American foreign policy refers to the guidelines that determine the country’s interactions with other nations. It embodies the actions that the federal government takes in a bid to promote the country’s national interests, safety, and welfare (Holsti 13).
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Over the years, it has been used as the scale for determining the way American organizations and corporations engage in various activities across the world. One of the main objectives of American foreign policy, as cited in the Foreign Policy Agenda of the Department of State, is to create a democratic, secure, inclusive, and prosperous world for the benefit of its citizens. Thus, the foreign policy of the United States is largely shaped by varying national interests that range from humanitarian, political, military, ideological, and largely economic (Hastedt 241).
Over the years, the country’s foreign policy has changed in line with emerging national interests. According to international relations experts, there is a notable difference in the economic impact of American foreign policy during the world wars compared to modern-day America. During the times of wars, the federal government covered the cost of meeting its foreign interests by increasing taxes on the wealthy, whereas the current situation has left the cost of conflict being met by all Americans, with the majority largely belonging to the middle and lower classes (Renouard 116). American foreign policy is designed to meet several international goals but the priority areas over the years have been national security and defense.
American foreign policy is mainly guided by the principle of building good relations with all countries and steering away from entrapping alliances. One of the main ways through which the American government exercises its foreign policy is economic aid to its foreign partners (Holsti 29). This strategy has often been criticized for the manner in which the American government uses it to manipulate the beneficiaries into doing things their way in order to meet their interests.
For example, the American government has involved itself in famine relief across North Korea. Their involvement in the country allows them to provide humanitarian assistance, as well as gain traction for promoting its democratic ideals and to develop the necessary institutions (Hastedt 264). For several years, America has used economic aid to seek regime changes in countries that have created obstacles in their quest to fight terrorism, nuclear weapons, and maintain the status quo.
This has led to many countries developing a negative perception of the United States and the different kinds of aid they offer across the world. American foreign policy is also implemented through military aid (Jentleson 200). By the turn of the century, America had more than 500 military bases in over 100 countries across the world. Some of the most notable beneficiaries of military aid from the United States include Egypt, Israel, Colombia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, and Yemen (Holsti 42).
With national security being a top priority throughout the history of American foreign policy, the country has signed a strategic defense initiative with Poland and the Czech Republic. Initially proposed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, the defense initiative was geared towards protecting the United States from any strategic attacks by nuclear ballistic missiles. The Czech Republic agreed to host missile defense radar while Poland agreed to host a base for missile interceptors (Hastedt 273).
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This move created additional rifts between the United States and Russia, as the latter felt that the former was not adhering to the rules and regulations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. America deployed the missile defense system to counter the strategic potential of Russia and China, who is viewed as potential rivals (Holsti 61).
Interventions geared towards exporting Democracy
The United States also defines its foreign policy around the concept of promoting democracy. Their focus regions have been the Middle East and North Africa. However, many critics argue that America uses the intention of promoting democracy as a means to justify its numerous military interventions across the world. For example, the United States has been accused of using its unsought military intervention to oust democratically elected governments in countries such as Iran, Congo, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic (Holsti 96).
International relations experts argue that American foreign policy has evolved over time to the extent that it is proving to be a threat to its own national security because the number of countries that are anti-America keeps increasing.
This phenomenon is further fuelled by the low success rate of the numerous military interventions carried out by the United States. Pessimists believe that American efforts are generally negligible, counterproductive, and ineffective in promoting democracy in foreign countries (Hastedt 311). Only on rare occasions have American interventions led to increased freedom in foreign countries. A survey conducted by Pewglobal in 2014 indicated that countries such as the Philippines, Israel, Kenya, Ghana, Italy, and South Korea have a positive view of the United States.
Doing Evil in return for Evil
The covert actions of the United States over the years have also shaped the varying dimensions of its foreign policy taken by the various governments that have been in power. Some of the notable involvements of the United States in regime changes across the world include the 1949 Syrian coup, the 1960 Congo coup, the 1964 Brazilian coup, the 1966 Ghana coup, the 1979-89 Afghanistan cyclone, and the 1996 Iraq coup attempt (Hastedt 359).
In the recent past, the United States was also involved in the Arab spring. The United States sought to promote democracy across North Africa after what was perceived by many as a prolonged period of political immorality by long-serving regimes that had deprived its people of necessary freedoms. American exploits during the Arab spring led to a lengthy period of political instability, especially in Egypt and Libya (Jentleson 311).
According to international relations experts, the United States has allegedly harmed many countries through its foreign policy in ways ranging from economic losses, unstable political environment, and displacement of millions of people. This kind of pain resulting from the actions of the United States is more likely to increase their vulnerability to future attacks in return for the perceived suffering they have caused others (Holsti 109).
For example, Afghanistan was angered when the United States decided to send troops to the country during the Afghan War. In response to this intervention, the United States was hit by twin bomb attacks on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 where several people died. Al-Qaida, a militant Sunni Islamic terror group, took responsibility for the attacks, which they said were meant to send a message to the United States with regard to their troops in Afghanistan. These unfortunate bombings were followed by the September 11, 2001 attacks that triggered a new phase in American foreign policy with regard to fighting terrorism and Islamic extremism (Jentleson 416).
One of the biggest challenges that every American president has had to deal with during their tenure is identifying and addressing the main motivations behind the feelings of resentment felt by the Islamic nation towards the United States (Renouard 209). This means that America is one of the top targets for terrorists owing to its bad involvement with Islamic countries. The Afghan war was a major trigger in the growing global threat of terrorism. It provided many Afghans with terrorist and military skills, thus creating a favorable environment for Islamic extremist groups to strengthen their networks (Hastedt 408).
Through their teachings, the Mujahedin were taught that violence and obedience to assertive Islam were capable of silencing superpowers like the United States. Over the years, many countries in the Middle East have targeted the United States because of its close relations with Israel. The terror groups identified other motivating factors such as America’s global influence, arrogance, the dominance of global media, and displays of their symbols of power that include the embassies. Due to the nature in which the United States has dominated the global media, extremists also believe that this phenomenon has greatly contributed to the quick erosion of Islamic values and traditions across the world (Holsti 178).
In the recent past, American foreign policy has been shifting towards developing effective strategies for dealing with terrorism. Although some people believe that it is time for the United States to pull back from the Middle East and reduce its support to Israel as a way of addressing the problem, security experts argue that such moves will most likely strengthen the terror groups. Since the United States has contributed to a lot of tension and conflict in other countries through their numerous interventions, this has made them vulnerable.
American foreign policy has recommitted itself to bolster national security by improving American relations with foreign intelligence services. Although winning the war on terrorism is a hard feat to achieve, the federal government ought to do its best and manage the crisis through foreign policy (Hastedt 500). One of the ways in which Americans can support the government in meeting this objective is to change their own attitudes with regard to terrorism. It is important to note that terror activities are hard to predict, thus patience and persistence are crucial in managing them effectively (Holsti 238).
As the United States continues to address any possible threats from the many nations it has invaded, it is important to ensure that its foreign policy reflects the need to have an inclusive decision-making process. America is vulnerable to a wide range of terrorist threats, thus the need to have all stakeholders on board in order to tailor effective policies for addressing the numerous challenges is great (Hastedt 513).
Following the September 11 attacks, the American government declared war against all terror groups, especially al-Qaida for its role in the numerous attacks it had faced. In 2011, during the tenure of President Barrack Obama, the United States made a big step towards addressing the threat of terrorism following the killing of Osama bin Laden who was the leader of al-Qaida. This is closely related to the issue of human rights violations, which has also shaped American foreign policy over the years.
One of the notable milestones in America’s fight for human rights was the 2015 meeting between President Obama and the King of Saudi Arabia. The meeting eased a lot of pressure on the American government, having been accused of taking too long to confront Saudi Arabia over a number of human rights abuses that had caught the attention of the world (Renouard 279).
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The American government was constantly being pressured to show the same concern it had for its people due to the threat of terrorism with regard to human rights abuses. Many critics argue that the biggest fear that the American government had with regard to confronting Saudi Arabia was the possible attacks that they would face as a way of responding to any form of intervention (Holsti 291).
The United States has one of the most scrutinized foreign policies. Its status as a superpower poses a lot of threats, challenges, and problems to many countries that cannot match its global influence. The numerous attacks that the United States has faced over the years have resulted from its quest to promote democracy through military intervention. Many critics argue that American foreign policy is often misguided by the need to maintain the status quo, thus leading to poor relations with countries mainly from the Middle East. The global threat of terrorism has dominated the formulation of American foreign policy for several years since the conclusion of the Cold War.
America has numerous enemies who do not support the manner in which it interferes in democratically elected regimes in a bid to fulfill its own national interests. With many challenges relating to democracy, human rights, economic stagnation, poor governance, and national security, it is time for the American government to reorient its foreign policy guidelines before the whole world becomes anti-American.
Hastedt, Glenn. Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy. Info Base Publishing, 2014.
Holsti, Ole. Making American Foreign Policy. Routledge, 2013.
Jentleson, Bruce. American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century. W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.
Renouard, Joe. Human Rights in American Foreign Policy: From the 1960s to the Soviet Collapse. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.