Wednesday, 27 August 2014



In an open society where disparate interests, from defense industries to agrochemical exporters, are competing for government advocacy we n expect contradictions in foreign policy. For example, exporters may object to sanctions as a foreign policy tool, while ideologues and defense industry interests may insist on it, siding with various lobbying groups. While it is not unusual to have foreign policy contradictions within certain boundaries, it is very costly to have a foreign policy rooted in contradictions that backfire to the detriment of the broader national interests. With special interests behind the foreign policy contradictions subordinating the national interest the result is continued erosion of US economic power and political influence in the world.

The contradictions in US foreign policy from the Vietnam War to the present have been so glaring in certain instances that it must leave a great many policy observers speechless. One example is the Iran-Contra deal involving Oliver North, among other shady characters in the Reagan administration.  After an Islamic group in Lebanon held seven US hostages in 1985, the US arranged for Israel to ship weapons to Iran, the ultimate absurdity on face value, while the US would compensate Tel Aviv.

Adding to this absurdity that played out in congressional hearings on TV, the Reagan administration arranged for part of the money made from the sale of weapons to flow to the Nicaraguan contras (rebels against a duly-elected government).  Where exactly would the US receive any benefit from this entire affair, considering Iran was part of the “Axis of Evil”, while Nicaragua under an elected regime was also evil but targeted for overthrow.

Similar examples have multiplied in the last twenty years, and they have become even more absurd during the Obama administration that promised to deliver a less ideologically-based more practical foreign policy rooted not in unilateral action but multilateral consultations before taking action and not after the fact. Contemporary history has shown that the US has derived no benefit of any sort by pursuing a policy immersed in contradictions and chaos intended to foster destabilization on purpose, and the cost has been very high.

Lessons from Otto von Bismarck’s and Kaiser Wilhelm’s Policies

It is not unusual for the government of a Great Power to have a foreign policy that is multidimensional and has some contradictions, but in its core it remains cohesive. One of the reasons for the downfall of the 19th century diplomat and statesman Otto von Bismarck was that he pursued a foreign policy mired in what appeared contradictions that Kaiser Wilhelm II simply could not grasp and had to dismiss the elder statesman. The purposeful contradictions in Bismarck’s foreign policy were rooted in the logic of setting self-imposed limits. The goal was for Germany to retain its continental supremacy, while conceding naval dominance to Great Britain, and neutralizing Russia. This meant maintaining the German Empire as a land-based power while conceding to Great Britain the dominance over the high seas owing to its vast colonial network; containing Russia while also reassuring it no conflict would take place between Austria and Russia; and not allowing Austria-Hungary to upset the status quo in the Balkans.

Despite the secret alliances and obvious contradictions that the Kaiser did not appreciate, Bismarck’s “Realpolitik” approach was intended to maintain the country’s continental supremacy without any other power upsetting the status quo. He spent enormous energies in the 1870s and 1880s trying to avoid a broader war that would upset the delicate balance of power in Europe and European colonies. This policy made sense amid the Age of Imperialism, and it worked because openly and secretly the Great Powers and their smaller allies and satellites knew where they stood, they knew their limitations, and what boundaries of power not to cross.

The Kaiser dismissed Bismarck in 1890 (officially, Bismarck resigned), replacing him with individuals who did not believe in setting limitations to German sea power ambitions. The Kaiser’s new team did not believe in secret agreements with Russia to keep the peace on the continent, and they did not believe in restraining Germany’s ability to expand globally without restraint, even risking war to achieve this goal. In The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany, John Röhl places all blame on the emperor and even compares him to Hitler, but most historians point to a business, military, and conservative political establishment behind the Kaiser’s policies.

As the German historian Fritz Fischer noted in his book World Power or Decline, the post-Bismarck government leading to WWI believed that risking it all to become globally hegemonic was a worthy and an achievable goal. We know that the government overreached and amazingly never took into account the US coming to the side of Great Britain and France. The lesson from the Bismarckian era and that of his most significant successor Theolbal Bethnmann-Hollweg serves as a very important example for the US today of how to approach managing its debt-burdened empire challenged by Asia and Eurasia, and rivaled by the European Union. Not because the US is on the path to a global war, but because of its inordinate reliance on military as a component of foreign policy and the immense contradictions in that policy we are likely to see continued erosion of economic power that serves as the base of military might.

Lack of clarity in goals, methods, a coherent post-Communist doctrine, and specific justifications for foreign policy have not just enemies, but allies confused as to what the US would or would not do next. This is not to suggest that US foreign policy must be fixed and inflexible so that the government cannot respond to new situations, new crises, new regimes that may come to power or rebel groups threatening those same regimes. The sources of contradictions are internal and range from ideological and political to economic and military. For example, few political observers failed to notice that during Arab Spring revolts the rhetoric of the US about freedom and democracy pertained only to those countries where the US was eager to see regime change. Regarding the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia where the US backed the authoritarian regimes, there was silence.

US Policy toward Syria and ISIS

The announcement in June 2014 that the US is open to working with Iran to contain the extremist Islamic State and the Levant (ISL) jihadists must have come as a shock to Israelis and American hardliners, especially since the regime in Tehran demanded lifting of sanctions by the US in order to help with ISIS. An ultra-fanatic rebel group of Sunnis that started its fight in Syria and has now spread inside Iraq, ISL (ISIS) has been receiving funding from US allies in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, but also indirectly from organizations working out of Turkey to fund rebels in Syria though not directly ISL or ISIS as commonly known.

Shocking for right wingers who had no problem with US allies’ money going to anti-Assad jihadists, there have been some counter-terrorism experts suggesting the US could work with the regime of President Assad who accepted the offer for political and military considerations. However, the US would prefer to bomb select targets in Syria, something Damascus vehemently opposes without coordination on how to combat ISIS with Syria. That the US wants to help defeat ISIS is a symptom of a policy rooted in contradiction. On the surface, it is obvious ISIS is a threat as much to the US as to Syria, Iraq, and Iran, but that was only until recently when ISIS decided to declare jihad on a much broader scale than just Assad’s Syria.

One of the greatest tragedies in contemporary history, the US helped to create ISIS jihadists whose goal was to remove Iranian-backed Assad from power so the US could have a regime that is not pro-Russian as it has been historically, but pro-West, after the pretext of the Arab Spring uprisings. This reckless adventure of mercenary jihadists has not achieved the goal of toppling Assad in the last three years, creating far too many problems for the US that was forced to the negotiating table with Russia and Iran, and forced to concede that Assad is almost impossible to remove short of sending an invading army. There was never any doubt in the last three years that Russia and China along with Iran and its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon would play a role in blocking US schemes to determine the regional balance of power to the exclusion of the three countries backing Syria.

In August 2014, the US reversed course, trying to work with Assad indirectly to remove ISIS rebels now deemed “terrorists whereas a few months ago they were freedom fighters. Even worse, it has secured the support of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, all involved in undermining Syria’s government, in the anti-ISIS campaign.  Meanwhile, from backdoor channels the US continues trying to destabilize and ultimately overthrow Assad. This on top of the new US collaboration with Iran, while permitting Israel to reduce Gaza to a pulp so that the new US policy toward Iran and Syria can be justified and Israel can feel that the US still supports its catalytic role in the regional balance of power.

The US and Iran also have agree that if the problem is Iraq’s president Jalal Talabani, who worked with Washington and Tehran to stay in power, then he can be replaced because he has failed to unify the nation. Considering that Talabani has become a liability as far as Sunni Muslims are concerned, and he is as much a threat as ISIS to strengthening Kurds, Turkey with Kurdish population has no interest in seeing any momentum for the creation of a great Kurdish state. The problem here is that the US is ambiguous on where it really stands on the Kurdish question, given that it impacts not just Iraq’s territorial sovereignty but Turkey a NATO ally historically engaged in intermittent armed conflict with the PKK – Kurdistan Workers Party.

If someone were to examine not just US foreign policy toward Iraq, Syria and Iran, the ‘war on terror” remains the ultimate absurdity of the last two decades. In the absence of a Cold War ideology fighting Communism, the ideological vacuum is such that the US has to grab onto a manufactured “terrorism” crusade that really has no business when conducting conventional foreign policy between states. Ironically, it the US and its allies, not Iran and Syria, that helped to create the problem of ISIS terrorism. 

Contradictions in US Policy toward Russia and China

China and Russia were rivals of the US throughout the Cold War. Despite the economic integration of China and Russia into the world economy, they remain military rivals for the US to take seriously. This is not only because they have nuclear weapons, but largely because their combined strength at all levels from political to economic, as well as their global influence merits serious treatment of these two countries as potential enemies and collaborators on significant matters. Both have demonstrated that they are interested in business-like diplomacy and solving problems at the negotiating table rather than resorting to force that destabilizes their respective economies.

The contradictions in US foreign policy do not rest in the containment-engagement dichotomy that is obvious and to be expected, but in very clear cut cases where policy seems aimless, random or simply irrational.  A recent glaring example is the Ukraine crisis that hit hard US exports to Russia, especially manufactured goods and banks moving billions around for the economic elites of Russia’s oligarchs. Not only is the US auto industry hurting, but it is dragging the ailing European car industry along with it, threatening the agricultural exports, and possibly energy and at the extreme air travel unless there is a political settlement that satisfies Moscow’s national security concerns and the rights of Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

These are all negotiable issues and must be weighed against the real benefits of securing the Ukraine as a possible Western satellite that the US and EU want. Given Ukraine’s energy dependence on Russia, its financial bankruptcy, and geographic proximity, at what cost economic and military is the US and EU willing to secure Kiev’s political and military loyalty and economic integration to the West? As valuable as Ukraine’s natural resources may be, and as geopolitically important as it is, the US has playing a high stakes poker game holding few cards because it would never risk an all out war over Kiev. Just as Mexico is so far from God and so close to the US, so is Ukraine so close to Russia and praying God may provide a revelation through EU assistance. 

One the one hand, the US wants to punish Russia through sanctions so it can achieve its goal of forcing Putin into a negotiated solution over Ukraine that Washington demands on its own terms. On the other hand, Ukraine is hardly a national security issue for the US, no matter the propaganda intended to preach to the choir. US policy has backfired because US and EU business interests hurt and constantly apply pressure to find another way to “punish” Russia.

By refusing a negotiated solution that would accommodate Russia’s concerns, the US is pushing the EU economy toward recessionary mode which then hurts US-EU trade and it will become much worse in case energy becomes a foreign policy tool. At the same time, the US cannot do anything about China cutting multibillion dollar energy and raw materials deal with Russia, thus lifting some of the pressure the West is applying.  In short, the US policy toward Ukraine, while it may have weakened Russia’s oligarchs, it also hurt US and EU business and strengthened China and Iran. Was this the intended goal of US policy?

Containment and engagement toward China and toward Russia, even during the Ukraine crisis does call into question if the US has been serving business interests while trying to further military goals.  US-NATO policy of containing Russia has been complicated in the last ten years by the added dimension of an encirclement policy that Moscow deems a serious threat to its national security interests. The contradiction here is that the US, which helped to bring down the USSR and helped to reintegrate Russia into the world economy by inviting it into the G-7, pursued a parallel policy of trying to undermine it strategically by securing cordial relations with all of its neighbors. This situation has become so serious that many Americans are hardly aware that the Cold War ever ended and their current views are shaped by Cold War ideology, as though Russia is still Communist.

During the Cold War there was an ideology driving US foreign policy, at least justifying the quest for markets and raw materials, especially strategic minerals. The quest for markets and raw materials remains the same, especially when we consider China’s role in the world arena. Eurasia’s energy resources have intensified the rivalry between Russia and the US with the EU behind it pursuing not just energy and raw materials in all of the former Soviet republics, but a containment policy that would seriously limit Moscow’s influence with its neighbors.  It took the US half a century to realize its dream of ending Communist rule in Russia, and when it was done, the next step was how to undermine the new regime simply because it pursued national capitalism, resents containment, and resists encirclement.

When Truman enunciated the famous doctrine that has his name, everyone was clear on what it meant. People knew that the doctrine had historical roots; they knew the perimeters of US power, and the method of implementing policy under certain conditions. Today, there is no overarching policy defining the extent or limits of US imperial power. In the age of computer and cell phone spying, there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding what the US would or would not do next and to whom when even the Pope is on the NSA spy list.

The problem here is much broader, going to the core of an incoherent and contradictory policy that backfires on the US. It is also a matter of engendering global stability or instead deliberately destabilizing various parts of the world to gain some strategic, political or economic advantage.  A realistic assessment of the strengths and weakness of the country, its ability to withstand the costs of an imperial foreign policy carved out in the late 19th century and continuing to the present is needed to prevent serious problems in the future.

The US clearly wishes to remain the world’s preeminent military power because it sees its economic power deriving from a strong military regime, rather than military strength deriving from economic preeminence. The challenge to US power is the ability to afford the costs involved in retaining a military global presence, with the ability to send troops, or airplanes to strike a target anywhere in the world. Modern technology notwithstanding, military readiness to cover the entire world in the early 21st century is simply not possible. The world has changed with military power no longer concentrated in the US which still outspends its closest rival China ten to one – of the total $1.8 trillion defense spending in the world, the US  spends 39% while China 9%.

The blatant contradiction here is that the US spends 39% of the world’s defense because China buys American debt. Of the $17.5 trillion US public debt, China owns 7.2% of the total debt and 21% of debt held abroad. China needs the US markets to sell its products, many from multinational corporations operating in China, and the US needs China to maintain the immense defense spending and the dollar’s stability as a reserve currency which would otherwise collapse.

During the Nixon administration, the US made a strategic decision to help industrialize China so that it would undermine the USSR and force it into the failure it faced in the 1980s during the Reagan presidency when defense spending was skyrocketed again to push Moscow into bankruptcy. All of this came with a price tag and it exposed more contradictions, the most glaring that the US was simply helping to strengthen a future rival – China – to defeat a current one, the USSR., not taking into account that it is not in China’s interest to have a Russian Federation so weak that the US and its EU allies determine the balance of power and have access to natural resources in the Eurasian region. Applying NSC #68 1950s ideology today when there is no Communist threat and the US is declining economically is at the heart of the contradictions in foreign policy.

Contradictions in US Policy on “Terrorism”

September 11, 2001 provided the US with new challenges and opportunities to address some of the glaring contradictions in foreign policy. Instead the Bush administration created even greater contradictions, with Obama continuing along a similar path (relying on drone warfare and air strikes) as public finances permit, given the deep recession of 2008-2012. While it is true that foreign policy consensus was forged after 9/11, it is equally true that the US has always had a strong bi-partisan foreign policy with few differences in goals, and some in modalities.

Ignoring the complexities of the very diverse and heterogeneous Muslim world, the US opted for a homogeneous approach, exempting the Saudis with deep roots inside Washington and Wall Street.  “War on terror” assumed generic dimensions. The US government labeled “terrorist” any group and anyone it wished, and even collaborated or turned a blind eye to some of those militant groups, thus losing credibility even with a segment of its own population that supported the war on terror. This generic use of the term has historical roots, it has specific meaning in different countries around the world, but the US has attempted to impose its own definition on the rest of the world.

A manufactured war with roots in the 1980s when the same jihadists were on the US side against the Soviets in Afghanistan – including Osama Bin Laden, the “war on terror” became so absurd that the US wound up supporting terrorists selectively in Libya and Syria, negotiating with them in Pakistan, and agreeing with the neo-Nazi-backed regime in Kiev that pro-Russian rebels inside Ukraine are “terrorist”. Similarly, Palestinians who live in Gaza, including children, are “terrorists” simply because Tel Aviv has baptized them so and the US agrees. Once we enter into this kind of rhetoric that lacks any basis in reality on the ground, foreign policy assumes its own absurd theoretical logic.  Just as we had a Vietnam syndrome owing to countless contradictions, we now have a “terror syndrome” about which there are scholarly publications.

Through the rhetoric about changing the image of America abroad and assuming a more realistic foreign policy with the absence of contradictions we had under Bush, Obama decided to allow the new weapons technology, especially drone warfare to replace boots on the ground. Many organizations and governments deem drones use a war crime because most of the victims are civilians. In short, the technology driving defense and foreign policy itself has added to the contradictions. Instead of winning support because of surgical strikes, this type of warfare alienates people because of collateral damage. Given that the method of implementation of US imperial policy has been viewed as a war crime by Amnesty International among many other organizations and governments, what legitimacy does the US have claiming to kill civilians in the name of democracy and freedom?

There are those who claim that US foreign policy was plagued with contradictions before Obama’s drone warfare but that is no longer the case because Washington opened new avenues to bilateral and multilateral negotiations to conflicts. There are the open diplomatic channels with high publicity, third party diplomatic channels through governments and NGO’s, and secret channels of contact in the most sensitive cases, all of which Obama has utilized in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in Ukraine, North Korea, and Cuba among other countries.

Nevertheless, the contradictions have increased. This is not just in obvious cases such as the US first trying rapprochement with Iran because it had no other choice but diplomatic solution to icy relations, but even Syria where Obama until recently and even today - August 2014 - is working to undermine and remove the regime, and at the same time seeking its cooperation to defeat the ISIS jihadists.

US policy on terrorism intended to foster freedom and democracy has achieved the exact opposite results. In no country the US has intervened on the pretext of fighting terrorism has the result been anything but the rise of chaos and even greater authoritarianism than existed before US intervention. One of the latest examples of the US anti-terror war is Libya. A country governed by a corrupt dictator Muammar Gaddafi, but enjoying national sovereignty and stability, has now been reduced to civil war.

Once the US led a NATO operation to topple the former dictator, the result has been ceaseless civil war, chaos and tribal divisions owing to a regime failing to unify the country, greater economic and social chaos, and loss of sovereignty. According to press reports as of 24 August 2014, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, both with regimes lined up behind Washington, have been bombing Muslim militants in Libya in an effort to stabilize the regime that the US, UK and France installed in Tripoli. Given that Egypt and UAE are financing the authoritarian regime of President Sisi in Cairo, they want to make sure that neighboring Libya evolves into another Egypt solidly in the camp of the Gulf States and the West. Adding to US foreign policy absurdities, the pro-US Saudi regime and UAE had been bankrolling the rebels in Syria, among which were the current ISIS jihadists. 

If the US goal in Libya was to bring freedom and democracy by collaborating with Jihadists to topple Gaddafi, then the results three years later speak for themselves. Is Libya and it people, are Europe and the US better off after the US-led NATO invasion, given the chaos and destruction that has reigned in the last three years? If the US and NATO bombed Libya because it was using force against jihadist rebels, why has the US and its EU allies been encouraging Ukraine to use force against its separatist rebels? Is it because in both cases the US wanted greater access to Libyan energy and Ukrainian raw materials and the right to determine the balance of power, no matter if it meant siding with jihadists in Libya and with neo-Nazis in Ukraine?

The selective policy contradiction is very clear, but even more so the fact that the US was on the same side as al-Qaeda in Libya and on the same side as neo-Nazis in Ukraine, regardless of public proclamations about freedom and democracy. If we are to accept Washington’s rhetoric and its apologists in the media, it is all done for the sake of “Democracy”, no matter what critics say about defense and energy companies lobbying for such conflicts that account for contradictions in US foreign policy!      

Even more alarming, considering the immense costs and no benefits, other than to a few defense related contractors and oil companies, in Iraq and Afghanistan what goals were served by a militarist foreign policy immersed in contradictions and lack of cohesion?  One could very well argue that war stimulates economic growth and that there is no need for an overarching foreign policy rooted in a cohesive doctrine that reflects both the current strengths and weaknesses, and the values of America. One could also argue that in the age when banks and multinationals enjoy such dominance over governments, how can there be a policy free of contradictions. As in the case of the Vietnam War’s aftermath when many were arguing the lesson learned was not sufficient fire power, we now have the hawks immersed in early Cold War militarist mindset making the same argument about higher defense spending.

Disregarding the reality of the burden that parasitic defense spending places on the civilian economy and on the US public debt estimated above $17.7 trillion, the hawkish elements argued it is needed to combat the generic “terrorist threat”, whatever that may be, as the occasion warrants, of course, because the US could at any time reverse course and through backdoor channels collaborate with these same groups or governments. This is the result of a foreign policy driven by a combination of right wing ideology, opportunistic political considerations at home, the perception of short term advantages abroad vs. long term stability as a motive, big business pressures that conflict with each other and with political and strategic interests, all owing to lack of cohesion in foreign policy.

Contradictions in US-Latin American Relations

Another area of blatant contradictions pertains to US-Latin American relations where ideological, political, strategic and economic goals as well as methods are often mired in ambiguity. US foreign policy goals include thorough inter-American (Hemispheric) economic, political and strategic integration, adamant opposition to socialism and economic nationalism, alliance to the Organization of American States (OAS) and its treaties, as well as continued adoption of neoliberal policies that include lower taxes and obstacles to foreign investment and profit repatriation. From the Monroe Doctrine to the various treaties and agreements signed under the auspices of the OAS, the US regards itself as the hegemonic power whose interests cannot be compromised otherwise it reserves the right to take “appropriate action”.

There are many issues from which to choose as examples of contradictory foreign policies, including US policy toward Cuba, Venezuela, and especially debt-burdened Argentina, but the most current and controversial relates to US immigration reform where there are the conservative, the ultra-right wing xenophobic positions, and then there are the moderate liberal ones asking for leniency as though humans are animals to be pitied, simply because they come from Central America.

Impoverished children have been trying to escape the violent and destitute society in which they live, crossing into the US border for a better life. For those who have studied the history of Central America, it is no secret that local landlords and US corporations (United Fruit, the most infamous) backed by US government policies from the Spanish-American War to the present are responsible for the conditions of social injustice in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Not only has the US backed military regimes behind which are landowning elites, banks and large exporters, but the hypocrisy of US policy is that it claims to deliver “freedom and democracy” to the neighbors south of the Rio Grande where sweatshops have been making clothes for the US market.

Along with the local political, military and economic elites, the US helped to create the humanitarian crisis south of the border. The contradiction is that it wants to solve it not through economic and social policy changes, but through force, as though this is the panacea and as though it would actually stop people from crossing the border. Just as there is no other than a political and economic solution for Central America, and no good outcome in pursuing a policy of contradictions, similarly there is no military solution to the Palestinian question, unless the US has no problem with Israel gradually eliminating every Palestinian one way or another – killed in war or exiled by force.

A few months ago, I wrote an article on corporate terrorism in Colombia, a situation that has gone largely unnoticed in the mainstream press, though there have been some articles and documentaries in Europe on this issue. Colombia proves beyond any doubt that human rights, civil rights, labor laws and environmental standards have been grossly violated by US corporations and with the US government’s backing. This also proves that the US government turns a blind eye to proven cases of death squad activity whose only goal is maximizing profits for multinational corporations. At the same time, anti-government rebels (FARC and ELN) opposed to US patron role in Colombia are labeled terrorists.

How can Latin Americans and the world looking at such cases as Colombia not conclude that there are glaring contradictions in US foreign policy? Similarly, the US helps to create conditions south of the border that forces families to send their children north, only to have a US debate on those law-breaking Mexicans, Guatemalans, etc, coming to take advantage of “our schools, hospitals, and welfare services”.  

Foreign Policy Establishment and Lobbyists

The foreign policy of a country largely reflects its domestic policies in so far as the former is an extension of the latter. After all, the purpose of serving and furthering “national interests” means catering to domestic interest groups that have a real stake in foreign policy. The question is whether the sole criteria for carving out a coherent and effective foreign policy to achieve the stated goals is limited to serving only specific interest groups to the detriment of society, or is there an ideological driving force to which the elites are wedded. This brings us to the issue of foreign policy elites ranging from elected officials with foreign policy expertise, famous establishment academics, former secretaries of state, defense, and officials from National Security, as well as journalists and think tank consultants. The job of these people is to constantly propagate for a cause they have been paid to promote from their sponsor. After all, one of the goals of the Committee on the Present Danger was to mold public opinion about “the crisis facing America”.

Once the US found itself at superpower status economically, politically and militarily during the Truman presidency, largely because most of the rest of the world was in shambles, there was a need to institutionalize a foreign policy regime for the duration of the Cold War. This took place when a group of people met in 1950 calling themselves “The Committee on the Present Danger” (CPD) with Paul Nitze and Dean Acheson, both Truman hawkish Democrats trying to promote the plans in a secret document known as National Security Council NSC#68.

Analyzed in detail by Jerry Sanders in his academic works, NSC #68 was the ideological foundation of the early Cold War, only to be revived under Reagan.  Based on the premise of allowing the defense sector to absorb the surplus capital in the postwar US economy (Keynesian militarism), NSC #68 meant containing and ultimately bringing down the Soviet bloc in part through the costly arms race that forced Russia to divert precious resources from the civilian to the defense sector. Needless to say, the US diversion of such resources also took its toll on the US economy, thus the contradiction between goals and methods. Propagating fear of Communism was method the Committee on the Present Danger used to prevail at the core of the foreign policy establishment.

A group known as managerialists, funded largely by the Rockefeller family, was the counterweight to the militarist Committee on the Present Danger was a groups made up of intellectuals, prominent businessmen, and statesmen, all backed by think tanks and journalists. The goals of sustaining and even expanding Pax Americana were the same, but there was a difference on methods, with the managerialists suggesting their way of peaceful coexistence and businesslike approach to foreign policy had fewer contradictions and even less costs. As Jerry Sanders notes in Managerialism Elites, Public Opinion, and Empire: On Lions, Foxes and Mass Politics in the Post-Vietnam Era, the group represented US elites with a different view about how to contain America’s enemies and how to keep the country’s global status expanding.

The CPD and the managerialists remained in competitive roles during the transition from the Cold War to the era of the “war on terror”, with the Committee applying some of the same arguments it used against Communism in the 1950s against Islamic militants in the early 21st century. In short, old medicine for new illnesses, old contradictions for new foreign problems. Added to the competing schools of thought CPD and managerialism, are the endless lobbying offices in Washington, complicating matters and only adding to inherent foreign policy contradictions.

Lobbying groups, from ethnic lobbies like the very powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, to defense industry lobbies are the key to financing congressional and presidential campaigns. These lobbies do not see eye to eye on foreign policy issues, but one thing is always certain in the last 60 years, and that is that the Israeli lobby always prevails over all others. The question is whether US foreign policy is captive to this lobby that usually allies with right wing lobbies and defense industries to influence US Middle East policy. It is impossible not to find the Israeli lobby behind all decisions in US-Middle East relations in the last six decades and it is impossible not to find this lobby behind all the contradictions facing the US in the region. This is not to argue that Saudi Arabia and the conservative Gulf states with enormous investments in the US economy do not enjoy influence. After all, from 9/11 to the present we see that the US never touches Saudi Arabia which is the source of “jihadist” activity, but strikes at countries where it wants regime change.

Besides the Israeli lobby, there are other “ethnic lobbies” pressing for their cause in “motherland”, often contradicting one another. In addition, everyone from corn exporters to chewing gum makers lobbies so that its products can become more readily available in foreign markets, while at the same time other lobbies push for weapons sales in areas where an ethnic lobby may oppose. Catering to a variety of lobbies with divergent interests is one source of the contradictions that arise in foreign affairs, but it is up to the government to decide on a coherence policy free of contradictions and detriments in the long term. This does not happen because lobbies operate using the leverage of votes and money for political campaigns.  


Wilson's foreign policy had a coherent theme in so far as "Missionary Diplomacy" defined US imperialism in Latin America. True is was a foreign policy reflecting the liberal democratic values of the president while concealing US imperialist designs on US neighbors south of the Rio Grance. Missionary Diplomacy appeared to have the contradiction that Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean ought to emulate the US-style democratic institutions as Wilson and Sec of State William Jennings Bryan concenived them. However, the contradictions were at the theoretical level intended for public consumption  to justify the continuation of the Monroe Doctrine. Therefore, "Missionary Diplomacy" at the time had its own logic and it reflected American political values while mainting a commitment to maintaining hemispheric hegemony. 

FDR and Cordell Hull had the Good Neighbor Policy that was theoretically based on US respect of national savereignty in Latin Am,erica and refraining from military intervention, though this was not exactly observed in practice. This policy too has a logic to it, given the Great Depression and WWII when the US really needed cooperation from its southern neighbors to overcome economic problems and defeat the Axis Powers. The Cold War from Truman to Nixon-Ford also had its own logic, operating on a doctrine of intervention either direct military, or engagining in counterinsurgency operations to overthroww regimes Washington did not approve. When Carter came to office and announced a human rights dimension to US policy, we enter a series of contradictions, because the US had Communist countries in mind and not its own allies around the world, from Arab regimes to South Africa. It is in the mid-1970s that the US begins to have an intense debate between the managerialists that believed militarism under NSC #68 is not working, and the Committee on the Present Danger with neoconservatives insisting on an even greater commitment to militarism. This debate has been at the heart of the contradictions and it became much more complicated once the Communist bloc fell and the US opted for the "war on terror" to replace the global anti-Communist campaign.

Robert Ford, former US Ambassador to Syria, had stated that US policy of assisting anti-Assad Islamic militants would result in terrorism that could potentially touch US interests in due course. Ambassador Ford noted the example of Afghanistan in the 1980s when the US trained Jihadists that would eventually turn into al-Qaeda. Today we have a situation exactly as what Ambassador Ford described. This is because Ford along with many others has been warning that collaborating with rebels in Syria would only strengthen Islamic militants who would then turn against the West. If this isolated incident were the only contradiction in US foreign policy, all would be well. The problem is much larger.

Unlike many partisan critics of the Obama administration seeking political advantage or trying to propagate for the Republican side, the intent of this article is not to attack this particular president. This is not about personalities, or political parties, considering that there has always been a bipartisan foreign policy consensus rarely broken as in the case of Woodrow Wilson who paid for his mistakes in the Republican-dominated Senate.  Nor is this a populist attempt to appeal to the reader at some base emotional level, like conservatives in the US and UK arguing that Islamic terrorism must be stopped otherwise we will encounter it in the streets of London and San Francisco . On the contrary, this is an analytical essay intended to raise some of the most glaring contradictions from a synoptic perspective and to draw attention to the need for some modicum of logic in foreign affairs rather than randomness.  

This issue before us is the continuity in foreign policy contradictions to which the Obama administration has added even more. The apparent relaxed attitude about going down this reckless piecemeal a la carte approach to foreign policy imbued with inherent contradictions can only lead to even greater problems for which the American people will pay dearly. US foreign policy of contradictions does not advance Democracy and freedom, any more than it contributes to a stable economic environment for the country(ies) on the receiving end of US policy or for the US as a whole. However, a select segment of the corporate sector, namely defense and intelligence and anything related to them including endless armies of consultants do benefit along with select sectors like energy that profit from geopolitical instability.

If the goal is to serve the select interests of these industries, then by all means let us never change course. The price is very high and it is paid by the downward socioeconomic mobility of the American middle class in the last three decades. In addition, because I do not see the US changing course in the next few decades, it is inevitable that China will become the world’s number one economic power, leaving the US with a huge stockpile of weapons, including nuclear as the legacy of Pax Americana.

Like Bismarck who was after all a Prussian conservative with deep roots in militarism as a dimension of foreign affairs, there must be a realization that defense is but one dimension of last resort in foreign policy, always the last resort, and always utilized in a prudent manner for maximum benefits. This is an issue of a vision for the future, the direction the country is headed and whether this reflects its democratic principles and values, at least in theory.
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