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Which ‘perspective’ or theoretical model is most effective in understanding US Foreign Policy?

Introduction

The purpose of this study is to test the Marxist perspective in understanding the U.S. foreign policy across four major time periods. The first part of the paper favors the Marxist theory to in understanding U.S. foreign policy. It has 4 case studies that are applied with either Lenin’s imperialism theory or Kolko’s revisionism research. Both scholars use Marxism as a critique of capitalism. The second part of the paper tries to analyze whether these theoretical perspectives work.

The task of understanding American foreign policy is very complex because the policy has so many diverse factors that shape it today. Some scholars argue that domestic factors are the driving force of the policy while others argue that it is shaped by international systems (Stokes, 2012, p. 5). In order to understand the policy, there is need to apply theoretical explanations. Liberals see US foreign policy as very progressive and promotes prosperity and freedom around the world. Conversely, other theorists, especially Marxists, see it as an aggressive force which exploits other countries (Dobson, 2002, p. 46). Marxists such as Gabriel Kolko and Vladimir Lenin argue that the foreign policy of the United States is driven by bourgeoisie so that American corporations and businesses can grow bigger. The state actors that administer the foreign policy are puppets that are controlled by the bourgeoisie. According to one Marxist, “the ruling class of a capitalist society is that class which owns and controls the means of production and which is able, by virtue of the economic power thus conferred upon it, to use the state as its instrument for the domination of society” (Miliband, 1969, p. 23). The main argument for Marxists is that U.S. foreign policy is an instrument to benefit the capitalist class in the U.S. society.

Collapse of the Soviet Union

Lenin’s theory would argue that the Soviet Union collapsed because of its weak economy that was destroyed during the Cold War that pitted it against the United States and its European allies. In his argument, Lenin contends that all major world capitalist powers had colonial conquests that made them to be strong. Kolko argues the U.S.A. needed to expand its capitalism but the Soviet Union was a barrier because it had significant political influence. The U.S. simply wanted to conduct trade with any country without any restrictions. During the Cold War, it expanded its economy around Central and Latin America and this later helped it pump billions of dollars of aid into Western Europe thereby helping the then Europe to recover after the Second World War. Kolko states that the Marshall Plan was used for U.S. economic interests only.

Inarguably, this also helped the U.S. economy grow even bigger as the country was able to establish free trade agreements with Europe that directly benefitted it. “These developments put pressure on states such as the Soviet Union, which had limited access to world markets and the global division of labour, and which therefore struggled to accumulate sufficiently to keep up with its rivals” (Choonara, 2009, p. 139). The Soviet Union simply was far behind the U.S.A. The country experienced a slowdown in production in many important industries during the 1970s because it was at that time focused on arms race where it directed most of its money. Due to this, millions of its citizens were left without food and shelter.

To catch up with the U.S., the Soviets would need to invest heavily. This was however not possible because the U.S. had far too stronger economy and the Soviets had run out of money and resources. The combination of economic and political power led the USA to celebrate the end of the Cold War and become the most powerful country in the world (Choonara, 2009, p. 138-140). Kolko argued that the United States was not fighting the Soviet influence but rather a challenge that had harmed its economy.

US Foreign Policy in the 1990s (Bush and Clinton)

The post-Cold War foreign policy that has influenced the U.S. economy greatly was developed under the presidency of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Liberalists argue that the policy was largely meant to limit military interventions. However, it was not easy to manage without the Cold War assimilations. For example, President Bush kept the U.S. out of Yugoslavia while there were bloody conflicts happening there. Instead, he sent U.S. troops to Kuwait to kick out Saddam Hussein’s army. Marxists argue that fighting in Kuwait was for economic purposes and was meant to ensure the U.S. got the control of oil in the region. The move was to kick out Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and take the control over the world’s major oil producer. President Bush declared war with Iraq immediately he was elected during his inaugural speech. The war started as soon as he assumed office and lasted until his departure. The aim of waging the war was to flash out the al-Qaeda group, kill Saddam Hussein, capture Osama Bin Laden, and destroy all forms of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons.

Indeed, President Bush is among the world leaders who are often cited to have had adopted a foreign policy framework that could be termed as hegemonic. Capitalism resurfaced during his administration, including the use of force or military power in engaging with the world. The former president did not use his presidential powers to foster cordial relations with other nations but to stamp his authority and the supremacy of the United States (Exchange, 2015). He did not quite believe in diplomacy as he felt it discouraged accountability and hard work. In his approach, he gave nations ultimatums out of which they could expect serious attacks if they failed to comply. His mission according to scholars was to protect the U.S. at all costs. He is the leader who took back the country to war after a long time by invading Iraq.

During the reign of President Clinton, the president pretty much continued the same dynamics as those of George Bush. For example, Bush had sent troops to Somalia for a humanitarian intervention. Later, Clinton increased the number of troops purposely to enhance peace and restore order. After conducting spirited attempts at removing the Somali regime, he pulled out the troops from the country, claiming that the U.S. could not provide a solution to the political crisis in the East African country (Milestones, 2013). From the Marxist perspective, the U.S. could not install its imperialism in Somalia.

Soon after Clinton pulled out U.S. soldiers out of Somalia, Rwanda began to experience politically-ignited tension. The internal war that occurred over a short period resulted in a genocide. It is estimated that between 500,000 and one million people were killed. President Clinton refused to intervene in the Rwandan situation, arguing that “his administration was weathering heavy criticism for the deaths of several US soldiers on a 1993 mission in Somalia” (Flanagin, 2015). However, he later apologized for U.S. torpidity and described it as “the greatest shame of his administration” (Stokes, 2012, p. 92). The actions of the former president left many questions unanswered. The most pertinent question was why Rwanda was ignored. Marxists argue that the Clinton administration was fully aware of the genocide, but it was just ignored and was not really in U.S. interests. The U.S. had more interest in Somalia based on its strategic nature and rich oil deposits, as analysts affirm. Before the Somalia civil war began, the U.S. had already sent its oil companies into the country to explore if it had oil deposits. Many industry sources believed that the land could have oil and natural gas. However, unrests made the oil companies to leave because it was too dangerous operating in the country.

“According to documents obtained by The Times, nearly two-thirds of Somalia was allocated to the American oil giants Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips in the final years before Somalia’s pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown and the nation plunged into chaos in January, 1991” (Fineman, 1993). According to Kolko (1976), state actors are puppets of the capitalist class. In this case, American oil companies pushed the government to intervene in Somalia in order to protect their investments so they could exploit the country’s oil deposits (Stokes, 2012, p. 319-320).

Bush in Iraq

In 2003, the U.S. made a decision to invade Iraq. It has been the longest and most costly war to the country since the Vietnam War. It has cost 1.7 trillion dollars. The Bush administration had three claims why it invaded Iraq. President Bush believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction because he had previously used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. However, nothing significant was discovered. 1,625 UN and U.S. inspectors spent two years searching 1,700 sites at a cost of more than $1bn (Borger, 2014). Saddam had ties with the Al Qaeda. However, no evidence has been found to confirm the ties and he even viewed the Al Qaeda as a threat to his regime. The second claim for the invasion was to bring peace and democracy to Iraqi people. However, nothing really has changed I this regard. Many regions of the country are still unstable and lacking in peace. Before, Iraq was struggling with the war and now with ISIS. In reality, U.S. plans were to secure oil supplies in the country and put military bases in the Middle East in order to protect its global power. The Marxist economic theory argues that the Iraq war was created by the bourgeoisie to control new markets in the Middle East. According to OPEC more than 80% of the world’s oil reserves are located in OPEC member countries, most of which are Middle East countries (OPEC, 2014). The Marxist perspective again shows that the U.S. had more interests in Iraq therefore finding Saddam was more important than finding Osama Bin Laden because Iraq is an oil-rich country and Saddam was at the time the obstacle.

The Obama Administration

When Barack Obama was elected, he spoke about peace in the world and the need for more diplomacy. His mission and key undertaking he committed to execute in the first term of his presidency was to end the war in Iraq and initiate deliberations with Iran towards the realization of greater peace in the Middle East. His other mission was to close the detention facility in Guantanamo bay, and reduce oil consumption. He was aware how many troops had been killed and wounded in the Iraqi and Afghan wars. He was also aware of the amount of money the wars had cost American taxpayers (Dobson, 2002). Despite the diplomatic initiatives, no real change was witnessed in the U.S. foreign policy during the Obama administration. The country continued its military interventions across the globe. While Obama withdrew the army from Iraq, he increased the number of troops in Afghanistan.

During the former president’s first term in office, U.S. drones killed more people than during the eight years of George Bush’s presidency. By 2015, the administration had already had 500 drone strikes, which was 10 times more than under Bush’s presidency (TV, 2015). Despite the war in Iraq being terminated, the USA still has military bases around Europe more than 60 years since the Second World War ended. This shows that the country is not going to leave Iraq and Afghanistan any time soon because it needs to improve and secure its access to oil. According to Gulf Business, Iraq has the fifth largest oil reserves in the world. Despite political disputes, many oil reserves have never been tapped (Nagraj, 2013). As economists argue, “’states are willing to use force to achieve their economic and political objectives” (Burchill, 2013, p. 124). This is what informs their active participation in the creation of peace and flashing out of unfriendly leaders like Saddam Hussein.

Despite the global economic crisis the United States experienced in 2008, President Obama did not change the country’s foreign policy much. Business elites still had influential links with the government regarding the policy. It may be hard to argue against this given that big businesses and corporations usually fund presidential campaigns. Obama’s campaign money itself came from large corporations including Wall Street’s finest Time Warner and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Although the former President is often regarded as the most democratic and soft U.S. president ever, from a Marxism point of view, he had been siding with the rich.

It is very important for one to be acquainted with the historical facts about the U.S. in order for them to understand the nation’s foreign policy. Chomsky (2004) argued that “the history of American foreign policy is one of imperialism and empire building.” The policy took a paradigm shift in the 20th century just after the major wars that included World War I, World War II and the Cold War. The new trend in the policy that was evident during the American Revolution was a clear shift from non-interventionism which occurred both before and after the First World War. The revolution saw America grow into a world superpower status and gain global hegemony whereby close powerful elites and state actors were the key decision makers. A paradigm shift of the policy was also evident in the 19th century when a shift was recorded from the realist school of thought to the idealistic viewpoint. The shift was known as the Wilsonian School of International Relations.

According to researchers, the U.S. foreign policy themes were expressed extensively and accorded weight in the farewell address by George Washington. The Farewell address was characterized by undertones and advocacy for a friendly foreign policy framework. The speech was anticipating a policy shift from the hegemonic structure to a more liberal and inclusive one. The key objects of the address on the policy change included the need to observe good faith, observe justice or propagate justice towards all nations, and cultivate peace and harmony without any form of apathy towards some nations. The former president emphasized the need for the U.S. to engage with others or adopt a symbiotic relation with other nations globally through passionate attachment. This, he noted, would enhance trade and sharing of ideas among individuals in the nations and that this would be noble for global development.

The policies proposed ignited intense deliberations among state actors and eventually became the major driver or basis for the formation of the Federalist Party in 1970. The party spearheaded various changes and areas of focus for the U.S. foreign policy framework. The move helped in replacing the hegemony system with the favorable policies contained in the presidential doctrine.

Party politics also shape foreign policy structure in the U.S. Despite the overall objective remaining the same over the years, how the foreign policies are implemented or acted upon differ based on party affiliation including the ideologies of the president in office. The dynamics in party politics and changes in the environment influence the approach a government in place would take. For instance, internal and global challenges such as irresponsible gun usage and terrorism that are increasingly affecting the global peace continually contribute in the notable shifts witnessed in the foreign policy. The challenges shape how the U.S. relates with certain nations and the actions such nations undertake to restore peace and human rights and dignity. For instance, the current government is fighting heavy battle globally.

Kolko in his view holds that the US foreign policy is a driver to expand American capitalism abroad and to secure overseas outlets for surplus American production. The scholar argued that during the Cold War, the U.S. needed to get rid of its enemies and obstacles in every jurisdiction of interest. The war was not a conflict between Russia and the United States, but was instead an American campaign to dominate the world and reshape it to suit its interests (Eubank, 2008). The weakness of Kolko in this concept is that he accepts too much history in today’s foreign policy. He still depicts that American capitalism is repressing the world society.

Theoretically, Marxists have strengths and can be very realistic in terms of hidden truths that influence the foreign policy of the United States. It is out of doubt that economic aspects play a key role in the foreign policy. Since 1945, the U.S. has had power to reshape the world economy (Stokes, 2012, p. 321). The Marxist theory, including Lenin and Kolko perspectives, explains the reasons why the Soviet Union collapsed and the truth behind the interventions the U.S. conducted in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. The theory also establishes whether or not Obama’s foreign policy did enough to change something relating to interventions and ending wars in the Middle East.

Ideally, Marxism-Leninism imperialism based on Vladimir Lenin and Kolko’s perspectives is communism in nature. The theorists believe in a communist society where no one is alienated or exploited. They both believe that capitalism is evil because it is run by the rich and a society governed by few people which are the rich is characterized by “dictatorship of the proletariat.” However, they fail to recognize that authoritarian states are the ones that run societies and can be extremely dangerous. Regarding the U.S. foreign policy, too much emphasis is put on economic factors. Although economics is an important aspect, keeping democracy standards is also important for sustaining effective foreign policy. If the United States’ ancient and current policy frameworks are compared, significant changes have occurred.

Lenin’s imperialism theory can be criticized first because it is outdated as it is nearly 100 years old. It has a little or no relevance to U.S. foreign policy today. Secondly, Leninists argue that the U.S. uses imperialistic policies to expand economy. A notable example often cited in this regard is the invasion of Iraq. However, the larger amount of U.S. wealth was created domestically as the country has one of the largest industries, for example in agriculture which is one of the top exporters of goods.

Noteworthy, there is no single source that can dictate the U.S. foreign policy. Economics without a doubt plays a big role in the policy but it cannot alone influence the policy’s outcomes. There is more to it than just economics. First, foreign policy as a whole changes from time to time. Second, events that take place in the world play a big role. Foreign policy is impacted by events in international politics. As the events change, the shape of foreign policy changes too. Although the Marxists argument that the intervention in Iraq was all about oil may sound realistic, and the idea that the U.S. foreign policy is strongly influenced by big business elites who dictate which way the policy has to go seem true, the arguments could be proven to be false after all. This is because the U.S. political system has high decentralization, which means that no single candidate can shape policies. Under the U.S. constitution, power is shared. The argument that can hold water in this regard is that there is a struggle to control foreign policy because the U.S. government allows non-state actors to participate in foreign policy but overall, one person’s influence is very limited in it. Regarding domination, the 2008 financial crisis has deeply impacted the U.S. economy. As a result, the domination of global economic leadership could be shifted in China’s favor.

Lenin’s imperialism and Kolko’s perspective are very outdated in general and their examinations focus on many negative aspects of capitalism. They do not take into account that in communist states people are exploited and that their economies are underdeveloped. What they get right is that the U.S. has a progressive policy framework that is anchored upon democratization and governance. The policy is what informs the local and international decisions made on key issues that touch on global welfare. The other aspect is that the U.S. foreign policy has been changing over the years. The changes are ignited by the ideologies of the party and the president in office.

Conclusion

Lenin’s imperialism and Kolko described and analysed U.S. foreign policy past events effectively. They have contributed in understanding the U.S. power and role during the Cold War, including the Vietnam War. They also cover the role the country played in the 1990s’ interventions in Somalia and Yugoslavia and in the 20th century war on terror. The assessment indicates that U.S.A. has had imperialistic foreign policy. It is also prudent to conclude that the task of understanding US foreign policy remains complex more than it appears. The policy appears simple and clear to understand, but yet difficult since it is characterized by several diverse factors that influence its execution. This is evident as the policy’s agenda is to promote sustainable democracy, security, and prosperity both in the U.S. and the international community. However, this is not the case in most instances given that diverse factors and interests influence implementation of the policy. For instance, capitalists and major state actors normally influence how the implementation. Others include the ruling class who control the means of production significantly. Many have argued that this class always ensure that the internal interests of the nation and individual interests are served with the policy adopted. As much as there is the underlying principle and policy framework guiding the process, they always contribute against what people expect. This leaves more questions than answers as to who is in charge of the U.S. foreign policy and who facilitate its implementation.

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