Understanding US Interventionist Foreign Policy requires understanding US Domestic policy and indeed the different nations – with distinct cultures, histories as detailed by Colin Woodard in American Nations – that make up the US which have from even prior to Independence influenced the formation and direction of the Union and whose disparate agendas still direct modern day US politics both Domestic and Foreign.
March 27, 2015
A true understanding of US Government geostrategical goals from historical to present would obviously require a thorough reading of and grounding in history, political science and international relations.
This blog just presents a high level “pop” view of the major domestic factions that drive expansionist US foreign policy. There are also factions (eg the Libertarian and the Progressive movements) that are mostly anti-interventionist, but these are in a minority at present and not covered.
A key foreign (to the American Nations) influence is the Israeli lobby that has a huge leverage on Presidential and Congress politics and thus conduct of US foreign policy in the Middle East.
The map reproduced below is from Colin Woodard’s excellent and must-read book American Nations – A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America which explains the history of these nations and cultures, and most interestingly the persistence of these distinctions even after centuries of immigration, right till today . The brief definitions for each of these nations is given here.
The following Foreign Policy factions are an extension of the domestic compunctions of these nations. Keep in mind that no one politician or political group holds just one of the views from these factions – in truth politicians will make allies with other viewpoints to push their own agenda.
(The Nations mentioned below follow the terminology from Woodard reproduced in the map above.)
This is an idealogical faction whose core ethos is that of Yankeedom and that believes that liberal democracy needs to be imposed everywhere, if necessary, by extreme force.
Ironically while as liberals, they are domestically sensitive to cultural differences and ensuring that those in power protect the weak, they have no compunctions in supporting the use of force against weaker but stable regions with different cultural experiences and developmental stages to impose their world view even if the outcome is demonstrably and repeatedly far from the ideal they cherish and leads to massive deaths and displacement.
Though a poor person’s first priority may be food and security for them and their family, the Liberal Interventionist believes firmly that Freedom of Expression and ability to vote is key (though the actual choice of parties and actual governance falls to second place).
Leaders usually have backgrounds in academia, human rights works.
Foreign Policy Goal: Liberal Democratization
(Stated) Enemies: Dictatorships, Authoritarian Regimes
Prototypical proponents: Samantha Powers
Political Strength via: State Department
Core National Ethos: Yankeedom
Core Social Strata Support: Urban Intelligensia
Ally With: Militarists, Moderate Israeli Lobby
Mortal Enemy: Christian Nationalists
Core Motto: Freedom For All!
Buzz Words: Freedom, Democracy, Human Rights
Appeal to Human: Conscience, Intellect
Mass Media Support: New York Times
This is a very practical faction whose core ranges from the business classes of New Netherlands, the Far West and Deep South that believe in unfettered capitalism and the rule of money (backed by a monopoly on violence). They are the empire builders, the modern day colonialists who believe in extracting raw resources from target countries and making profits.
Leaders usually have backgrounds in oil, financial or defense industries.
Foreign Policy Goal: Economic Colonization
Enemies: Regulated/Closed Markets
Prototypical proponents: Dick Cheney
Political Strength via: Campaign Financing, Lobbying
Core National Ethos: Far West, New Netherlands, Deep South
Core Social Strata Support: Transnational Corporations
Ally With: Anyone (practical)
Clash (occasionally) With: Liberals
Core Motto: Greed is Good!
Buzz Words: Free Markets/Trade, Deregulation, Privatization
Appeal to Human: Greed
Mass Media Support: Wall Street Journal
This is a practical nationalist faction with core roots in Appalachia, the Deep South, Tidewater that believes in military expansion as an end in itself. They desire absolute global hegemony into perpetuity.
They believe in a strong military, intelligence gathering capabilities and unambiguous force projection globally.
Leaders usually have backgrounds in the military, intelligence or other career govermental positions.
Foreign Policy Goal: Military Expansion / Domination
Enemies: Anyone not accepting USG hegemony
Prototypical proponents: John McCain
Political Strength via: Pentagon, CIA
Core National Ethos: Appalachia, Far West, Tidewater
Core Social Strata Support: Rural, Military
Ally (Mostly) With: Business Oligarchs, Christian Nationalists, Right Wing Israeli Lobby
Clash (occasionally) with: Liberals
Core Motto: Kill or Be Killed!
Buzz Words: Credibility, Leadership
Appeal to Human: Tribalism, Aggression
Mass Media Support: Washington Post
This idealogical faction with roots in the Deep South believes that the United States is a divine instrument of (a Christian) God’s plan for Humanity and in the Moral and Historical Exceptionalism of the US as an entity.
They believe in intervening both to “protect America” and to spread “American Values”, a mythic combination of Freedom and Love of God. Their idealism and zealotry is comparable to that of the Liberal Interventionists though their core values (eg minority rights, role of Government, religion) are diametrically opposite.
Leaders usually come from the military or local government.
Foreign Policy Goal: Protect America
Stated Enemies: “Unamerican” states / views
Prototypical Proponents: Tom Cotton
Political Strength via: House of Representatives
Core National Ethos: Deep South, Appalachia, Far West
Core Social Strata Support: Evalengical
Ally With: Militarists, Business Oligarchs, Right Wing Israeli Lobby
Mortal Enemy: Liberals
Core Motto: USA! USA!
Buzz Words: God, America, Exceptional
Appeal to Human: Tribalism, Spirituality, Pride, Fear
Mass Media Support: Fox News
The divisions above are obviously not mutually exclusive and are by no means peculiar to the United States. (For example Tony Blair, as slick a politician as there ever was, glides smoothly between all the above factions.)
However no other country’s domestic policies effect the rest of the World quite so much.
The conduct and timing of the Intervenionist Foreign Policy is determined by the manner in which these different factions clash domestically and find common ground to justify a foreign intervention in which everyone gets something.
As an example of a very real domestic clash , the American Civil War can be seen as an example of the Liberal Interventionists in Yankeedom teaming up with Business Oligarchs of the North to attack / prevent the secession of the Christian Nationalist core in Appalachia and the Deep South.
In many ways, that zeal of Intervionism is being played out in the World today with the Deep South and Appalachia (who are now very strong domestically) allying with the other Nations and class interests to drive US Government interventions globally.
In practice the only real goals achieved are by practical factions: the Business Oligarchs who will usually end up making money no matter what happens and Militarists who get the expansion they crave. They use either idealogical faction on the left or right to further their own goals. In particular, Liberalism serves as the “human” face externally and Christian Nationalism serves as core driver internally for both these practical factions to achieve their true objectives.
Both the more idealogical factions lose relative to their stated goals (though the actual proponents personally do quite well): neither are Liberal Democracies formed or the United States more protected. In fact, the cost, ill will and, as I wrote earlier about, the blowback to both liberal values back home and lost opportunities in economic re-investment in strengthening US human capital and infrastructure, as well as the resulting increase in threats to Americans weakens the cherished stated goals of both.
But of course, this doesn’t deter them from joining up with (and indeed, being used by) the other factions for their next target.
And so it goes.