In a recent article in the online version of The Guardian ("US foreign policy isn't thuggish"; 12 April 2010), Drs. Tim Lynch and Nicolas Bouchet, respected London-based academics, rebut claims made by Martin Jenkins that the United States was motivated by 'democracy' promotion in their military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. They argue instead that US policy is and was motivated by perceived "serious national security threat(s)," justified by the rhetoric of democracy promotion to the American public.
This argument, part of which is almost beyond contention (the part that suggests that the US rarely, if ever, really promotes democrcay, western-style or other), contains serious flaws, an assumption that even Lynch and Bouchet's (numerous and robust) online critics have failed to address: the idea of "security threats" as the source of US behaviour. That's the first flaw, suggesting that US behaviour in invading Iraq, in particular, but in in its foreign policy pursuits in general, originates from external security threats. The broader assumption, left unexplored by critics, is that the United States is a defensive power, responding to external threats. Herein lies the main problem.
The fact of the case is that the United States has been a systematically proactive and expansionist power since 1945 (at the very least): external threats to that hegemonic project are forever wheeled out as justification for expansionism. Initially, it was Nazi/fascist aggression; then the Soviet Union. When the Soviet bloc collapsed there ensued a period of authentic confusion in US national "security" thinking - and the search for a plausible new "threat", new monsters to destroy, began. This was especially significant because of the deafening demands for a "peace dividend" - masses of people demanding that the Pentagon's budget be slashed and more spent at home dealing with educational failure, rising social inequality, and so on.
NATO, supposedly a north Atlantic alliance, which was formed in 1949 as a defensive military pact against the communist "threat", did not go out of business in the 1990s - it's now a global alliance, waging war in Afghanistan, part of the continuing global war on terror. US military forces were 're-set', as it were, but not reduced in fire power or world-wide deployment. The US is the world's 'regional power': it's "security" interests are universal.
9-11 provided new impetus to America's imperial ambitions by supplying it with a new, plausible, enemy: Islamic jihadism. But it did not fundamentally alter the hegemonic project. An article in The (London) Sunday Times' Business section (11 April, 2010) noted that the US military is the largest 'single-organisation' consumer of global oil. This is not a search for national security in any 'normal' sense of that term: this is an imperial project encompassing the entire globe and involving a complex combination of commercial, geo-strategic, financial, ideological and other interests.
By accepting the use of the term "national security" to frame US foreign policies, we fail to recognise the imperial character of the United States foreign policy establishment.
The second flaw in the Lynch/Bouchet case is its acceptance, by the end of their article, that US attempts at democracy promotion should be lauded, and that US democracy promotion "deserves to be improved and not abandoned". This is after stating quite clearly at the outset that democracy promotion was merely how liberal nations like the US "frame their actions", presumably because 'ordinary' Americans cannot possibly understand when their country's "security" is threatened, especially by small, distant, poorly-armed countries. This not only contradicts the initial argument; it also imports through the back door the idea that the US is interested in democracy promotion per se, rather than just as a rhetorical device to justify aggression or other forms of external intervention. (Nor does it unpack what the US actually defines as 'democracy": market democracy - one dollar, one vote which, in the real world of income and wealth inequalities, has devastating social and political consequences).
The Lynch/Bouchet case, as presently advanced, is a pretty uncritical apology for US foreign policy, as it goes about the world securing itself against threats and spreading freedom as a by-product: a veritable "empire of liberty" as the neo-conservatives would (and did) say. The bloodshed, however, in America's savage wars, and the friends with whom the US does business, tell a very different story.