American Foreign Policy and the War on Terror
In the 21st century, the world is one in chaos- nations go to war for the slimmest of reasons, economies can topple overnight, and the ever-present threat of global terrorism holds the very real potential to kill thousands of innocent people in mere moments. Meanwhile, the United States holds the precarious position of being the largest and best established superpower in the world, generating an equal share of admirers and deadly enemies among the nations of the world.
This being understood, the question begs as to what present day American hurdles such as the War on Terror have done to change American foreign policy? This research will attempt to answer this question through a comprehensive comparison of today’s foreign policy to that of the past, to the post and pre-9/11 world, and in conclusion, what all of this means for the future. American Foreign Policy Throughout History An excellent way to see how American Foreign Policy has seemingly evolved is to compare it in the modern day to how it functioned in earlier times of modern American history.
For example, as the US recovered from the horrors and deprivations of World War II, a very real and stark situation emerged on the foreign policy front. Despite the eradication of Nazism and the defeat of the threat that the Empire of Japan had represented to the US on a global scale, the threat of Communism in the form of the Soviet Union essentially kicked the Cold War into high gear, from the late 1940s to the mid 1990s.
With two superpowers- the US and USSR-both possessing the awesome power to literally destroy the planet through the use of nuclear weapons, there was a vested interest in both nations, while maintaining a defensive position against each other, avoiding armed conflict at all costs (Jenkins, 2006). Therefore, decades of stalemates existed until the Communist regime of the USSR collapsed under its own weight and unwieldy power. In contrast, terrorism is more of an invisible enemy, albeit just as deadly as any opposing nation.
Because of the difficulty in identifying exactly who terrorists are, from where they have come, and how they can be guarded against, it seems that the only way for a meaningful American foreign policy on this front to exist would be for the usual avenues of diplomacy, adherence to established rules and convention to be set aside- the governmental equivalent of taking off the gloves (Harding, 2004). Given such a scenario, it is possible to better understand the transformation of American Foreign Policy in a modern era of terror. Post and Pre- 9/11 American Foreign Policy
On a clear, crisp day in September, 2001, the US was changed forever with the brutal terrorist attacks on New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC, the nation’s capital. This change not only effected the ways that Americans viewed each other and the safety level in their very own country, but the change also effected the way that the US created and carried out foreign policy. Earlier, the point was made that a fight against terrorists is vastly different than the battle against an organized, uniformed enemy and this calls for measures far different than ever carried out before.
Perhaps it was easier for foreign policy to take shape in the days when the enemy was clearly identified and the US faced very little challenge to its power, anywhere in the world. However, once enemies began to come out of the shadows, and what were previously small, insignificant nations such as China, North Korea and India rose to levels of military, financial and diplomatic significance, the US was forced to reexamine foreign policy and adjust accordingly (Washington Times, 2007).
With so many formidable nations on the international radar screen of sorts, every move that America made had to be studied before played out, much like a chess match, where each move could have a devastating response from an opponent. With such nations rising to prominence, their cultural, racial and religious differences also became more pronounced than ever before because in the past, these diverse nations were all somewhat insulated from one another due to the inability to lay claim to any kind of international clout.
With the attainment of such clout, however, opposing nations began to clash on fundamental differences, and the US stood in the middle of it. In generations gone by, the US would have been able to merely step in and dictate how the disputes would be resolved, but that was essentially no more, and the US would essentially have to worry about retribution from both organized nations and the terrorists that hid in the shadows, ready to strike (Jenkins, 2006).
This new era of American Foreign Policy would likewise bring forth another issue- aside from merely maintaining clout on the world diplomatic stage, how could a nation like the US promote democracy as it had in the past? American Imperialism, Pre and Post-Terror A key to the ongoing power of the American nation throughout its history has always been the ability to parlay military power into a means of spreading democracy across the globe, operating under the premise that if an opponent could not be defeated, they could be swayed more to the American way of thinking and thereby draw them closer to the alliance of the United States.
After 9/11, however, all of this changed as well, as the US became diverted by the fight to protect its own native soil. Here, a great deal of controversy began to brew, and it continues today. The chaos that terrorism created in the US gave President George W. Bush and his administration the unique ability, under the premise of fighting terrorism and protecting the nation, to craft foreign policy with a dangerously sharp edge on it- policy, which essentially gave Bush permission to destroy any international haystack in search of a few small needles, as the search for terrorists often seems.
Also, using the reasoning that the US needed to continue to have a free flow of oil from the volatile Middle East, policy which put the US on the offensive rather than the defense of the past likewise made it possible for US troops to be deployed to any nation that supposedly harbored terrorists or posed some type of threat to American interests (Fouskas, et al, 2005). This has, in recent years, generated resentment not only from other nations, but from the American people as well, evidenced by President Bush having the lowest public approval numbers of any president in history. Conclusion
To sum up this research, what can be said about American Foreign Policy in relation to the War on Terror? In summary, what can be said is this- policy has seemed to derail as of late, focusing more on the interests of wealthy oil companies than the average American citizen and their need to be protected from terror. Therefore, what needs to be closely watched as the 21st century unfolds for America is that policy comes back to better mirror liberty and justice-for all. Works Cited Foreign Policy Adrift?. (2007, March 19). The Washington Times, p. A16. Fouskas, V. K. , & Gokay, B. (2005).
The New American Imperialism: Bush’s War on Terror and Blood for Oil. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International. Harding, B. (2004). An Orwellian Moment: The Myth of American Multilateralism Bruce Harding Reflects on the State of US Foreign Policy, in Terms of Its Self-Interest and Imperial Anchoring, as This Relates to the Current Administration’s New Security Strategy and the War on Terror. New Zealand International Review, 29(3), 23+. Jenkins, G. (2006, June). From Kennedy’s Cold War to the War on Terror: Gareth Jenkins Looks for Continuities in American Foreign Policy from the 1960s to the 2000s. History Today, 56, 39+.