Qaeda. They might have had to offer their ideology on the national stage rather than recruiting on the basis of injustice and depersonalized death from the air.
The basic lesson is this: American policy must stop pursuing imperialism. Our touted exceptionalism does not play well outside of our borders, not to mention inside, as well. Certain countries and cultures have no yearning for our way of life or our philosophy of domination by arms. There are other ways to guarantee our safety, but we must practice the kind of unity in purpose that makes that happen. Given our present divisions, that seems unlikely, but that is another conversation.