Is the war on terror another “imperial” moment?
“We wage a war to save civilisation itself” – George W. Bush, 2001
This article will follow the arguments of historical materialist scholars that the “ultimate objective [of U.S foreign policy since WW1] is the creation of an open and integrated international order based on the principles of democratic capitalism, with the United States as the ultimate guarantor of order and enforcer of norms” (Bacevich, 2002). This essay will argue that US foreign policy has followed a continuous pattern of imperialist policy that has been presented in alternative ways due to the differing personalities and politics of differing administrations.
The term “War on Terror” was coined in the “19th century to refer to attempts by anarchists to assassinate political leaders” (Kennedy-Pipe & Caroline, 2009); the most recent revival of the term under President George W. Bush has led to a series of neo-conservative foreign policies to be administered under the new WOT. Unlike a traditional empire, “the US neither controls nor directly administers foreign territories and people” (Colas & Saull, 2006) and has embarked upon an age of ‘New Imperialism’, characterised by the U.S’s role following the World Wars in maintaining global peace. The U.S’s position as global hegemon is reiterated through invasive ideological policies such as democracy promotion, international development programs, interventions, policies of extraordinary rendition and foreign economic policies. This is a continuation of policies and structures implemented throughout the Cold War and are not unique to the WOT.
Bush’s Imperial War on Terror The trinity of events which made possible the retaliatory foreign policy includes the election of George W. Bush and his “little knowledge or background in foreign policy” (KennedyPipe & Caroline, 2009, p. 378), 9/11 as the event that created the platform for such neoconservative thinkers to gain influence on policy. This argument is supported by John Kingdon’s “agenda setting model for policy change” (O'Loughlin, 2006) his model suggests that a change in policy is a result of a problem that then affects policies which in turn defines politics. In the context setting foreign policy in the WOT the problem was 9/11 and the potential routes that policy could have taken were “traditional hard-line neo-realism, the assertive nationalism of Condoleezza Rice” (O'Loughlin, 2006, p. 105)or indeed the route of neo-conservative aggressive unipolarity which this essay argues foreign policy did take. Kristol, one of the major founders of neo-conservatism claims that “modern politics is fundamentally a battle over “who owns the future” (Kennedy-Pipe & Caroline, 2009) and the role of the U.S in providing transnational political structures following the first and second World Wars fundamentally shaped their role as being responsible for global discourse and owners of the future, for which I argue Bush fully encompasses.
The immediate linguistic response following 9/11 sets the context for understanding the U.S’s imperialist policy as well as providing a discourse that the war will eventually take. Initially the language adopted by government quickly changed from referring to the attack as an ‘act of war’ (Boyle, 2004) as opposed to an act of terror , which is inaccurate as war is defined as “a military attack by one nation state upon another nation state” (Boyle, 2004) which allowed the U.S. to take the focus away from Al Qaeda as the organisation responsible and focus on Afghanistan as a responsible nation and focus point for retaliation. The language the NSS 2002 report uses, “affirms the label of War on Terror” (O'Loughlin, 2006) which as an ambiguous term [terror] has allowed the U.S to engage with the neo-conservative idea that the future needs an ‘owner’, supportive the argument that subsequent policy was imperial, characteristic of the Bush presidency. The document is strong in advocating the idea that this conflict was unique and called for an approach that was different to any other conflict. The emphasis on security is suggestive of realist intentions with security interests at the core, however this argument is undermined by the statement “the strategy will make the world not just safer, but better” (NSS, 2002), suggestive that it is the responsibility of the U.S and in their security interests to be the ‘enforcer or norms’, consistent with the historical materialist argument. The ambiguity of these statements provides scope for interpretation and manipulation of the concept of terrorism and a backdrop for eventual imperial policies that will be made in order to become a global enforcer of democratic capitalism.
The self/other dichotomy is an important feature of the NSS 2002 and offers evidence to suggest imperialist goals by using language familiar to the colonial era. It also relates back to the opening quote of this essay, which reaffirms that there are two civilisations, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and it is the West that is good and the U.S that is responsible for saving it. This is an important document for setting the entire discourse of the WOT until the present day as it refreshes the rhetoric for interventionist policies that had already been used throughout the CW. The use of colonial language is important in defining power relations and by using organic metaphors the NSS 2002 suggests a level of evolution in the West that is superior to that of the East. By separating the American from the ‘other’ this offers an emotional distance between who is perceived as the enemy which creates fear of the unknown. This is done by using “biological metaphors and allusions to criminality” (O'Loughlin, 2006) such as “the enemy seeks fertile ground, where its cells will spawn” (NSS, 2002) The report also quotes Bush in defining what the strategy is set to achieve and the combination of both “we will defend the peace against the threats from terrorists and tyrants…” and “we will extend the 40078082 5 peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent” (NSS, 2002), the peace is expressed as a connotation of democracy and indeed American ideals. American military presence during the Bush era rose around the globe and as displayed in figure 1, was more prominent than in any other time in history.
This is reflective of traditional colonialism, and consistent with the definition of imperialism as having a military influence in a state. Figure1 depicts bases that have been established post- 9/11 representative of policy to expand these bases closer to the Middle East to aid wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. This essay suggests that this is following the doctrine of expanding ideological and capitalist influence in the region as opposed to national security concerns, as geographically the Middle East does not pose an imminent threat. The U.S’s oil interests are also a reason to understand why there is an increased military presence and this serves to follow a continuous pattern in U.S foreign policy. During the CW Russia was criticised as embarking on a “crusade to take over the world... and gain control of Europe’s oil routes, with the next target as Brazil” (Chomsky, 2003) which resulted in an increase of military bases across Latin America. By hosting these bases, the states are essentially seen as taking sides in the ideological struggle and America is able to gain political influence.
Policies of rendition and torture used by Bush also serve to further an imperialist argument as many holding centres were in states outside of the U.S and out of the control of the government which hosted it. It is claimed that “over 50 states were involved in extraordinary rendition and torture schemes” (Hersh, 2013) which involved people being captured (from states outside of the U.S) and “transferred without legal process to black sites” (Open Society Justice Initiative, 2013) to be interrogated and tortured by the CIA. It is claimed that by doing so the U.S “violated international and domestic law” (Open Society Justice Initiative, 2013) and used diplomatic pressure to even ensure the participation in the rendition process from that host state. Despite the U.S refusing to declare which governments were involved apologies have been issued from “Canada, the United Kingdom and Sweden” (Open Society Justice Initiative, 2013) , suggestive of their involvement and coercion by the U.S. By instating ‘black sites’ in other territories as well as pressuring their governments to participate in the process the U.S is evidently extending its influence in an imperial manner through its foreign policy.
Bush’s international development agenda following the NSS of 2006 was a primary foreign policy concern and tool in the WOT. By offering aid to specific countries of interest the U.S. has been able to gain significant political influence over that particular state in order to manipulate the political arena within, which can only be argued as symptomatic of imperialism. The 2006 NSS describes USAID as “reducing long-term threats to our national security by helping to build stable, prosperous, and peaceful societies” (Myers, 2014) and this has been for two pivotal reasons, counter-terrorism and control over strategic resources. The U.S.’s foreign policy across African states is reflective of this, with the rationale that they are protecting states with “poorly governed spaces from being exploited to provide facilitating environments, recruits, and eventual targets for Islamist terrorists” (Pham, 2014), strategies that have been employed include “training over 1,000 teachers in Tanzania as well as providing 22,000 textbooks through the Africa Education Initiative” (PR Newswire , 2015) which following the “U.S. embassy attacks by Al-Qaeda in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania” (Pham, 2014) prioritize Tanzania as a country for the U.S. to observe for its capacity as a centre for recruitment and training for Al-Qaeda. One may question why the U.S. did not diplomatically liaise with Tanzania for the threat to be managed and despite education as being an arguable positive contribution, which serves only to support the idea that the U.S feels more capable of controlling the nation through other means; the involvement of the U.S. in its delivery and their visible intention of manipulating the capacity of Al-Qaeda is symptomatic of imperialism and self-interest.
Programs such as this were only expanded under Bush and furthermore under Obama as displayed in figure 2 representative of its importance in the WOT. This essay has already justified that the US WOT has resulted in policies consistent with theories of imperialism. This essay further argues that this is not a unique moment within foreign policy as the U.S has consistently sought to increase its ideological influence around the globe from the latter end of the 18th century. Policies of influencing ‘rogue states’ are evident throughout the CW as well as the WOT, whether through covert activity, development projects or through the pushing of capitalism. The CW itself has been labelled “a clash of empires” (Munro, 2014) where the U.S’s empire was primarily based upon “transnational economic ties, military interventions, coups, bases and cultural influence” (Munro, 2014) as opposed to full sovereign control over a state. Empirical evidence for this is the pushing back of communist ideological influence throughout Latin America through policies of state sponsored violence in Guatemala. The importance of Africa as a vulnerable continent has also been evident in U.S policy throughout both eras, for example “America was keen to offset independence for the colonies due to fears that communism would take over” (Munro, 2014), the importance of having influence 40078082 9 in Africa throughout the WOT has been instated through my analysis of the Bush policies on development consistent with my argument that these imperialist policies are not unique to the WOT. Covert activity such as U.S state sponsored violence and counter-insurgency efforts are arguably imperialist policies as they undermine the sovereignty of the territorial government. They have also been policies of the U.S throughout the CW as well as the WOT serving to support the argument that these polices are not unique.
Empirical evidence to suggest this is the CIA involvement in the Chilean coup of 1973 that saw the American manipulation of democracy in order to instate a dictator that would work in their economic interests. A realist argument would suggest that this was in the interest of state security as for Chile being in America’s ‘back yard’ it could pose an imminent geographical threat if communism was to spread there. However the historical materialist perspective follows the doctrine that the intentions of the coup was to aid American capitalist influence, this is supported by the claim that “Augusto Pinochet’s free-market capitalism came reinforced with brutal state repression” (The Red Phoenix, 2011) and is evident today through the U.S’s friendly policies towards Saudi Arabia. Despite being “107th out of 150” (World Audit, 2014) in terms of their lack of democracy and questionable human rights record. The U.S maintains friendly relations due to the economic advantages that it brings, representative of a consistent trend in the intentions of foreign policy. Covert activity has been represented in the WOT through the sponsorship of the Mujahedeen insurgency group, which undermined the sovereignty of the Afghanistan government. Reflections on U.S. covert activity in both the CW and the WOT are consistent with the historical Marxist argument that the U.S envisages itself as an enforcer of its own ideals, or in these cases has sponsored others to pursue that ability for them. 40078082 10 Obama and the future Obama started his first term as President by offering change to the people.
This essay argues that in terms of foreign policy, this change has only come about in the way that the policies have been dressed and implemented, but the imperial rhetoric remains the same. A move to multi-lateralism was arguably a shift from the unilateral policies of Bush. However this only changed the way in which traditional policies were implemented as opposed to the policies themselves, such as the support of counter insurgency groups. For example under the Obama administration NATO has been pivotal in engaging with insurgents in the Free Syrian Army, where operations consisted of “providing the FSA with vehicles fitted with heavy machine guns with rebels being sent for training in Saudi Arabia” (Global Research News, 2013), and it is even claimed that the rebels were given strategic advice from “a secret command HQ in Jordan” (Global Research News, 2013). Thus representative of continuity of the American objective as presented by historical materialism that “America is the enforcer of norms” (Bacevich, 2002). Like Bush, Obama has increased global development programs in order to gain political influence in a particular state. These programs are highly selective in where they will operate depending on the U.S’s national interest. For example in 2012 USAID gave “$335,875, 958 to Nigeria” (Inside Gov, 2012) arguably due to the rise in Boko Haram in the region and fears over their links to Al-Qaeda. Likewise in the same year “Afghanistan received over $12bn in aid” (Inside Gov, 2012) to improve stability, good governance and not allow the state to become vulnerable to extremists to convene. The case for implementing these projects in their own self-interest is supported by the fact that “many of these programs are not monitored to envisage their progress” and have been described by Human Rights Watch as “a perfect example of how not to give aid” (Dhillon, 2014) which suggest that they were not 40078082 11 delivered in the purpose of which they were intended, which was to raise socio-economic standards. As previously argued, aid allows the U.S. to manipulate the social conditions that extremism often thrives, in the name of their own national security and self-interest and represents the continuity of managing rouge states.
The theoretical aspect of Obama’s increased use of drones is explicit imperialist foreign policy as by imposing a piece of military equipment such as a drone drastically undermines diplomacy and sovereignty as did Bush’s policies of rendition. It effects the balance of power in favour of the U.S as drones are being used in nations that the U.S have not even declared war on such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen without the consent or control of their governments. Obama’s drone policy has vastly replaced Bush’s rendition and torture policy as displayed in figure 3 and despite claims that “drones are only getting more precise” (Shane, 2012) shows that the US has gone above and beyond in targeting states and has moved to focusing on individuals.
Obamas policy of the increased use of drones has presented imperialism on a social level by manipulating fear which in turn has inflicted a high level of control of the daily lives of those living beneath them. On one hand the infliction of fear through drone warfare is just a contemporary version of propaganda A project set up by Stanford and NYU universities called ‘Living Under Drones’, presents the effect of using drones on the civilians living below. A quote from one of the victims reflects how the use of drones in the Peshawar region of Pakistan has shaped how people act in everyday life, “the schools are effected by drones... people are hit moving in cars, gathering with friends, going to prayer, in their homes” (Saaqib, 2012), this exhibits how the prospect of being killed is at the forefront of everyone’s subconscious when living under these operations and has forced them to become submissive to the U.S’s faceless dominance. Propaganda had a similar effect during the CW through the Red Scare, which although imposed fear of the enemy from the homeland, used fear as a tool to target the individual and manipulate psychological control of the population.
This essay has justified that the historical materialist perception is the strongest in understanding that the policies administered during the WOT are consistent with it being labelled an imperial moment. Upon analysis of policies throughout the Cold War, it is evident that the policies of the WOT have not been unique as the U.S has sought to expand its ideological, economic and political influence across the globe since the end of the Second World War where it assumed responsibility for maintaining global order.