Criticism of the United States government
History of U.S.
expansion and influence
|Timeline of military operations|
|List of wars|
|List of bases|
Mentality, intentions and perceptions of American foreign policy 1
- American exceptionalism 1.1
- Allegations of imperialism 1.2
- Financial interests and foreign policy 1.3
- Manipulation of U.S. foreign policy 1.4
- Lack of vision 1.5
- Allegations of arrogance 1.6
- Allegations of hypocrisy 1.7
Actions of the United States 2
- Support of dictatorships 2.1
- Opposition to independent nationalism 2.2
- Interference in internal affairs 2.3
- Promotion of democracy 2.4
- Undermining of human rights 2.5
- Excessive militarism 2.6
- Violation of international law 2.7
- Commitment to foreign aid 2.8
- Historical foreign policy 2.9
- The Holocaust 2.10
- Alienation of allies 2.11
- Ineffective public relations 2.12
- Ineffective prosecution of war 2.13
- Problem areas festering 2.14
- Ineffective strategy to fight terrorism 2.15
- Historical instances of ineffective policies 2.16
- Spying and surveillance 2.17
Role of internal government structure 3
- Small role of Congress in foreign policy 3.1
- Presidential incompetency 3.2
- Difficulty removing an incompetent president 3.3
- Presidents may lack experience 3.4
- Lack of control over foreign policy 3.5
- Excessive authority of the presidency 3.6
- Over-burdened presidency 3.7
- See also 4
- Further reading 5
- References 6
Mentality, intentions and perceptions of American foreign policy
There is a sense in which America sometimes sees itself as qualitatively different from other nations and therefore cannot be judged by the same standards as other countries; this belief is sometimes termed American exceptionalism and can be traced to the so-called Manifest destiny. A writer in Time Magazine in 1971 described American exceptionalism as "an almost mystical sense that America had a mission to spread freedom and democracy everywhere." American exceptionalism has widespread implications and transcribes into disregard to the international norms, rules and laws in the US foreign policy. For example, the US refused to ratify a number of important international treaties such as Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and American Convention on Human Rights; did not join the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention; and routinely conducts drone attacks and cruise missile strikes around the globe. American exceptionalism is sometimes linked with hypocrisy; for example, the US keeps a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons while urging other nations not to get them, and justifies that it can make an exception to a policy of non-proliferation.
Critics of American exceptionalism drew parallels with such historic doctrines as civilizing mission and white man's burden which were employed by Great Powers to justify their colonial conquests.:267–268 When the United States didn't support an environmental treaty made by many nations in Kyoto or treaties made concerning the Geneva Convention, then many observers deemed American exceptionalism as counterproductive.
Allegations of imperialism
There is a growing consensus among American historians and political scientists that the United States during the American Century grew into an empire resembling in many ways Ancient Rome. Currently, there is a debate over implications of imperial tendencies of the US foreign policy on democracy and social order.
In 2002, conservative political commentator Charles Krauthammer declared cultural, economical, technological and military superiority of the US in the world a given fact. In his opinion, people were "coming out of the closet on the word empire". More prominently, the New York Times Sunday magazine cover for January 5, 2003 featured a slogan "American Empire: Get Used To It." Inside, a Canadian author Michael Ignatieff characterized the American imperial power as an empire lite. According to Newsweek reporter Fareed Zakaria, the Washington establishment has "gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement", and added, "This is not foreign policy; it's imperial policy." Emily Eakin reflecting the intellectual trends of the time, summarized in the New York Times that, "America is no mere superpower or hegemon but a full-blown empire in the Roman and British sense. That, at any rate, is the consensus of some of the nation's most notable commentators and scholars."
Many allies of the US were critical of a new, unilateral sensibility tone in its foreign policy, and showed displeasure by voting, for example, against the US in the United Nations in 2001.
Financial interests and foreign policy
Some historians, including Andrew Bacevich, suggest that the U.S. foreign policy is directed by "wealthy individuals and institutions." In 1893, a decision to back a plot to overthrow the president Harrison in Hawaii was clearly motivated by business interests; it was an effort to prevent a proposed tariff increase on sugar. As a result, Hawaii became a U.S. state afterward. There was allegation that the Spanish-American War in 1898 was motivated mainly by business interests in Cuba.
During the first half of the 20th century the United States became engaged in a series of local conflicts in Latin America, which went into history as banana wars. The main purpose of these wars were to defend American commercial interests in the region. Later, U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler famously wrote, "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.
Some critics assert the U.S. decision to support the separatists in Colombia in 1903 was motivated largely by business interests centered on Panama Canal despite declarations that it aimed to "spread democracy" and "end oppression." One can say that the U.S. foreign policy does reflect the will of the people, however people might have a consumerist mentality, which justifies wars in their minds.
There are allegations that decisions to go to war in Iraq were motivated at least partially by oil interests; for example, a British newspaper The Independent reported that the "Bush administration is heavily involved in writing Iraq's oil law" which would "allow Western oil companies contracts to pump oil out of Iraq up to 30 years, and the profits would be tax-free." Whether motivated by oil or not, the U.S. foreign policy appears to much of the world as to have been motivated by oil rationale.
Manipulation of U.S. foreign policy
Some political scientists maintained that setting economic interdependence as a foreign policy goal may have exposed the United States to manipulation. As a result, the U.S. trading partners gained an ability to influence the U.S. foreign policy decision-making process by manipulating, for example, the currency exchange rate, or restricting the flow of goods and raw materials. In addition, more than 40% of the U.S. foreign debt is currently owned by the big institutional investors from overseas, who continue to accumulate the Treasury bonds .:9–10 A Washington Post reporter wrote that "several less-than-democratic African leaders have skillfully played the anti-terrorism card to earn a relationship with the United States that has helped keep them in power", and suggested, in effect, that therefore foreign dictators could manipulate the U.S. foreign policy for their own benefit. It is also possible for foreign governments to channel money through PACs to buy influence in Congress.
Lack of vision
The short-term election cycle coupled with the inability to stay focused on long term objectives motivates American presidents to lean towards actions that would appease the citizenry, and, as a rule, avoid complicated international issues and difficult choices. Thus, Brzezinski criticized the Clinton presidency as having a foreign policy which lacked "discipline and passion" and subjected the U.S. to "eight years of drift." In comparison, the next, Bush presidency was criticized for many impulsive decisions that harmed the international standing of the US in the world. Former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold commented that, "There’s a broad naivete in the political class about America’s obligations in foreign policy issues, and scary simplicity about the effects that employing American military power can achieve".
Allegations of arrogance
Some commentators have thought the United States became arrogant, particularly after its victory in World War II. Critics such as Andrew Bacevich call on America to have a foreign policy "rooted in humility and realism." Foreign policy experts such as Zbigniew Brzezinski counsel a policy of self-restraint and not pressing every advantage, and listening to other nations. A government official called the US policy in Iraq "arrogant and stupid," according to one report.
Allegations of hypocrisy
The US has been criticized for making statements supporting peace and respecting national sovereignty, but whilst carrying out military actions such as in Contras in Nicaragua. The US has been criticized for voicing concern about narcotics production in countries such as Bolivia and Venezuela but doesn't follow through on cutting certain bilateral aid programs. The US has been criticized for not maintaining a consistent policy; it has been accused of denouncing alleged rights violations in China while supporting alleged human rights abuses by Israel.
However, some defenders argue that a policy of rhetoric while doing things counter to the rhetoric was necessary in the sense of realpolitik and helped secure victory against the dangers of tyranny and totalitarianism.
The US is advocating that Iran and North Korea should not develop nuclear weapons, while the US, the only country to have used nuclear weapons in warfare, maintains a nuclear arsenal of 5,113 warheads. However, this double-standard is legitimated by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a party.
Actions of the United States
Support of dictatorships
The US has been criticized for supporting dictatorships with economic assistance and military hardware. Particular dictatorships have included Musharraf of Pakistan, the Shah of Iran, Museveni of Uganda, warlords in Somalia, Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, Park Chung-hee of South Korea, Generalissimo Franco of Spain, Melez Zenawi of Ethiopia and Augusto Pinochet in Chile.
Opposition to independent nationalism
The US has been criticized by Noam Chomsky for opposing nationalist movements in foreign countries, including social reform.
Interference in internal affairs
The United States was criticized for manipulating the internal affairs of foreign nations, including Guatemala, Chile, Cuba, Colombia, various countries in Africa including Uganda. See also Covert United States foreign regime change actions.
Promotion of democracy
Some critics argue that America's policy of advocating democracy may be ineffective and even counterproductive. Bush has been criticized for neglecting democracy and human rights by focusing exclusively on an effort to fight terrorism. The US was criticized for alleged prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe, according to Amnesty International. In response, the US government claimed incidents of abuse were isolated incidents which did not reflect U.S. policy.
In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. criticized excessive U.S. spending on military projects, and suggested a linkage between its foreign policy abroad and racism at home. In 1971, a Time Magazine essayist wondered why there were 375 major foreign military bases around the world with 3,000 lesser military facilities and concluded "there is no question that the U.S. today has too many troops scattered about in too many places." In a 2010 defense report, Cordesman criticized out-of-control military spending. Expenditures to fight the War on Terror are vast and seem limitless. The Iraq war was expensive and continues to be a severe drain on U.S. finances. Bacevich thinks the U.S. has a tendency to resort to military means to try to solve diplomatic problems. The US involvement in the Vietnam War was a costly, decade-long military engagement which ended in defeat, and the mainstream view today is that the entire intervention was a mistake. The dollar cost was $111 billion, or $698 billion in 2009 dollars. Similarly, the second Iraq war was viewed by many as being a mistake, since there were no weapons of mass destruction found, the war ended in December 2011.
Violation of international law
Some critics assert the US doesn't always follow Saddam Hussein for starting aggressive wars—Saddam for his 1990 attack on Kuwait and Bush for his 2003 invasion of Iraq. Critics point out that the United Nations Charter, ratified by the U.S., prohibits members from using force against fellow members except against imminent attack or pursuant to an explicit Security Council authorization. A professor of international law asserted there was no authorization from the UN Security Council which made the invasion "a crime against the peace." However, US defenders argue there was such an authorization according to UN Security Council Resolution 1441. See also, United States War Crimes. The US has also supported Kosovo's independence even though it is strictly written in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 that Kosovo cannot be independent and it is stated as a Serbian province. The US has actively supported and pressured other countries to recognize Kosovo's independence.
Commitment to foreign aid
Some critics charge that U.S. government aid should be higher given the high levels of United States is the top donor in absolute amounts.
- Environmental policy. The U.S. has been criticized for failure to support the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Historical foreign policy
The U.S. has been criticized for its historical treatment of native Americans. For example, the treatment of Cherokee Indians in the Trail of Tears in which hundreds of Indians died in a forced evacuation from their homes in the southeastern area, along with massacres, displacement of lands, swindles, and breaking treaties. It has been criticized for the war with Mexico in the 1840s which some see as a theft of land. It has been criticised for being the first and only nation to use a nuclear bomb in wartime.
There has been sharp criticism about the U.S. response to the Holocaust: That it failed to admit Jews fleeing persecution from Europe at the beginning of World War II, and that it did not act decisively enough to prevent or stop the Holocaust. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was the President at the time, was well-informed about the Hitler regime and its anti-Jewish policies, but the US State Department policies made it very difficult for Jewish refugees to obtain entry visas. Roosevelt similarly took no action on the Wagner-Rogers Bill, which could have saved 20,000 Jewish refugee children, following the arrival of 936 Jewish refugees on the MS St. Louis, who were denied asylum and were not allowed into the United States because of strict laws passed by Congress.
During the era, the American press did not always publicize reports of Nazi atrocities in full or with prominent placement. By 1942, after newspapers began to report details of the Holocaust, articles were extremely short and were buried deep in the newspaper. These reports were either denied or unconfirmed by the United States government. When it did receive irrefutable evidence that the reports were true, (and photographs of mass graves and murder in Birkenau camp in 1943, with victims moving into the gas chambers) U.S. officials suppressed the information and classified it as secret. It is possible lives of European Jews could have been saved.
Alienation of allies
There is evidence that many U.S. allies have been alienated by a unilateral approach. Allies signaled dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in a vote at the U.N. Brzezinski counsels listening to allies and exercising self-restraint.
Ineffective public relations
One report suggests that news source Al-jazeera routinely paints the U.S. as evil throughout the Mideast. Other critics have faulted the U.S. public relations effort. As a result of faulty policy and lackluster public relations, the U.S. has a severe image problem in the Mideast, according to Anthony Cordesman. Analyst Jessica Tuchman Mathews writes that it appears to much of the Arab world that the United States went to war in Iraq for oil, regardless of the accuracy of that motive. In a 2007 poll by BBC News asking which countries are seen as having a "negative influence in the world," the survey found that Israel, Iran, United States and North Korea had the most negative influence, while nations such as Canada, Japan and the European Union had the most positive influence. The US has been accused by some U.N. officials of condoning actions by Israel against Palestinians. On the other hand, others have accused the US of being too supportive of the Palestinians.
Ineffective prosecution of war
One estimate is that the second Iraq War along with the so-called War on Terror cost $551 billion, or $597 billion in 2009 dollars. Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich has criticized American profligacy and squandering its wealth. There have been historical criticisms of U.S. warmaking capability; in the War of 1812, the U.S. was unable to conquer Canada despite several attempts and having superior resources; the U.S. Capitol was burned and the settlement ending the war did not bring any major concessions from the British.
Problem areas festering
Critics point to a list of countries or regions where continuing foreign policy problems continue to present problems. These areas include South America, including Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Brazil. There are difficulties with Central American nations such as Honduras. Iraq has continuing troubles. Iran, as well, presents problems with nuclear proliferation. Pakistan is unstable, there is active conflict in Afghanistan. The Mideast in general continues to fester, although relations with India are improving. Policy towards Russia remains uncertain. China presents an economic challenge. There are difficulties in other regions too. In addition, there are problems not confined to particular regions, but regarding new technologies. Cyberspace is a constantly changing technological area with foreign policy repercussions. Climate change is an unresolved foreign policy issue, particularly depending on whether nations can agree to work together to limit possible future risks.
Ineffective strategy to fight terrorism
Critic Cordesman criticized U.S. strategy to combat terrorism as not having enough emphasis on getting Islamic republics to fight terrorism themselves. Sometimes visitors have been misidentified as "terrorists." Mathews suggests the risk of nuclear terrorism remains unprevented. In 1999 during the Kosovo War, the US supported the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a that was recognised as a terrorist organisation by the US some years prior. Right before the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia took place, the US took down the KLA from the list of internationally recognized terrorist organizations in order to justify their aid and help to the KLA.
Historical instances of ineffective policies
Generally during the 19th century, and in early parts of the 20th century, the U.S. pursued a policy of isolationism and generally avoided entanglements with European powers. After World War I, Time Magazine writer John L. Steele thought the U.S. tried to return to an isolationist stance, but that this was unproductive. He wrote: "The anti-internationalist movement reached a peak of influence in the years just before World War II." But Steele questioned whether this policy was effective; regardless, isolationism ended quickly after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Analysts have wondered whether the U.S. pursued the correct strategy with Japan before World War II; by denying Japan access to precious raw materials, it is possible that U.S. policy triggered the surprise attack and, as a result, the U.S. had to fight a two-front war in both the Far East as well as Europe during World War II. While it may be the case that the Mideast is a difficult region with no easy solutions to avoiding conflict, since this volatile region is at the junction of three continents; still, many analysts think U.S. policy could have been improved substantially. The U.S. waffled; there was no vision; presidents kept changing policy. Public opinion in different regions of the world thinks that, to some extent, the 9/11 attacks were an outgrowth of substandard U.S. policy towards the region. The Vietnam War was a decade-long mistake. The US supported the secession of Kosovo form FR Yugoslavia in 1999 and continued to support its independence since. Such unilateral policies have broken European and international treaties but have been dismissed as unique by the US. Such unilateral secession support has helped inspire many notable secessionist uprisings in Spain, Belgium, Georgia, Russia, China, among others that have secessionist movements. However, the US has dismissed any similarities between those secessionist movements and Kosovo.
Spying and surveillance
Role of internal government structure
Small role of Congress in foreign policy
Critic Robert McMahon thinks Congress has been excluded from foreign policy decision making, and that this is detrimental. Other writers suggest a need for greater Congressional participation.
Jim Webb, former Democratic senator from Virginia and former Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, believes that Congress has an ever-decreasing role in U.S. foreign policy making. September 11, 2001 precipitated this change, where “powers quickly shifted quickly to the Presidency as the call went up for centralized decision making in a traumatized nation where, quick, decisive action was considered necessary. It was considered politically dangerous and even unpatriotic to question this shift, lest one be accused of impeding national safety during a time of war.” Since that time, Webb thinks Congress has become largely irrelevant in shaping and executing of U.S. foreign policy. He cites the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement, and the 2011 military intervention in Libya as examples of growing legislative irrelevance. Regarding the SFA, “Congress was not consulted in any meaningful way. Once the document was finalized, Congress was not given the opportunity to debate the merits of the agreement, which was specifically designed to shape the structure of our long-term relations in Iraq” (11). “Congress did not debate or vote on this agreement, which set U.S. policy toward an unstable regime in an unstable region of the world.” The Iraqi Parliament, by contrast, voted on the measure twice. The U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement is described by the Obama Administration has a “legally binding executive agreement” that outlines the future of U.S.-Afghan relations and designated Afghanistan a major non-NATO ally. “It is difficult to understand how any international agreement negotiated, signed, and authored only by our executive branch of government can be construed as legally binding in our constitutional system,” Webb argues. Finally, Webb identifies the U.S. intervention in Libya as a troubling historical precedent. “The issue in play in Libya was not simply whether the president should ask Congress for a declaration of war. Nor was it wholly about whether Obama violated the edicts of the War Powers Act, which in this writer’s view he clearly did. The issue that remains to be resolved is whether a president can unilaterally begin, and continue, a military campaign for reasons that he alone defines as meeting the demanding standards of a vital national interest worth of risking American lives and expending billions of dollars of taxpayer money.” When the military campaign lasted months, President Barack Obama did not seek approval of Congress to continue military activity.
The presidency of Brzezinski. He stopped the first Iraq War too soon without finishing the task of capturing Saddam Hussein. Foreign policy expert Henry Kissinger criticized Jimmy Carter for numerous foreign policy mistakes including a decision to admit the ailing Shah of Iran into the United States for medical treatment, as well as a bungled military mission to try to rescue the hostages in Teheran. Carter waffled from being "both too tough and too soft at the same time."
Difficulty removing an incompetent president
Since the only way to remove an incompetent president is with the rather difficult policy of Jimmy Carter in his handling of the Iran hostage crisis.
Presidents may lack experience
Since the constitution requires no prior experience in diplomacy, government, or military service, it is possible to elect presidents with scant foreign policy experience. Clearly the record of past presidents confirms this, and that presidents who have had extensive diplomatic, military, and foreign policy experience have been the exception, not the rule. In recent years, presidents had relatively more experience in such tasks as peanut farming, Bush was criticized for inexperience in the Washington Post for being "not versed in international relations and not too much interested."
Lack of control over foreign policy
During the early 19th century, general Andrew Jackson exceeded his authority on numerous times and attacked American Indian tribes as well as invaded the Spanish territory of Florida without official government permission. Jackson was not reprimanded or punished for exceeding his authority. Some accounts blame newspaper journalism called yellow journalism for whipping up virulent pro-war sentiment to help instigate the Spanish-American War. Some critics suggest foreign policy is manipulated by lobbies, such as the pro-Israel lobby or the Arab one, although there is disagreement about the influence of such lobbies. Nevertheless, Brzezinski wants stricter anti-lobbying laws.
In contrast to criticisms that presidential attention is divided into competing tasks, some critics charge that presidents have too much power, and that there is the potential for tyranny or fascism. Some presidents circumvented the national security decision-making process. Critics such as Dana D. Nelson of Vanderbilt in her book Bad for Democracy and columnist David Sirota and Texas law professor Sanford Levinson see a danger in too much executive authority.
Presidents have not only foreign policy responsibilities, but sizeable domestic duties too. In addition, the presidency is the head of a political party. As a result, it is tough for one person to manage disparate tasks, in one view. Critics suggest Reagan was overburdened, which prevented him from doing a good job of oversight regarding the Iran–Contra affair. Brzezinski suggested in Foreign Affairs that President Barack Obama is similarly overburdened. Some suggest a need for permanent non-partisan advisers.
- 2003 invasion of Iraq
- American exceptionalism
- American Interventions in the Middle East
- American Empire
- Assassination attempts on Fidel Castro
- Bush Doctrine
- Carter Doctrine
- China Containment Policy
- Contents of the United States diplomatic cables leak (United States)
- Covert U.S. regime change actions
- Dollar hegemony
- Foreign Military Sales
- Foreign policy of the Barack Obama administration
- Foreign policy of the United States
- Human rights in the United States
- Human Rights Record of the United States
- Inverted totalitarianism
- Monroe Doctrine
- Nixon Doctrine
- Powell Doctrine
- President of the United States
- Reagan Doctrine
- Roosevelt Corollary
- Truman Doctrine
- United States and state terrorism
- United States and the United Nations
- United States Agency for International Development
- United States, Chanceries of Foreign Governments
- United States Foreign Military Financing
- United States military aid
- Zbigniew Brzezinski
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