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


The purpose of this study is to test Marxist perspective in understanding US foreign policy into four major times. The first part of the paper favours Marxist theory to understand US foreign policy. Therefore, 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 analyse whether they work.

The task of understanding American foreign policy is very complex because it has so many diverse factors that shape it today. Some scholars argue that domestic factors are the driving force of the foreign policy while others argue that international systems are shaping American foreign policy (Stokes, 2012, p. 5). In order to explain it we need theory. ‘Liberals see US foreign policy as very progressive that is promoting prosperity and freedom around the world. While 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 them.  Miliband(1969) argued ‘’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 US foreign policy is an instrument to benefit the capitalist class in the US society.



Collapse of the Soviet Union

Lenin’s theory would argue argues that the Soviet Union collapsed because of its weak economy that was destroyed during the Cold War against the USA. In his argument he talks that all major world powers-capitalists had colonial expansions that led them to be strong. Kolko argues the USA needed to expand its capitalism the Soviet Union was a barrier because it had a political influence. The USA simply wanted trading with any country without any restrictions. During the Cold War the USA expanded its economy around Central and Latin America that later helped  pumped billions of dollars of aid into Western Europe that helped then Europe to recover after the Second World War. Kolko states that the Marshall Plan was used for US economic interests only.

Not to argue, this also helped the US economically grow even bigger, because it established free trade agreements with Europe that benefited the US. ‘’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 USA. It experienced a slowdown in production in many important industries during the 1970s because the country at that time was focused on arm race where most of the money was put. Due to this, millions of citizens of the Soviet Union were left without food and shelter.

To catch up with the USA, the Soviets would require heavy investment in order to do that. It was not possible because the USA had far too advantageous economy and the Soviets ran out of money and resources. The combination of economic and political power led the USA celebrate the end of Cold War and become the most powerful country in the international arena (Choonara, 2009, pp. 138-140). Kolko argued that the USA was not fighting the Soviets influence but a challenge that harmed the US economics.

US foreign policy in the 1990s (Bush & Clinton)

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

Indeed, President Bush is one the leaders who are cited to have had adopted a foreign policy framework that can be termed as hegemony. Capitalism resurfaced during his administration including the use of force or military power in engaging with the world. George Bush did not use the presidential powers to foster cordial relations with other nations but to stamp his authority and the supreme nature of the state  (Exchange, 2015). He slightly believed in diplomacy noting that it discourages accountability and hard work. In his approach, he gave nations ultimatums upon which they could expect serious attacks. His mission according to scholars is that he wanted to protect US at all cost. He is the leader who took back US to war after a long time in Iraq.

During the reign of President Clinton, he pretty much continued the same dynamic as those of George H.W. Bus. For example, Bush sent troops to Somalia for a humanitarian intervention and later Clinton increased the number of troops purposely to enhance peace and restore order. After conducting spirited attempts of removing the regime, he pulled out the troops from the country, claiming that he US could not provide a solution to the political crisis (Milestones, 2013). From the Marxist perspective, the USA could not install its imperialism in Somalia.

Soon after Clinton pulled out US soldiers from Somalia, Rwanda began to experience politically ignited tension. The internal war that occurred in a short period resulted into a mass slaughter of people. It is estimated that between 500,000 and one million people were killed. Clinton refused to intervene Rwanda arguing that ‘’his administration was weathering heavy criticism for the deaths of several US soldiers on a1993 mission in Somalia’’ (Flanagin, 2015) However, he later apologised for US torpidity and described it ‘’as the greatest shame of his administration’’ (Stokes, 2012, p. 92).

The actions undertaken by President Clinton left many questions unanswered. The most pertinent question is, why Rwanda was ignored? Marxists argue that Clinton’s administration was fully aware of the genocide, but it was just ignored and was not really in US interests. The USA had more interest in Somalia based on its strategic nature and rich oil deposits as pundits affirm. Before Somalian civil war began US had its oil companies in Somalia to explore if the country had oil. Many industry sources believed that the land could have oil and natural gas. However, unrests made oil companies to leave because it was too dangerous operating around Somalia.

‘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). The work of Kolko (1976) implies that state actors are puppets of the capitalist class. In this case, American oil companies pushed the government to intervene Somalia to protect their investments, so they can pursue Somalia’s oil (Stokes, 2012, pp. 319-320).

Bush in Iraq

In 2003, the US made a decision to invade in Iraq. It has been the longest and most costly war to the USA since the Vietnam War. The war has cost 1.7 trillion dollars. The Bush administration had three claims why it invaded Iraq. To destroy Iraq’s WMD, Bush believed Sadam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction because he previously used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. However nothing significant was discovered.’’1,625 UN and US inspectors spent two years searching 1,700 sites at a cost of more than $1bn’’ (Borger, 2014). Hussein had ties with Al Qaeda. However no evidence has been found and he viewed Al Qaeda as a threat to his regime. To bring peace and democracy to Iraq people. However nothing really has changed. Many regions of the country are still unstable. Before Iraq was struggling with the war and now with ISIS. In reality US plans were to secure the oil supplies and put military bases in the Middle East to keep its global power. 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 the members of OPEC are Middle East countries (OPEC, 2014) A Marxist perspective again shows that the USA had more interests in Iraq therefore finding Hussein was more important than finding Osama Bin Laden because Iraq is an oil country with Sadam Hussein- the obstacle.

Obama administration

When Barack Obama was elected, he spoke about peace in the world and 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 realisation of a greater peace in the Middle East. His other mission was to close the detention facility in Guantanamo, and reduce oil consumption. He was aware how many troops had been killed and wounded in the Iraq and Afghan war. He was also aware about the amount of money the wars had cost to American taxpayers (Dobson, 2002, pp. 60-70). Despite the diplomatic initiatives, there has been not any real change in US foreign policy since Obama took office. The US is continuing military interventions across the globe. While he withdrawn the army from Iraq he increased the number in Afghanistan.

During Obama’s first term in office US drones killed more people than during 8 years of Bush’s presidency. The Obama administration has already 500 drone strikes which is 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 USA is not going not leave Iraq and Afghanistan any time soon because it needs to improve and secure the 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)  Lenin (1968) and Bukharin (1972) 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 the unfriendly leaders like Sadam Hussein.

Despite the global economic crisis the USA experienced in 2008, President Obama has not changed the foreign policy so much. The business elites still have influential links with the government regarding the foreign policy. This cannot be argued because big businesses and corporations usually fund presidential campaigns. Obama’s campaign money itself came from large corporations include Wall Street’s finest: Time Warner and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Although Obama often is called as the most democratic and soft president. From a Marxism point of view, he has been doing the same thing- favouring the rich.  

It is very important for one to be acquainted with the historical facts about US to understand its foreign policy. Chomsky (2004) argued ‘’the history of American foreign policy is one of imperialism and empire building’’ The US foreign policy took a paradigm shift in the 20th century just after the major wars that include world war I, world war II and cold war. The new trend in the policy that was evident during the American revolution was a clear shift from non-interventionism that occurred before including after the world war I. The revolution saw its growth to a world power status and global hegemony where close powerful elites and state actors were making decisions. 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 Wilsoniian School of international relations.

According to researchers, the US foreign policy themes were expressed extensively and accorded weight in the farewell address by George Washington. The Farewell address was characterised by undertones and advocacy for a friendly foreign policy framework. The speech was anticipating a policy shift from hegemony 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, observing justice or propagation of justice towards all nations, cultivation of peace and harmony without any form of apathy towards some nations. He emphasized the need for the US to engage with others or adopt a symbiotic relation with other nations globally through passionate attachment. This he noted, will enhance trade and sharing of ideas among individuals in the nations that is noble for global development.

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

Party politics also shape foreign policy structure of the US. Despite the overall objective remain the same over the years, how the foreign policies are implemented or acted upon differ based on party affiliation including the ideologies on the person in power. 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 US relate with certain nations and actions they undertake to restore peace and human rights 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’’. He argued that during the Cold War the USA needed to get rid of its enemies and obstacles in every jurisdiction of interest. The Cold War was not a conflict between Russia and the United States, but it was an American campaign to dominate the world and reshape it in its own image (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 society.

Theoretically, Marxists have strengths and can be very realistic in terms of hidden truth that influences the foreign policy of the USA. We cannot escape the fact that economic aspects play a key role in the foreign policy. Since 1945, the US has had power to reshape the world economy (Stokes, 2012, p. 321). Marxist theory including Lenin and Kolko perspectives explains the reasons for why the Soviet Union collapsed, the truth behind the interventions the USA conducted in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. The theories alos establishes whether or not Obama’s foreign policy has changed something relating to interventions and ending wars in the Middle East

Ideally, Marxism-Leninism imperialism based on Vladimir Lenin and Kolko’s perspective are communism by nature. They believed 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- “dictatorship of the proletariat”. However, they fail to recognise that authoritarian states are the ones that run societies and can be extremely dangerous.

Regarding US 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 we compare USs ancient and current policy framework, significant changes have occurred.

Lenin’s imperialism theory can be criticised first because it is out-dated as it is nearly 100 years old. It has a little or no relevance on US foreign policy today. Secondly, Leninists argue that the US uses imperialistic policies to expand economy. The notable example is the invasion of Iraq.  The large amount of US wealth was created domestically as the USA has one of the largest industries for example agriculture, which is one of the top exporters of goods.

To continue, there is no single source that can dictate US foreign policy. Economics without doubt play a big role in it but it cannot alone influence its outcomes. There is more to it than that. Firstly, foreign policy as a whole changes from time to time. Secondly 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 behaviour of foreign policy changes too. Although, Marxists argument – ‘Intervention in Iraq was all about oil’ sounds very realistic. Marxist claim: US foreign policy is strongly influenced by big business elites that dictate which way foreign policy has to go. This can be false because the US political system has high decentralisation it means that no single candidate can shape policies. Under the US constitution, power is shared. Marxist only can argue that there is a struggle to control foreign policy because the US 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 USA economy as a result the domination of global economic leadership can be shifted in China’s favour.

Lenin’s imperialism and Kolko’s perspective is 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. The facts they get right is that the US has a progressive policy framework that is anchored on democratisation and governance pillars. The policy is what informs the local and international decisions made on key issues that touch on the global welfare. The other aspect is that the US foreign policy has been changing over the years. He changes are ignited by the ideologies of the party and person n power including the environmental changes.

In Conclusion, Lenin’s imperialism and Kolko described and analysed US foreign policy’s past events effectively. They have contributed in understanding the US power and role during the Cold War including Vietnam War. They also cover their role in the 1990s interventions in Somalia and Yugoslavia and in the 20th century war on terror.  The assessment indicates that USA 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 characterised by several diverse factors that influence its execution. This is evident as the policy’s a gender is to promote sustainable democracy, security and prosperity in the US and the international community. However, this is not the case in most instances given that diverse factors and interest influence its implementation. For instance, capitalists and major state actors normally influence how the policy is implemented. Others include the ruling class who controls the means of production significantly. Many have argued that they always ensure that the internal interest of the nation and individual interest is 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 US foreign policy and who facilitate its implementation.


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