|This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (September 2016)|
Criticism of United States foreign policy encompasses a wide range of opinions and views on failures and shortcoming of United States policies and actions. There is a partly-held sense in America which views America as qualitatively different from other nations and therefore cannot be judged by the same standards as other countries; this belief is sometimes termed American exceptionalism and can be traced to the so-called Manifest destiny. American exceptionalism has widespread implications and transcribes into disregard to the international norms, rules and laws in U.S. foreign policy. For example, the U.S. refused to ratify a number of important international treaties such as Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and American Convention on Human Rights; did not join the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention; and routinely conducts drone attacks and cruise missile strikes around the globe. American exceptionalism is sometimes linked with hypocrisy; for example, the U.S. keeps a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons while urging other nations not to get them, and justifies that it can make an exception to a policy of non-proliferation.
From its founding, many of the leaders of the young American government had hoped for a non-interventionist foreign policy that promoted "commerce with all nations, alliance with none." However, this goal quickly became increasingly difficult to pursue, with growing implicit threats and non-military pressure faced from several powers, most notably Great Britain. The United States government was drawn into several foreign affairs from its founding and has been criticized throughout history for many of its actions, although in many of these examples it has also been praised.
After the American Revolution, the United States immediately began juggling its foreign policy between many different views under the George Washington cabinet. Most notably, the rivalry between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton arose due to their opposing views on how the United States should align itself with Revolutionary France in its war against Great Britain in 1793. Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, who viewed the French revolution as similar to the previous American revolution, believed the United States should declare war on Great Britain as an ally of France, citing the 1778 Franco-American alliance which was still technically in effect. However, Hamilton and the Federalists desired favorable terms with the Bank of England in the hopes of establishing enough credit with the Crown to establish an American national banking system. Hamilton's camp would take the day and influenced Washington to remain neutral during the conflict, destroying relations with France.
Under the presidency of John Adams an undeclared naval war broke out from 1798 until 1799 against France, often called the Quasi War, in part because of the soured relations between the two nations. In addition, the United States would come under the influence of British banking power and regulations, heightening tensions between Democratic-Republicans and Federalists.
While U.S. relations with the many Native American nations changed routinely throughout history, the U.S. has been criticized in general for its historical treatment of Native Americans. For example, the treatment of Cherokee Indians in the Trail of Tears in which hundreds of Indians died in a forced evacuation from their homes in the southeastern area, along with massacres, displacement of lands, swindles, and breaking treaties.
After a long period of respect for sovereignty, United States policy for Indian territories shifted significantly again after the Civil War. Previously, the pro-State Rights government believed in the legitimacy of Indian Nations' sovereignty. After the conclusion of the Civil War, conversely, views on the sovereignty of Indian nations diminished, as the United States government vested greater powers within the federal government. Over time, the U.S. government found more and more justifications for revoking Indian lands, greatly reducing the size of sovereign native territory.
It has been criticized for the war with Mexico in the 1840s which some see as a theft of land.
Generally during the 19th century, and in early parts of the 20th century, the U.S. pursued a policy of isolationism and generally avoided entanglements with European powers.
After World War I, Time Magazine writer John L. Steele thought the U.S. tried to return to an isolationist stance, but that this was unproductive. He wrote: "The anti-internationalist movement reached a peak of influence in the years just before World War II." But Steele questioned whether this policy was effective; regardless, isolationism ended quickly after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Analysts have wondered whether the U.S. pursued the correct strategy with Japan before World War II; by denying Japan access to precious raw materials, it is possible that U.S. policy triggered the surprise attack and, as a result, the U.S. had to fight a two-front war in both the Far East as well as Europe during World War II. While it may be the case that the Mideast is a difficult region with no easy solutions to avoiding conflict, since this volatile region is at the junction of three continents; still, many analysts think U.S. policy could have been improved substantially. The U.S. waffled; there was no vision; presidents kept changing policy. Public opinion in different regions of the world thinks that, to some extent, the 9/11 attacks were an outgrowth of substandard U.S. policy towards the region.
The U.S. supported the secession of Kosovo form FR Yugoslavia in 1999 and continued to support its independence since. Such unilateral policies have broken European and international treaties but have been dismissed as unique by the U.S. Such unilateral secession support has helped inspire many notable secessionist uprisings in Spain, Belgium, Georgia, Russia, China, among others that have secessionist movements. However, the U.S. has dismissed any similarities between those secessionist movements and Kosovo.
During the early 19th century, general Andrew Jackson exceeded his authority on numerous times and attacked American Indian tribes as well as invaded the Spanish territory of Florida without official government permission. Jackson was not reprimanded or punished for exceeding his authority. Some accounts blame newspaper journalism called yellow journalism for whipping up virulent pro-war sentiment to help instigate the Spanish-American War. Some critics suggest foreign policy is manipulated by lobbies, such as the pro-Israel lobby or the Arab one, although there is disagreement about the influence of such lobbies. Nevertheless, Brzezinski argues for stricter anti-lobbying laws.
Some historians, including Andrew Bacevich, suggest that U.S. foreign policy is directed by "wealthy individuals and institutions." In 1893, a decision to back a plot to overthrow the president Harrison in Hawaii was clearly motivated by business interests; it was an effort to prevent a proposed tariff increase on sugar. As a result, Hawaii became a U.S. state afterward. There was allegation that the Spanish-American War in 1898 was motivated mainly by business interests in Cuba.
During the first half of the 20th century the United States became engaged in a series of local conflicts in Latin America, which went into history as banana wars. The main purpose of these wars were to defend American commercial interests in the region. Later, U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler famously wrote, "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism."
Some critics assert the U.S. decision to support the separatists in Colombia in 1903 was motivated largely by business interests centered on Panama Canal despite declarations that it aimed to "spread democracy" and "end oppression." One can say that U.S. foreign policy does reflect the will of the people, however people might have a consumerist mentality, which justifies wars in their minds.
There are allegations that decisions to go to war in Iraq were motivated at least partially by oil interests; for example, British newspaper The Independent reported that the "Bush administration is heavily involved in writing Iraq's oil law" which would "allow Western oil companies contracts to pump oil out of Iraq up to 30 years, and the profits would be tax-free." Whether motivated by it or not, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East appears to much of the world as to be motivated by an oil rationale.
There is a growing consensus among American historians and political scientists that the United States during the American Century grew into an empire resembling in many ways Ancient Rome. Currently, there is a debate over implications of imperial tendencies of U.S. foreign policy on democracy and social order.
In 2002, conservative political commentator Charles Krauthammer declared cultural, economical, technological and military superiority of the U.S. in the world a given fact. In his opinion, people were "coming out of the closet on the word empire". More prominently, the New York Times Sunday magazine cover for January 5, 2003 featured a slogan "American Empire: Get Used To It." Inside, a Canadian author Michael Ignatieff characterized the American imperial power as an empire lite.
According to Newsweek reporter Fareed Zakaria, the Washington establishment has "gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement", and added, "This is not foreign policy; it's imperial policy."
Emily Eakin reflecting the intellectual trends of the time, summarized in the New York Times that, "America is no mere superpower or hegemon but a full-blown empire in the Roman and British sense. That, at any rate, is the consensus of some of the nation's most notable commentators and scholars."
The U.S. has been criticized for making statements supporting peace and respecting national sovereignty, but while carrying out military actions such as in Grenada, fomenting a civil war in Colombia to break off Panama, and Iraq. The U.S. has been criticized for advocating free trade but while protecting local industries with import tariffs on foreign goods such as lumber and agricultural products. The U.S. has also been criticized for advocating concern for human rights while refusing to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.S. has publicly stated that it is opposed to torture, but has been criticized for condoning it in the School of the Americas. The U.S. has advocated a respect for national sovereignty but has supported internal guerrilla movements and paramilitary organizations, such as the Contras in Nicaragua. The U.S. has been criticized for voicing concern about narcotics production in countries such as Bolivia and Venezuela but doesn't follow through on cutting certain bilateral aid programs. The U.S. has been criticized for not maintaining a consistent policy; it has been accused of denouncing alleged rights violations in China while supporting alleged human rights abuses by Israel.
However, some defenders argue that a policy of rhetoric while doing things counter to the rhetoric was necessary in the sense of realpolitik and helped secure victory against the dangers of tyranny and totalitarianism.
The U.S. is advocating that Iran and North Korea should not develop nuclear weapons, while the U.S., the only country to have used nuclear weapons in warfare, maintains a nuclear arsenal of 5,113 warheads. However, this double-standard is legitimated by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a party.
The U.S. has been criticized for supporting dictatorships with economic assistance and military hardware. Particular dictatorships have included Musharraf of Pakistan, the Shah of Iran,Museveni of Uganda, warlords in Somalia,Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, Park Chung-hee of South Korea, Generalissimo Franco of Spain, Melez Zenawi of Ethiopia, Augusto Pinochet in Chile,Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay,Efraín Ríos Montt of Guatemala,Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina,Suharto of Indonesia,Georgios Papadopoulos of Greece, and Hissène Habré of Chad.
The United States was criticized for manipulating the internal affairs of foreign nations, including Ukraine,Guatemala,Chile,Cuba,Colombia, various countries in Africa including Uganda.
Some critics argue that America's policy of advocating democracy may be ineffective and even counterproductive.Zbigniew Brzezinski declared that "[t]he coming to power of Hamas is a very good example of excessive pressure for democratization" and argued that George W. Bush's attempts to use democracy as an instrument against terrorism were risky and dangerous.
Analyst Jessica Tuchman Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace agreed that imposing democracy "from scratch" was unwise, and didn't work.Realist critics such as George F. Kennan argued U.S. responsibility is only to protect its own citizens and that Washington should deal with other governments on that basis alone; they criticize president Woodrow Wilson's emphasis on democratization and nation-building although it wasn't mentioned in Wilson's Fourteen Points, and the failure of the League of Nations to enforce international will regarding Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan in the 1930s. Realist critics attacked the idealism of Wilson as being ill-suited for weak states created at the Paris Peace Conference. Others, however, criticize the U.S. Senate's decision not to join the League of Nations which was based on isolationist public sentiment as being one cause for the organization's ineffectiveness.
President Bush has been criticized for neglecting democracy and human rights by focusing exclusively on an effort to fight terrorism. The U.S. was criticized for alleged prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe, according to Amnesty International. In response, the U.S. government claimed incidents of abuse were isolated incidents which did not reflect U.S. policy.
In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. criticized excessive U.S. spending on military projects, and suggested a linkage between its foreign policy abroad and racism at home. In 1971, a Time Magazine essayist wondered why there were 375 major foreign military bases around the world with 3,000 lesser military facilities and concluded "there is no question that the U.S. today has too many troops scattered about in too many places." In a 2010 defense report, Cordesman criticized out-of-control military spending. Expenditures to fight the War on Terror are vast and seem limitless.
The Iraq war was expensive and continues to be a severe drain on U.S. finances.Bacevich thinks the U.S. has a tendency to resort to military means to try to solve diplomatic problems. The U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was a costly, decade-long military engagement which ended in a military victory but strategic defeat due to the public's loss of support for the war, due in large part to media sensation. The dollar cost was $111 billion, or $698 billion in 2009 dollars. Similarly, the second Iraq war was viewed by many[who?] as being a mistake, since there were no weapons of mass destruction found, the war ended in December 2011.
The U.S. doesn't always follow international law. For example, some critics assert the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was not a proper response to an imminent threat, but an act of aggression which violated international law. For example, Benjamin Ferencz, a chief prosecutor of Nazi war crimes at Nuremberg said George W. Bush should be tried for war crimes along with Saddam Hussein for starting aggressive wars--Saddam for his 1990 attack on Kuwait and Bush for his 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Critics point out that the United Nations Charter, ratified by the U.S., prohibits members from using force against fellow members except against imminent attack or pursuant to an explicit Security Council authorization. A professor of international law asserted there was no authorization from the UN Security Council which made the invasion "a crime against the peace." However, U.S. defenders argue there was such an authorization according to UN Security Council Resolution 1441. See also, United States War Crimes. The U.S. has also supported Kosovo's independence even though it is strictly written in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 that Kosovo cannot be independent and it is stated as a Serbian province. The U.S. has actively supported and pressured other countries to recognize Kosovo's independence.
Some political scientists maintained that setting economic interdependence as a foreign policy goal may have exposed the United States to manipulation. As a result, the U.S. trading partners gained an ability to influence the U.S. foreign policy decision-making process by manipulating, for example, the currency exchange rate, or restricting the flow of goods and raw materials. In addition, more than 40% of the U.S. foreign debt is currently owned by the big institutional investors from overseas, who continue to accumulate the Treasury bonds. A Washington Post reporter wrote that "several less-than-democratic African leaders have skillfully played the anti-terrorism card to earn a relationship with the United States that has helped keep them in power", and suggested, in effect, that therefore foreign dictators could manipulate U.S. foreign policy for their own benefit. It is also possible for foreign governments to channel money through PACs to buy influence in Congress.
Some critics charge that U.S. government aid should be higher given the high levels of gross domestic product. They claim other countries give more money on a per capita basis, including both government and charitable contributions. By one index which ranked charitable giving as a percentage of GDP, the U.S. ranked 21 of 22 OECD countries by giving 0.17% of GDP to overseas aid, and compared the U.S. to Sweden which gave 1.03% of its GDP, according to different estimates. The U.S. pledged 0.7% of GDP at a global conference in Mexico. According to one estimate, U.S. overseas aid fell 16% from 2005 to 2006.
However, since the U.S. grants tax breaks to nonprofits, it subsidizes relief efforts abroad, although other nations also subsidize charitable activity abroad. Most foreign aid (79%) came not from government sources but from private foundations, corporations, voluntary organizations, universities, religious organizations and individuals. According to the Index of Global Philanthropy, the United States is the top donor in absolute amounts.
In 1930-1940, the U.S. collaborated with Stalin regime by building around 1500 factories in the USSR using a slave labor of political prisoners. The U.S. also covered up genocide of East Ukraine in 1932-1933, that killed between 4 and 6 millions of Ukrainians and in the midst of it established a diplomatic relationship with the USSR. The U.S. even took as a payment grains and foods confiscated from Ukrainian farmers who were left to starve to death.
There has been sharp criticism about the U.S. response to the Holocaust: That it failed to admit Jews fleeing persecution from Europe at the beginning of World War II, and that it did not act decisively enough to prevent or stop the Holocaust. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was the President at the time, was well-informed about the Hitler regime and its anti-Jewish policies, but the U.S. State Department policies made it very difficult for Jewish refugees to obtain entry visas. Roosevelt similarly took no action on the Wagner-Rogers Bill, which could have saved 20,000 Jewish refugee children, following the arrival of 936 Jewish refugees on the MS St. Louis, who were denied asylum and were not allowed into the United States because of strict laws passed by Congress.
During the era, the American press did not always publicize reports of Nazi atrocities in full or with prominent placement. By 1942, after newspapers began to report details of the Holocaust, articles were extremely short and were buried deep in the newspaper. These reports were either denied or unconfirmed by the United States government. When it did receive irrefutable evidence that the reports were true (and photographs of mass graves and murder in Birkenau camp in 1943, with victims moving into the gas chambers), U.S. officials suppressed the information and classified it as secret. It is possible lives of European Jews could have been saved.
One report suggests that news source Al-jazeera routinely paints the U.S. as evil throughout the Mideast. Other critics have faulted the U.S. public relations effort. As a result of faulty policy and lackluster public relations, the U.S. has a severe image problem in the Mideast, according to Anthony Cordesman.
Analyst Jessica Tuchman Mathews writes that it appears to much of the Arab world that the United States went to war in Iraq for oil, regardless of the accuracy of that motive. In a 2007 poll by BBC News asking which countries are seen as having a "negative influence in the world," the survey found that Israel, Iran, United States and North Korea had the most negative influence, while nations such as Canada, Japan and those in the European Union had the most positive influence. The U.S. has been accused by some U.N. officials of condoning actions by Israel against Palestinians. On the other hand, others have accused the U.S. of being too supportive of the Palestinians.[dubious ]
One estimate is that the second Iraq War along with the so-called War on Terror cost $551 billion, or $597 billion in 2009 dollars.Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich has criticized American profligacy and squandering its wealth.
There have been historical criticisms of U.S. warmaking capability; in the War of 1812, the U.S. was unable to conquer British North America (area of modern-day Canada) despite several attempts and allegedily having superior resources; the U.S. Capitol was burned in retaliation for the burning of the opposition's Parliament building and the settlement ending the war did not bring any major concessions from the British aside from ending practices such as impressments of United States sailors which started the war in the first place. Other affects included reduced influence of the British in Western Hemisphere and removal of British blockade of U.S. ships; however the war was seen as an overt and drawn out stalemate.
Critic Cordesman criticized U.S. strategy to combat terrorism as not having enough emphasis on getting Islamic republics to fight terrorism themselves. Sometimes visitors have been misidentified as "terrorists."
Mathews suggests the risk of nuclear terrorism remains unprevented. In 1999 during the Kosovo War, the U.S. supported the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a that was recognised as a terrorist organisation by the U.S. some years prior. Right before the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia took place, the U.S. took down the KLA from the list of internationally recognized terrorist organizations in order to justify their aid and help to the KLA.
Critic Robert McMahon thinks Congress has been excluded from foreign policy decision making, and that this is detrimental. Other writers suggest a need for greater Congressional participation.Jim Webb, former Democratic senator from Virginia and former Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, believes that Congress has an ever-decreasing role in U.S. foreign policy making. September 11, 2001 precipitated this change, where "powers quickly shifted quickly to the Presidency as the call went up for centralized decision making in a traumatized nation where, quick, decisive action was considered necessary. It was considered politically dangerous and even unpatriotic to question this shift, lest one be accused of impeding national safety during a time of war." Since that time, Webb thinks Congress has become largely irrelevant in shaping and executing of U.S. foreign policy. He cites the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement, and the 2011 military intervention in Libya as examples of growing legislative irrelevance. Regarding the SFA, "Congress was not consulted in any meaningful way. Once the document was finalized, Congress was not given the opportunity to debate the merits of the agreement, which was specifically designed to shape the structure of our long-term relations in Iraq" (11). "Congress did not debate or vote on this agreement, which set U.S. policy toward an unstable regime in an unstable region of the world." The Iraqi Parliament, by contrast, voted on the measure twice. The U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement is described by the Obama Administration has a "legally binding executive agreement" that outlines the future of U.S.-Afghan relations and designated Afghanistan a major non-NATO ally. "It is difficult to understand how any international agreement negotiated, signed, and authored only by our executive branch of government can be construed as legally binding in our constitutional system," Webb argues. Finally, Webb identifies the U.S. intervention in Libya as a troubling historical precedent. "The issue in play in Libya was not simply whether the president should ask Congress for a declaration of war. Nor was it wholly about whether Obama violated the edicts of the War Powers Act, which in this writer's view he clearly did. The issue that remains to be resolved is whether a president can unilaterally begin, and continue, a military campaign for reasons that he alone defines as meeting the demanding standards of a vital national interest worth of risking American lives and expending billions of dollars of taxpayer money." When the military campaign lasted months, President Barack Obama did not seek approval of Congress to continue military activity.
The short-term election cycle coupled with the inability to stay focused on long term objectives motivates American presidents to lean towards actions that would appease the citizenry, and, as a rule, avoid complicated international issues and difficult choices. Thus, Brzezinski criticized the Clinton presidency as having a foreign policy which lacked "discipline and passion" and subjected the U.S. to "eight years of drift." In comparison, the next, Bush presidency was criticized for many impulsive decisions that harmed the international standing of the U.S. in the world. Former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold commented that, "There's a broad naïvete in the political class about America's obligations in foreign policy issues, and scary simplicity about the effects that employing American military power can achieve".
Some commentators have thought the United States became arrogant, particularly after its victory in World War II. Critics such as Andrew Bacevich call on America to have a foreign policy "rooted in humility and realism." Foreign policy experts such as Zbigniew Brzezinski counsel a policy of self-restraint and not pressing every advantage, and listening to other nations. A government official called the U.S. policy in Iraq "arrogant and stupid," according to one report.
Critics point to a list of countries or regions where continuing foreign policy problems continue to present problems. These areas include South America, including Ecuador,Venezuela,Bolivia, Uruguay, and Brazil. There are difficulties with Central American nations such as Honduras.Iraq has continuing troubles.Iran, as well, presents problems with nuclear proliferation. There is active conflict in Afghanistan. The Middle East in general continues to fester, although relations with India are improving. Policy towards Russia remains uncertain.China presents an economic challenge. There are difficulties in other regions too. In addition, there are problems not confined to particular regions, but regarding new technologies. Cyberspace is a constantly changing technological area with foreign policy repercussions.