Skip to content

Making sense of US foreign policy – Part I: Bolivia is just the most recent example of US Imperial reach

December 9, 2019

US foreign policy is not a subject that many people have seriously investigated. Living under a system of capitalism doesn’t make it easy to explore the complexities of US foreign policy and most US media sources are inherently compromised, primarily because of their economic interests, but also because of the heavy reliance on government sources.

The recent coup in Bolivia has been showing up on lots of social media posts, but there is not much of a clear understanding of what role the US government played in the ousting of Bolivian President Evo Morales. This post is not intended to explore the role the US played in Bolivia recently, rather it is meant to provide people with a larger framework for understanding US foreign policy.

Over the years, GRIID has taught popular education classes on the topic of US foreign policy, initially a class that looked at post-WWII policy and more recently, one that began from US expansion in 1898, with the US involvement with the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico. In the most recent version of this class we offered a way to look at US foreign policy that would take into account a more comprehensive assessment of what motivates US actions abroad.

Too be clear, we identify US foreign policy as being fundamentally imperialist in nature, based on the resources we have used in the popular education class, as well as my own experience doing solidarity work in various Latin American countries from 1981 – 2006.

We have identified seven major aspects of US foreign policy, in order to assess the complexities of any given US intervention. Those seven are:

Historical Context – How did the country gain its autonomy and what has been the historic relationship between the US and the country one is investigating?

Geo-Politics – What is US policy in the region of a particular country and how do those relationships impact any given country that one is investigating?

Economic Interest – What are the economic interests that the US has from a particular country and how does that influence the relationship between said country and the US? What trade policies have happened? What sort of imposed economic policies have been adopted/austerity measures and has there been a Shock Doctrine applied?

Human Rights/Human Cost – What is the human rights record of the specific country one is looking into and how much of that is an issue to the US. In addition, how has the US benefitted or harmed the population of a particular country that one is investigating?

US Military Complex – Does the country one is investigating have US military bases; do they receive US military aid; are their soldiers trained by the US; and what relationship does US weapons manufacturers have with a country one is investigating?

US Media Coverage and Public Opinion – Sources used by news media, framing of the US role, casualties/cost of war,

US Domestic response – How is the population of the US responding to relationship between the US and whichever country one is investigating? What is the level of US public understanding about this relationship? Is there any organized opposition to said country?

Iraq Example

Historical Context – WWI demonstrated to the British that oil was an essential strategic resource to power the war machines and the Middle East was rich in oil.

1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, between Russia, the UK and France divided up most of what is now the Middle East, which the UK controlling Iraq.

1919 there was an Arab independence movement and the British responded by convening the League of Nations to ratify their colonial control.

1920 – Arab nationalists then fought the British, but the British military was far superior and brutally crushed the uprising. T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill both argued in favor of using poison gas. Churchill stated at the time, “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. IU am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes.”

1921 – Iraq was created by the British government behind closed doors. Iraqis were not fit to govern themselves. King Faisal was chose by the British government to rule Iraq.

1925 – King Faisal was forced by the British government to sign a 75-year concession granting the foreign owned Iraq Petroleum Company all rights to Iraq’s oil.

After WWII there were 3 major things that happened: The US became the leading world power; oil became central to global power; and the US shifted from domestic oil production to global oil production.

In 1950 Persian Gulf Oil cost about 5 to 15 cents a barrel to produce, but sold for $2.25 a barrel.

1952 – massive demonstrations began against the British and the monarchy. It was violently repressed.

1958 – a military led uprising began, with the King and his son shot dead.Coup was led by Gen. Abdul Qasim. Iraq now wanted part of the control of Iraqi oil. The UK/US alliance would not budge, so in 1960 Iraq invited Saudi Arabia, Iran Kuwait and Venezuela to create what is now called OPEC – Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

By the late 1950s, the US began a covert campaign to destabilize Iraq, primarily led by the CIA. Part of this effort was to develop relationships with leadership in the Ba’ath Party.

There were attempts by members of the Ba’ath Party to assassinate Qasim, including a young Saddam Hussein.

1968 – Ba’ath Party takes control of Iraq through a military coup. At the time Saddam was head of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) and by the mid-70s he was the most powerful figure in Iraqi politics.

In the 1970s, the US attempted to undermine the Ba’ath Party, since it was becoming to independent of the US. They attempted to use the Kurds against the Ba’athists.

1980 – 1990 the Iraq/Iran war took place, with the US arming both sides.

1990 – Build up to the Persian Gulf War

January 16, 1991 the US begins bombing campaign against Iraq. Less than 2 months later the war ended, without the removal of Saddam Hussein.

Beginning in 1991 the most brutal economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq, sanctions that lasted until months after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq began. 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result of the sanctions in combination with the devastation from the 1991 US bombing. Asked on TV, then US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was asked if it was worth it for so many Iraqi children had died. She said, “It was worth it.”

Throughout the Clinton administration regular areal bombing of Iraq took place.

2003 – US invasion of Iraq began

2009 – Soft US troop withdrawal began

Iraq continues to be in a constant state of instability with the ongoing consequences of the US occupation, factions, ISIS and the exploitation of oil.

Geo-Politics – When looking at any form of US intervention, you have to consider what else is happening in that region of the world. Arab nationalism and anti-Colonialism was a major source of US geopolitical concern beginning in the 1950s.

1953 CIA coup in Iran, which ousted Mossadegh and put in power the Shah, who ruled until he was overthrown in 1979, by an Islamist movement, which the US had support decades earlier.

Turkey began a relationship with the US after WWII, military aid, etc because of their strong anti-Communist stance and the repression of an independent Kurdish state. US has had military bases since 1955.

US Saudi Arabia relations began prior to WWII, but increased after the war, allowing US troops to deploy, joint military training and deep relationship between the US and the Saudi monarchy.

Syria – US has had a difficult relationship with. Numerous CIA coups were attempted and it has always been contentious.

Jordan and Lebanon had been an allies since WWII

1956 – Nasser comes to power in Egypt. There were tension between the US and Egypt, but when Sadat became president that changed, along with the Arab/Israeli war. Egypt became one of the top recipients of US military aid and a player against Arab nationalism.

Israel – the US has had a special relationship since its founding in 1948, but especially after the 1973 war with Egypt. Israel has been the number one recipient of US military aid since 1975 and acts essentially as the police of the region.

Economic Interest – Of course, oil was the the dominant economic factor for Iraq, which is why the US re-wrote the Iraqi Constitution after the 2003 occupation and has applied a Shock Doctrine to Iraq’s economy. 

Human Rights/Human Cost – Iraq lost 200,000 during Iran/Iraq War, with the US providing weapons to both sides.

10 – 12,000 Iraqis died during the Gulf War, which lasted for about 6 weeks.

The US imposed sanctions, which began in 1991 and lasted until 2003 killed half a million children and 40,000 adults.

1 million Iraqis died during the US invasion/occupation of Iraq from 2003 – 2008.

There were not a large number of US Troop loses during Gulf War, but Gulf War syndrome, likely caused by the use of depleted uranium, resulted in numerous deaths and illnesses with US soldiers. 

US troop loses during 2003 – 2008 invasion/occupation was 4,500 dying, with 32,000 wounded.

US Military Complex – What US taxpayers spent on the war since 2003

which includes US military Aid, US military bases, use of private military contractors,

US Media Coverage – The Gulf War – First Cable News War/24 Hour War

US media coverage of the 2003 invasion/occupation was horrendous at the national and local level. Our GRIID study of 2003 US invasion can be seen here and there were numerous studies done on national news coverage

US Domestic response – There were responses to the 1991 Gulf War, including  demonstrations, Teach-Ins and civil disobedience across the US. Here are two articles on anti-war organizing in 1991:

Here are links to articles about anti-war organizing, which began in 2002 and lasted until 2008:

Resources on US Policy and Iraq:

The Freedom: Shadows And Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq, by Christian Parenti.

Oil, Power, & Empire: Iraq and the US Global Agenda, by Larry Everest

Iraq for Sale – DVD

Control Room – DVD

Why We Fight – DVD

No End in Sight – DVD

Killing Hope, by Bill Blum, Chapter on Iraq

What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World, Barsamian and Chomsky

%d bloggers like this: