Since gaining independence from the British in 1776, the United States foreign policy over the years has gone from expansionist to isolationism to defending democracy. With the responsibility of defending democratic rights for those who cannot defend themselves, the United States in my opinion has taken on the role of “policeman of the world.” This role became more evident with the use of U.S. military force in international incidents like U.S. intervention in the 2011 Libyan Civil War to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and U.S. involvement in the 2011 Yemeni Civil War protesting the leadership of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Despite the United States being hailed as a defender of democracy by some, their actions are usually not selfless. In both situations protecting United States interests was a major factor.
Both Libya and Yemen are hot beds for terrorist activity by radical groups like al-Qaeda. The United States keeps tabs on the activities of these groups in an effort to intercept information to thwart acts of terrorism, particularly against Americans. Leadership in these vulnerable countries is of great interest to the United States because some regimes are sympathetic to these militant groups. A lack of clear leadership in these countries also poses a threat to U.S. interests because a lapse in leadership can lead to militant groups seizing control. Three aspects of U.S. history since 1865 that led to the US’s rise as a world super power policeman are religious and moral views, geopolitical reasons, and financial reasons. First, American missionaries believed that it was their duty to spread Christianity to the uncivilized areas of the world. Second, European nations were effectively dividing the resource rich areas of the world between them and were profiting greatly from these regions.
The U.S. felt that it too could profit from these acquisitions both financially and strategically. Third, the advent of the industrial age led to the accumulation of wealth for many business leaders in America. These businessmen saw the potential of further economic expansion by having access to overseas markets and materials. Three international incidents from the past five years that can be traced back to a foreign policy created after the Civil War are Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq. The Vietnam War began in 1955 and was fought between communist North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The regime of North Vietnam and its allies known as the Viet Cong were supported by the Russian government while South Vietnam’s primary ally was the United States. In 1991 the President of Somalia Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown and this led to the beginning of a civil war.
During this time various militias vied for control of the country. This marked a period of intense violence and fighting which eventually required both United Nations Peacekeeping forces and U.S. military involvement. The Iraqi war of 2003 started after Iraq claimed to possess weapons of mass destruction. Under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, some segments of the Iraqi population prospered while others were threatened with violence, tortured, and killed. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq developed chemical weapons that were used against its enemies and even its own people. Three driving forces that fueled international policy decisions involving the international incidents with Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq were containing communism, providing United Nations aid, and protecting the United States from threats abroad.
In Vietnam, the United States was afraid communism would spread around the world, undermining capitalism. Stopping North Vietnam from spreading its communist regime to South Vietnam was seen as necessary particularly during the Cold War battle with the Soviet Union. During the Somali Civil War the suffering of the people was broadcast worldwide and there was public outcry for aid to the country. In Somalia, the United States mission was first and foremost to support the United Nations relief effort to provide aid to millions of starving Somali people. The United States entered Iraq to remove Weapons of Mass Destruction which were believed to have been developed under Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein who all but proclaimed he possessed these weapons. These weapons posed a threat to the United States and its allies and after 9/11 the United States had implemented a policy of protecting itself from any current or perceivable future threats.
In the two hundred plus years since establishing its independence, the United States has adopted various attitudes towards foreign policy. Immediately after obtaining independence from Great Britain, this fairly new nation focused on issues on the home front. After the devastation of the Civil War, the country welcomed the Industrial Revolution with open arms. The advances in technology and transportation during the Industrial Revolution led to great improvements in American society and established the United States as a world power. Most Americans believed it was their duty to civilize the world. Although the United States had moral reasons for expansion, their foreign policy was mostly fueled by self-interest. This self-interest dictated foreign policy from 1867 all the way to the present day.
Dilanian, K., & Cloud, D. (2012, May 16). U.S. escalates clandestine war in Yemen. In Los
Angeles Times. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from
Dwyer, D. (2011, August 22). US military intervention in Libya cost at least $896 million. In abc News. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/08/us-military-intervention-in-libya-cost-at-least-896-million/ Schultz, K. M. (2014). HIST: Volume 2: U.S. history since 1865 (3rd ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.
Vietnam war. (n.d.). In History. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war