Foreign Policy for All:
Rethinking U.S. Foreign Policy for the 21st Century
Left Forum, NYC, May 29-31, 2015
Dorchester People for Peace, Grassroots International
Subrata has stated what our Foreign Policy consists of: worldwide military and economic predominance, often based on racist premises. I will be outlining the government –corporate collusion that perpetuates this Foreign Policy. Let’s start with a question: what do we, the public, think about our Foreign Policy?
Polls are interesting: At the height of the military excursions of the last decade, many Americans viewed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as ill-advised, reckless, or just wrong. They expressed increasing skepticism about the immense military budgets, and the expensive interventions. In a 2004 joint poll, by the Council of Foreign Relations and the Pew Research Center, 72 % of respondents favored a Foreign Policy based on moral principles rather than narrow national self-interest.
In the 2011 Council of Foreign Relations poll, a majority endorsed the international law prohibiting the use of military force, except for self-defense. Also in 2011, the public view of the war in Afghanistan was that the costs of the war have not been worth the benefits, and it has not made the U.S. safer from terrorism. In 2013, the CFR survey found that fully 70% of respondents believed that the United States is less respected than in the past and a majority (52%) agreed that the United States should “mind its own business” internationally. In the most recent Council of Foreign Relations poll, we see an interesting shift: Americans are supportive of airstrikes and drone strikes in Syria and Iraq, BUT opposed to sending in ground troops.
Over this period, many intellectuals and scholars have also moved away from hawkish sentiments and are increasingly leaning towards a less militarized role for the U.S. In sum, we are finding ourselves stuck in a perpetual state of war, AND we are weary of it.
A Foreign Policy by and for the Corporate Elite
With the majority of the public resisting this overly militarized foreign policy, and the accompanying inflated military budget, we have to ask ourselves why U.S. Foreign Policy has continued in a direction that has made us less secure, as well as less respected in the world.
A key answer is that the group benefitting most directly from our foreign policy is made up of economic elites, who dictate the terms of our foreign policy. Their major influence on our Foreign Policy is a direct outcome of an economic system that fosters inequality, and concentrates wealth and power in the hands of a small sector of society. A 2015 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the OECD) states that the richest 10% of U.S. households have captured 76% of the wealth in the United States. And we know, that distribution of power is linked to distribution of income and wealth. Inevitably, this leads to inordinate levels of influence by this group in shaping key government decisions, as in U.S. Foreign Policy.
It’s important to be clear that Foreign policy is not just political relations among nations, Foreign Policy, to a large extent, is about international economic policies and trade relations, including control of key natural resources, the weapons trade, the military budget, energy policy, regulation of corporations and media, and war and peace.
The government/corporate collaboration on U.S. Foreign Policy is not new; it is a deliberate strategy forged over decades. From the very beginning, the foundational principal of US foreign policy has been to protect the interests of the privileged, in particular the business class.
The Monroe Doctrine, which was initially established in the early 1800’s to prevent recolonization of Latin America by former colonizers such as Spain, was soon subverted to reserve the U.S. right to intervene in the internal affairs of any nation in Latin America. By the 1890’s, the Monroe Doctrine’s aim became to open Latin American markets to U.S. traders, and annexation of trade often turned into annexation of territory, for example Puerto Rico and Cuba. The USA engineered the independence of Panama from Colombia in 1903, in order to build and control the Panama Canal, and the U.S. executed multiple interventions in Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Guatemala and Honduras. By 1924, the finances of 10 of the 20 Latin American States were being directed to some extent by the United States and by 1935, over half of US steel and cotton exports were sold in Latin America.
More recently, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained very explicitly in her book “Hard Choices”, that one of her goals was to place economics at the heart of U.S. Foreign Policy. During her tenure, the State Department worked closely with energy companies to spread fracking around the globe, and helped U.S. firms clinch lucrative shale gas deals in other countries, which are worth billions of dollars. With backing from the government’s Global Shale Gas Initiative, China is paying big money to U.S. companies like Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and Halliburton for fracking technology. But since there are no industry regulations in China, the environmental costs have been disastrous for the Chinese public. This kind of Foreign Policy does not serve the national security interest of U.S. citizens.
Our Foreign Policy has been used to control resources, forge trade agreements and markets and, at times, to keep U.S. citizens in check. During the Cold War, anti-capitalist, socialist experiments were seen as dangerous, with the potential to “infect” U.S. workers. In Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, land distribution and support to the poor were seen as threatening examples of egalitarian social and economic models that needed to be rooted out through aggressive strategies.
The U.S. equates “stability” in other countries, with how amenable a country is to doing business with US Corporations. In Iran and Guatemala, democratically elected officials were replaced by U.S.-chosen leaders. Adding fuel to the fire, U.S. Foreign Policy facilitates huge arms deals on behalf of military and security companies. These transactions, worth some 160 billion dollars a year, represent half the weapons sold worldwide, and it is the corporate sector that benefits.
One aspect of U.S. Foreign Policy is focused on training and equipping other countries with deadly military hardware. This military aid is sometimes used by foreign governments to keep their citizens in line, to suit U.S. interests. And, more often than not, these U.S. interests coincide with U.S. corporate interests. And the end result of these ill-conceived Foreign Policy choices is ongoing violation of the human rights of citizens living in those countries, causing more resentment towards the U.S., and doing little to actually address the security of the world.
There are various ways that individual wealth and corporate wealth shape government policies, including U.S. Foreign Policy. The first is through Political Action Committees (or PAC). In the Citizen’s United Decision, the Supreme Court found that unrestricted amounts of money could be contributed by corporate ‘persons’ to political campaigns. As such huge amounts of money are being spent on election campaigns today. In a working democracy, our elected officials would represent us and our views, but unfortunately, many elected members of Congress are beholden to corporations and business interests through financial ties.
Besides PAC money, there has always been a tradition of money spent on lobbying congress. Our Foreign Policy is thoroughly responsive to the needs
of corporations through heavy lobbying. Now Lobbying is not a bad thing! The founders of this nation actually envisioned lobbying as an exercise in democracy and pluralism. The hope was that a diversity of interest groups, representative of society as a whole, would all exert pressure on those who represent us, and it would balance out for the good in the end.
Unfortunately, what was not taken into account is the dominance of the wealthy. A massive flow of money, and I mean massive, to the tune of 100’s of millions of dollars, can totally distort and dominate a point of view. Just to give a single example, a 2010 study by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that business interests dominated lobbying over organized labor at a ratio of 15 to 1. In dollar amounts, that is $1.36 billion to $96 million for labor. What is acquired with these lobbying $ is global control of markets: through the control of financial institutions, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation, and unfair trade agreements. Other perks are subsidies, contracts and protectionist legislation. And, finally, they even get military backing and intervention.
Beyond lobbying in Congress, there is also the control and cooption of mainstream media by corporate forces, to manipulate the public in favor of higher military budgets and military solutions for international crises. In other words, Foreign Policy solutions that favor the corporate sector. Many of the talking heads are former members of the military or representatives from think tanks. Unfortunately, these retired Generals are often in the pay of defense companies, and Think Tanks are funded by the military industrial complex. When the public hears eminent people making a case for war in the media, it reduces their ability to question excessive military spending.
To shift our foreign policy in the direction that would benefit us as citizens, and also benefit the world, we need strategies to change the deep ways in which we, as citizens, have been rendered powerless. Essentially, we have to struggle to regain our democracy and make our voices count; and we need to start, by addressing the government/corporate collusion that presently leaves us citizens out of the equation.