Democracy as a justification for US interventions abroad

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The export of democracy is an idea widely associated with US foreign policy. This notion is rooted in the ideology of Manifest Destiny, which originated in the 19th century. At the time, Manifest Destiny was a widely held belief that God destined the United States to expand across the North American continent. This was used to justify westward expansion, often at the expense of indigenous populations. In the twentieth century, this idea evolved to include the expansion of American democracy and values around the world. This vision became a central element of American foreign policy, particularly during the Cold War, when the United States positioned itself as a bulwark against communism.

These two ambitions guide US foreign policy:

  • Defending US interests: Like any nation, the US seeks to protect its economic, political and security interests around the world. This includes protecting its allies, maintaining access to markets and resources, preventing attacks on US territory and promoting its values abroad. Sometimes this may involve controversial actions, such as military intervention or support for undemocratic regimes.
  • Contribute to building nations on the American model: The US has a long tradition of promoting its democratic values around the world. This can be seen as an extension of the 'Manifest Destiny' ideology. According to this vision, the United States is seen as a "beacon" for the rest of the world, showing the way to freedom and democracy. This has led to efforts to help build nations, often after conflicts or during periods of transition, such as in Germany and Japan after the Second World War, or in Afghanistan and Iraq at the beginning of the 21st century.

The ambition to be a model for humanity is a key element of US foreign policy, which stems from the idea of 'American exceptionalism'. According to this belief, the United States is a unique country with a special mission in the world. This notion of being a "beacon" to the rest of the world is rooted in American history. The Founding Fathers of the United States conceived of the country as a democratic experiment, based on principles of freedom, equality and justice that they believed could serve as a model for other nations. Over the years, this idea has been manifested in many ways. During the Cold War, for example, the promotion of democracy and the fight against communism were seen as manifestations of this mission. In addition, the United States has often sought to promote principles such as human rights, the rule of law and free markets around the world.

US foreign policy has long been guided by the idea that the promotion of democracy and capitalism abroad contributes to US national security and economic prosperity. This link between democracy, capitalism and security has several dimensions:

  • Democracy and security: The 'democratic peace' theory suggests that democracies are less likely to go to war with each other. By promoting democracy, the US, therefore, seeks to create a more peaceful and stable international environment. This contributes to its security by reducing the potential number of military threats.
  • Capitalism and security: Capitalism is associated with economic growth, which can contribute to political stability. In addition, economically prosperous countries are more likely to be stable and reliable trading partners. By promoting capitalism, the US therefore seeks to create a more predictable and secure international environment.
  • Democracy and capitalism: The two are often seen as going hand in hand. Democracy provides an environment of human rights and civil liberties that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship. Capitalism, in turn, can contribute to economic prosperity, which can reinforce democratic stability.
  • Capitalism, democracy and US economic expansion: A more democratic and capitalist world is also more likely to be open to international trade and investment, thereby promoting US economic expansion.

Have they succeeded in shaping a fully democratic world? The answer is no, mainly because of two distinctive features inherent in American political culture that have hindered their ambition:

  • The segregationist paradigm: The history of the United States is marked by deep racial and social inequalities, including racial segregation, which have been institutionalised for many years. These inequalities have had an impact on how the United States is perceived abroad and can sometimes undermine its credibility as a promoter of democracy and human rights. In addition, these inequalities can influence how the US interacts with other countries, for example by fostering closer relations with certain nations on the basis of racial or ethnic criteria.
  • Authoritarian drift: The belief that the United States is an 'unsurpassable model' can sometimes lead to authoritarian foreign policy. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, for example by a willingness to impose political or economic systems without sufficient regard to local contexts or by the use of military force to achieve political objectives. This approach can sometimes undermine the democratic principles that the US seeks to promote.

Although the United States has had some success in promoting democracy in some parts of the world, its ambition to build a "world of democracies" has been hampered by various challenges.

The emergence of an imperial nation (late 19th - 1930s)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The conquest of a colonial empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The conquest of American territory can be interpreted in different ways, depending on the historical perspective and point of view. In fact, it has elements of both a domestic affair and a colonial conquest:

  • Domestic affair: In a sense, the expansion of the United States into the North American continent can be considered a domestic affair, as it involved the establishment of American governments and institutions in newly acquired or colonised territories. This included the establishment of legal systems, local governments, means of communication and transportation, etc. In addition, much of this expansion was driven by American citizens moving west in search of new economic opportunities.
  • Colonial conquest: However, it is also possible to interpret American expansion as a form of colonial conquest. This perspective emphasises that expansion involved the annexation of lands that were already inhabited by various indigenous nations. These peoples were often dispossessed of their lands, forcibly displaced, or subjected to violence and disease. In addition, American expansion also involved wars and negotiations with other colonial powers, such as Mexico and Spain, to acquire territory.

These two perspectives are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the history of American expansion includes both internal processes of colonisation and expansion, as well as interactions with other peoples and colonial powers.

The date of 1890 is often cited as a milestone in US history because it marks the end of the 'frontier' as it was traditionally understood. The notion of the "frontier" was central to American identity, symbolising the possibility of expansion and new opportunities. In 1890, the US Census Bureau declared that the frontier, defined as a steadily expanding line of settlement to the west, no longer existed. This meant that the United States had effectively filled its continent from coast to coast and that most of the land had been settled or was under American control. This is why some may interpret this date as the date of the unification of the country. This territorial unification does not mean that all internal divisions had disappeared. Economic, racial and social inequalities continued to persist, and new tensions emerged with the rapid industrialisation, immigration and urbanisation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition, the sovereignty and rights of indigenous peoples continued to be a contentious issue.

The concept of the 'empire of freedom', as expressed by Thomas Jefferson, is based on the idea that the United States has a special mission to promote and extend freedom and democracy throughout the world. According to this vision, there is no inherent contradiction between a republican regime based on democratic principles and imperial expansion, as long as this expansion aims to promote the values of freedom and democracy. In other words, foreign expansion is not seen as mere conquest or domination, but rather as a means to bring the benefits of the American 'political synthesis' - a combination of democracy, civil liberties, capitalism and the rule of law - to the rest of the world. In practice, however, this vision has often been more complex and controversial. For example, American expansion has often involved the domination and displacement of indigenous peoples and other nations, which has been criticised as contradicting the principles of freedom and democracy. Similarly, the effort to bring the 'benefits' of the American political model to other countries has sometimes been seen as a form of cultural or political imperialism.

The late nineteenth century marked a period of intense debate in the United States over the issue of imperial expansion. While the continental United States had been largely colonised, the country looked to more distant regions to extend its influence, notably through the Spanish-American War of 1898, which resulted in the acquisition of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. This move towards overseas expansion was motivated by several factors. Some made economic arguments, claiming that the US needed new markets and sources of raw materials to support its rapid industrial growth. Others made strategic arguments, claiming that possession of overseas territories was necessary for national defence and great power status. However, these expansionist moves also met with significant opposition. Some argued that overseas colonisation contradicted the fundamental principles of the American Republic, such as freedom, self-determination and equality. Others argued that the pursuit of overseas empire could lead to military conflict, racial tension and problems of governance. Overall, this debate reflected broader tensions about the nature of American identity, the role of the United States in the world and how best to promote national interests. While some saw imperial expansion as a necessary means for the US to become a great power, others argued that the US could and should find other ways to promote its security and prosperity.

The anti-imperialist movement in the United States raised many arguments against imperial expansion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You have summarised well some of the main arguments, which included economic, political and racial concerns:

  • Economic argument: anti-imperialists argued that maintaining an overseas empire would be expensive in terms of military and administrative resources. They also argued that the US economy, with its strong industrial growth, did not need colonies to secure markets or raw materials, and could instead prosper through free trade.
  • Political argument: Anti-imperialists feared that imperialism would corrupt the democratic principles of the United States. They argued that domination over other peoples without their consent contradicted the ideals of freedom and self-determination that were fundamental to the American Republic.
  • Racial argument: Some anti-imperialists expressed concern that the annexation of territories inhabited by non-white peoples could lead to a 'dilution' of the white race. This argument was rooted in the racial prejudices of the time and reflected the fears of some white Americans of losing their dominant social and political status.

The anti-imperialist movement was diverse and included a variety of viewpoints. For example, some anti-imperialists were motivated by moral or religious principles, while others were more concerned with the practical implications of imperialism. Moreover, although the anti-imperialist movement succeeded in attracting considerable attention, it did not succeed in stopping US imperial expansion at the time.

American imperialists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries put forward several arguments to justify colonial expansion. These arguments were as follows:

  • Economic argument: Proponents of imperialism argued that the acquisition of colonies would serve as footholds for international trade. These territories would provide markets for American products, sources of raw materials and contribute to the economic prosperity of the nation.
  • Strategic: Imperialism was also seen as a means of gaining strategic advantage. Colonial ports could serve as naval bases for the rapidly expanding US Navy. In addition, control of overseas territories would help the United States compete with other imperial powers and protect its interests abroad.
  • Racial and civilisational argument: Some US imperialists adopted the idea of the 'white man's burden', a notion popularised by the British poet Rudyard Kipling. According to this perspective, European (or, in this case, American) peoples had a civilising mission to 'carry the burden' of educating, modernising and Christianising non-Western peoples. This view was deeply rooted in the racial and ethnocentric prejudices of the time and served to justify colonial rule.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the United States began to extend its influence beyond its own continent, marking the beginning of its imperial expansion. Key examples include:

  • The Midway Annexation (1867): The Midway Islands, located in the central Pacific, were annexed by the United States in 1867. They were used as a refuelling station for ships and played a strategic role for the United States, particularly during the Second World War.
  • Samoa: The Samoan Islands are another example of US imperial expansion. In 1872, the US established a trading post on the island of Tutuila. In 1878, it concluded a treaty with the United Kingdom and Germany establishing a condominium, a form of shared government, over the Samoan Islands. This condominium lasted until 1899, when the Samoan Civil War and the Tripartite Convention resulted in a division of the islands, with Germany taking control of the western islands (now Samoa) and the United States taking control of the eastern islands (now American Samoa).

These expansionary moves marked a turning point in US foreign policy, as the US began to adopt a more interventionist and expansionist policy beyond its continental borders. However, this expansion has generated considerable debate in the United States and shaped many discussions about the role of the United States in the world.

The Evolution of the Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Hawaii: The Annexation of the Archipelago[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the central Pacific, Hawaii had a unique path to American statehood. In the 19th century, Hawaii began to attract the attention of the United States for its strategic location and resources, particularly its sugar plantations. American settlers gradually established a significant economic and political presence there. In 1893, Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii was overthrown in a coup d'état organised by American and European citizens living in Hawaii, with the support of US military forces. This led to establishment a provisional government, which sought annexation by the US. The annexation of Hawaii was formally achieved in 1898, partly due to the Spanish-American War and the US desire to secure Hawaii as a supply station and naval base. Hawaii was made a United States territory in 1900. Finally, after many years as a territory, Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States in 1959. This resulted from a long and often controversial process involving much debate on issues such as ethnic and cultural identity, political status and governance.

Puerto Rico: From Conquest to Incorporation[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States has a complex and often controversial history. Puerto Rico was acquired by the United States in 1898 following the Spanish-American War, and its political status has evolved over the years:

  • Foraker Act (1900) established a civil government for Puerto Rico and defined the island as an "unincorporated territory" of the United States. This means that, although part of the United States, Puerto Rico is not an integral part of it, and certain constitutional provisions do not automatically apply.
  • Jones Act (1917): This act granted US citizenship to all Puerto Ricans, but without the right to vote in presidential elections, unless they reside in one of the states. The US Congress also controls the affairs of the island.
  • Commonwealth status (1952): In 1952, Puerto Rico adopted a local constitution and was officially designated a "Commonwealth". This gave it greater internal autonomy, but external affairs and defence remain under the control of the US federal government.
  • Statehood referendums (2012, 2017): Several referendums have been held in Puerto Rico to decide its future status. In 2012 and 2017, a majority of voters approved becoming the 51st state of the United States. However, these referendums were marked by low turnout and controversy over their wording. Moreover, they are not binding on the US Congress, which has the final authority to decide on Puerto Rico's status.

Today, Puerto Rico's status remains a major political issue in both Puerto Rico and the United States. Options range from full independence, to statehood, to maintaining the current status, to an improved form of commonwealth. However, no clear consensus has yet emerged on the best way forward.

Cuba: From war to occupation[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Platt Amendment was a legislative provision proposed by US Senator Orville Platt in 1901. It was inserted into the Army Appropriations Act of 1901 and established the terms of the relationship between the United States and Cuba following the Spanish-American War. The Platt Amendment stated that Cuba could not enter into a treaty with a foreign power that would compromise its independence, and that Cuba should allow the United States to intervene in the island's affairs to preserve its independence and maintain a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and personal liberty. In addition, it called for Cuba to sell or lease land to the United States for naval stations and coal depots. As a result of the Platt Amendment, the US obtained a perpetual lease on Guantanamo Bay, where it established a naval base that still exists today. The Platt Amendment was repealed in 1934 as part of the Treaty of Relations with Cuba. However, the Guantanamo naval base remained under US control. The US presence at Guantanamo became a source of tension between the US and Cuba, especially after the Cuban revolution of 1959.

The Philippines: A controversial colony[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Philippines was colonised by Spain in the 16th century and remained under its control until the late 19th century. During the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States defeated Spain and acquired the Philippines under the Treaty of Paris. However, many Filipinos were already fighting for independence from Spain and were not ready to accept a new coloniser. This led to the Philippine-American War, which lasted from 1899 to 1902 and resulted in the death of many Filipinos. After the war, the Philippines became a protectorate of the United States. The US exercised control over the political and economic affairs of the Philippines, although some reforms were implemented to prepare Filipinos for self-government. In 1935, the Philippines became a Commonwealth, with greater autonomy but still under US sovereignty. This was part of a plan to grant full independence to the Philippines after a ten-year transition period. However, the Second World War interrupted this process. The Philippines was occupied by Japan during the war, but was liberated by Allied forces in 1945. Finally, on July 4, 1946, the Philippines gained full independence from the United States, becoming a sovereign republic. Today, the Philippines and the United States enjoy close relations in trade, defence and other areas, although the United States' colonial past remains a sensitive issue.

Guam: Control of the Pacific Islands[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Guam is an island in the Pacific Ocean that is part of the United States as an unincorporated territory. This means that, although Guam is under US sovereignty, it is not fully subject to all the provisions of the US Constitution. The United States acquired Guam in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War, in which it defeated Spain and took control of several of its colonies. Since then, Guam has been used for strategic military purposes because of its location in the Pacific Ocean. The people of Guam are US citizens, but they cannot vote in presidential elections and have no voting representation in Congress. They elect a governor to manage local affairs and a non-voting delegate to the US House of Representatives. As in other unincorporated territories, Guam's political status has been debated and discussed. Some people argue that Guam should become a full-fledged state, while others believe that it should be granted greater autonomy or even independence. However, no change in status has been achieved so far.

The Panama Canal Zone: A strategic undertaking[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Panama Canal Zone was a 16-kilometre-wide strip of land across the Isthmus of Panama, covering the Panama Canal, which was under US control from 1903 to 1979. The creation of this zone dates back to the separation of Panama from Colombia in 1903, largely orchestrated by the United States in order to acquire the rights to build and control a transoceanic canal. Under the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, signed in 1903, the US received the right to the area in perpetuity and built the Panama Canal, which was completed in 1914. In 1977, US President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian Head of State Omar Torrijos signed the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, which provided for the gradual transfer of the Panama Canal Zone to Panama. This process was completed on 31 December 1999, when full control of the Canal was handed over to Panama. The treaties also recognised Panama's sovereignty over the Canal Zone, although the United States was allowed to intervene to defend the Canal against a threat to its operation or neutrality. Today, the Panama Canal remains an important international navigation route, and its control is an important source of revenue for Panama. Relations between Panama and the United States remain close, although the period of US control of the canal is a sensitive issue in Panamanian history.

Colonisation and nation-building in the Philippines[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

European and American colonial imperialism shared some common features, but also had important differences.

Common features:

  • Racial superiority: Europeans and Americans often justified their imperialist expansion with the idea of the white 'race' superiority and the 'civilising mission' to modernise and educate non-Western peoples. This was used to justify policies that were often exploitative and destructive to indigenous populations.


  • Nation-building: While European colonial powers often sought to control their colonies and exploit their resources directly, the US often took a different approach, especially after World War II. It sought to promote the creation of independent nations aligned with American values of democracy and free markets. This is linked to the idea of 'Manifest Destiny', according to which the US has a special mission to spread its model of government and society around the world.
  • Structure of empire: The European colonial empire was often based on direct control of vast territories and populations around the world. In contrast, the American empire was more informal and based on economic and political influences, including protectorates, zones of influence and later the Cold War structure. Although the US had colonial territories like the Philippines and Puerto Rico, it never had the same level of direct territorial control as the European empires.

Indeed, the nation-building policy pursued by the United States in the Philippines during its colonial occupation was largely based on racialised conceptions of superiority and inferiority. This view influenced the way the US governed the Philippines and treated Filipinos. The United States often portrayed Filipinos as inferior and incapable of governing themselves. This portrayal was based on racist and ethnocentric stereotypes that depicted Filipinos as primitive, irrational and politically immature. The United States therefore saw itself as superior and had a duty to govern the Filipinos and help them develop. Historian Paul Kramer has described how this mission was conceptualised as helping the Filipinos move from 'tribal fragmentation' to 'national unity'. In other words, the US sought to transform the Philippines into a modern nation in the image of the United States.

However, this vision also legitimised the use of violence. The US waged a brutal war against the Filipino resistance, which resisted the US occupation. Violence was justified as necessary to 'civilise' the Filipinos and establish order. This racialised view has been challenged in the US and the Philippines. Many criticised the American occupation and called for Philippine independence. Ultimately, the Philippines gained independence in 1946, but the legacy of the American colonial period continues to influence Philippine politics and society.

The Philippine-American War, which lasted from 1899 to 1902, was an extremely violent and costly period. Estimates of the number of American soldiers killed during the war vary, but the generally accepted figure is about 4,000. This figure includes both combat deaths and deaths from disease, which were common due to the harsh conditions and poor medical understanding at the time. The number of Filipinos killed during the war is much more difficult to estimate accurately, partly due to the lack of reliable records and the fact that many civilians were killed in the conflict. Estimates vary widely, from 200,000 to 1 million. The 250,000 figure is at the low end of these estimates. Still, it is generally accepted that the number of Filipinos killed was enormous and includes both combatants and many civilians. Atrocities on both sides have marked this war, but US forces have been criticised for using tactics such as torture, 'concentration zones' and 'scorched earth' policies. This has left a legacy of resentment towards the US in parts of the Philippines that persists to this day.

US policy in the Philippines in the early 20th century helped reinforce a messianic vision of the US global mission, often called 'democratic messianism'. This idea is based on the belief that the United States has a special mission and moral responsibility to spread democracy and freedom worldwide. This belief has been partly justified by the conviction that the American political system, based on liberal democracy and capitalism, is universally applicable and beneficial to all peoples. In this context, American policy in the Philippines was presented as a civilising mission to help Filipinos become a modern, democratic nation. However, democratic messianism has also been criticised for its tendency to justify US imperialism and interventionism. The brutal war in the Philippines has been criticised both in the US and abroad for its high human costs and for the way it imposed US domination rather than freedom and self-determination. Democratic messianism continued to influence US foreign policy throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, including during the Cold War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, it remains a subject of debate and controversy.

William H. Taft, who was Governor-General of the Philippines from 1901 to 1904 before becoming President of the United States, played a key role in Americanizing the Philippine political system.

Under his leadership, a series of political and legal reforms were implemented to reshape the Philippine political system along American lines. These reforms included:

  • Bicameral system: A bicameral legislative system was introduced, with an elected lower house and an appointed upper house.
  • Federal organisation: Taft sought to establish a federal form of government, with a strong central authority but also some autonomy for local provinces.
  • Supreme Court: A Supreme Court was created to serve as the highest judicial body in the Philippines, similar to the US Supreme Court.
  • Censal Election System: Taft introduced a censal election system, where only those who met certain wealth and education requirements were allowed to vote.
  • Civil Code: A civil code based on American law was introduced, replacing the old Spanish laws.
  • Civil service: Taft also reformed the civil service, introducing a merit system for appointments and promotions, with the aim of reducing corruption.

These reforms had a lasting impact on the Philippine political system. However, they have also been criticised for imposing an American model without regard to local traditions and needs, and for limiting political participation to a narrow elite.

The administration of the Philippines during the American occupation was indeed structured to replicate the administrative organisation of the United States. At the top of this structure was the Governor General, who was appointed by the US President and confirmed by the US Senate. The Governor General had considerable executive power and was responsible for the overall administration of the islands. Below the Governor General, the Philippines was divided into provinces, each headed by a provincial governor. These governors were responsible for local administration and implementing laws and policies at the provincial level. Finally, at the most local level, there were municipal governors, who were responsible for managing cities and municipalities within the provinces. This administrative structure reflected the American federal system of multi-level government, with a strong central authority but also some autonomy for local governments. However, it was also criticised for imposing an American model on the Philippines without considering local traditions and needs.

The period of American occupation in the Philippines was marked by a policy of large-scale construction, aimed at modernising the country and improving its infrastructure. The US government largely funded these projects and often supervised by American engineers and contractors.

The major works projects included:

  • Roads and bridges : Numerous road and bridge construction projects were undertaken to improve the country's transport infrastructure. This facilitated trade, the movement of people and goods, and played a key role in the country's economic integration.
  • Hospitals: Hospitals have been built throughout the country, providing essential medical care to the population. It also introduced modern medicine to the Philippines.
  • Schools and universities: Education has been a major priority for the US government in the Philippines. Many schools and universities were built, and a public education system was established. English was introduced as the language of instruction, which had a lasting impact on the country.

These large-scale projects have had a significant impact on the development of the Philippines. However, they have also been criticised for serving US economic and strategic interests, and for often ignoring the needs and priorities of the Filipinos themselves.

The main objective of US policy in the Philippines during this period was to unify the different ethnic groups and tribes of the archipelago around a common national project. This process was guided by the idea that the United States, as a colonial power, should play a leading role in helping the Philippines transform into a modern nation. The United States sought to achieve this goal in several ways. It introduced political and legal institutions based on the American model, in the hope that these institutions would foster national cohesion and acceptance of democratic values. They also invested in large-scale infrastructure projects to integrate the country economically and encourage mobility and interaction between the different regions. However, this goal of national unification was also pursued in a context of colonial domination. The US maintained tight political and economic control over the Philippines and often ignored or suppressed aspirations for self-determination and independence. In addition, US policy has been criticised for its use of racial stereotypes and discourses of civilisation to justify US domination. The idea that different ethnic groups and tribes in the Philippines were inferior and needed US assistance to develop was a key element of US colonial rhetoric.

US Policy in Latin America[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States from 1912 to 1920, marked a significant shift in US foreign policy, including imperialism. He advocated what has been called "imperialism of law" or "constitutional imperialism". The idea behind this concept is that the promotion of democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights internationally is both a moral objective and a security strategy for the United States. Wilson believed that democracy and the rule of law were factors in peace and stability, and that the United States had a responsibility to help promote these values around the world. It was in this spirit that Wilson championed the idea of a League of Nations after the First World War, intending to promote international peace and cooperation.

The entry of the United States into the First World War in 1917 was justified by President Woodrow Wilson as a necessity to ensure the security of democracy throughout the world. In his speech to Congress on 2 April 1917, Wilson said: 'The world must be made safe for democracy'. This phrase became emblematic of Wilson's foreign policy and the broader vision of America's role in the world. It reflected Wilson's belief that the United States had a special mission to promote and protect democracy and the rule of law throughout the world. Furthermore, it emphasised the idea that the security of the United States was linked to the health of democracy in other countries. According to this view, dictatorships and authoritarian regimes were not only morally reprehensible, but also a potential threat to international peace and US security.

On 8 January 1918, in a speech to the US Congress, President Woodrow Wilson presented a 14-point peace plan to end the First World War. The proposal focused on promoting transparency, international cooperation, democracy and self-determination. One of the most important and enduring points of Wilson's plan was the fourteenth point, which called for the creation of a 'General Association of Nations'. This point called for establishing an international organisation to maintain world peace and security, encourage international cooperation and resolve conflicts between nations peacefully. Wilson's proposal eventually led to the creation of the League of Nations after the end of the war. The League of Nations can be seen as a kind of 'parliament of nations', providing a platform for dialogue and negotiation between countries. The League of Nations also had significant problems. Notably, the United States itself never joined the organisation due to opposition in the US Senate. In addition, the League of Nations proved unable to prevent aggression by authoritarian powers in the 1930s, eventually leading to the Second World War. Despite its failures, the League of Nations laid the foundations for the modern multilateral system and was replaced by the United Nations after World War II.

Revolutions in Mexico, China and Russia in the early 20th century significantly impacted US foreign policy. In response to these events, the United States sought to promote and expand democracy worldwide, a vision that can be seen as an extension of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny was a 19th century belief that the United States was destined to expand across the North American continent. This idea was used to justify the territorial expansion of the United States, including the conquest of indigenous territories and the war with Mexico. In the early 20th century, this idea of 'Manifest Destiny' was reinterpreted to justify a more active foreign policy focused on promoting democracy and the rule of law around the world. This vision was supported by presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, who believed that the United States had a special mission to help "make the world safe for democracy". In this context, the US responded to revolutions in Mexico, China and Russia by seeking to promote its own values and interests. For example, in Russia, the US intervened militarily against the Bolshevik revolution out of fear of the spread of communism. In China, it supported the movement to establish a republican government. And in Mexico, they repeatedly intervened in the country's internal affairs to protect their economic and political interests. However, this approach has also been criticised for its hypocrisy and failure to respect the principle of self-determination. Despite its rhetoric on democracy, the US has often supported authoritarian regimes that were aligned with its interests. Moreover, its intervention in other countries was often seen as a form of imperialism, fuelling resentment and opposition abroad.

Woodrow Wilson's policy in Latin America was characterised by an interventionist approach, justified by the belief that it was the duty of the United States to help Latin American countries establish stable democracies and 'elect good men'. This reflected the Wilsonian idea that the United States had a moral role to play in promoting democracy and the rule of law throughout the world. However, this approach often led to military interventions and interference in the internal affairs of Latin American countries, including control of their finances and supervision of their elections. For example, the United States militarily occupied the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1925, Nicaragua from 1912 to 1925 and again from 1926 to 1934, and Haiti from 1915 to 1934. They also intervened militarily in Mexico from 1914 to 1917 and in Cuba in 1906 and 1917, and exercised significant control over Panama after its independence in 1903. The we justified these interventions as necessary to maintain stability, protect US interests and promote democracy. However, they have also been criticised as forms of imperialism and have often led to long-term resentment of the US in the region. Moreover, despite its rhetoric on democracy, the US has often supported authoritarian regimes that were aligned with its interests, highlighting the hypocrisy of its approach.

The Golden Age of Democratic Messianism (1933-1952)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The New Deal and nation-building in the United States[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The New Deal, introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression in the 1930s, marked a significant period of reform and modernisation in the US. It was a set of programmes and policies designed to stimulate the economy, create jobs and protect the most vulnerable in society.

The New Deal not only aimed to bring the United States out of the Great Depression, but also sought to modernise and democratise American society in several ways:

  • Great works: The New Deal launched a series of large infrastructure projects, such as the construction of dams, roads and schools, as well as rural electrification. These projects not only created jobs, but also greatly improved the material well-being of citizens.
  • Agricultural modernisation: The New Deal introduced programmes to modernise agriculture, including encouraging irrigation and the use of fertilisers to increase yields. These measures helped stabilise the agricultural economy and improve food security.
  • Grassroots democracy: The New Deal sought to balance centralized planning with decentralized decision-making at the state and county levels. This reflected a desire to distinguish itself from the totalitarian regimes of the time, which were characterised by centralised and vertical power.
  • Trade union development: The New Deal also promoted the development of trade unions and the democratisation of the workplace. Laws such as the Wagner Act of 1935 strengthened workers' rights to organise and bargain collectively, contributing to the balance of power between employers and employees.

Overall, the New Deal was a major step in the modernisation of American society and the extension of democracy into new areas. These measures had a lasting impact on the American economy and society.

David Lilienthal, as director of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), was a major player in the implementation of the New Deal. The TVA was a key infrastructure modernisation and economic development project for the Tennessee Valley region. In his book "TVA: Democracy on the March" (1944), Lilienthal presented the TVA as a model of "grass roots democracy", where decisions are made at the local level by those directly affected. He saw the VAT as a model of democratic organisation that could be duplicated worldwide. Lilienthal strongly believed that the VAT model could be used to promote economic development, education and democracy in other parts of the world. In his view, the VAT embodied the way in which a democracy could effectively manage natural resources, promote education and local self-government, and serve the interests of the people. Thus, the ambition to duplicate the grass roots democracy model around the world was an integral part of the New Deal vision, symbolising the idea that democracy and economic development go hand in hand.

The democratisation of totalitarian regimes: Germany, Austria and Japan[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

After the end of World War II in 1945, the United States played a major role in the democratisation and political stabilisation of Germany, Austria and Japan, all three of which had been totalitarian regimes during the war.

  1. Germany: After the defeat of the Third Reich, the Allies divided Germany into four zones of occupation. The American zone was subjected to a policy of denazification, demilitarisation, decentralisation and democratisation. The Marshall Plan, launched in 1948, also helped the economic reconstruction of West Germany. In 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was established as a parliamentary democracy.
  2. Austria: Like Germany, Austria was divided into occupation zones after the war. The US encouraged democratisation and economic reconstruction in Austria. The country regained full sovereignty in 1955 with the Austrian State Treaty, after which it continued to develop as a stable democracy.
  3. Japan: Under the American occupation led by General Douglas MacArthur, Japan also underwent a major transition to democracy. A new constitution, known as the "Post-War Constitution" or "MacArthur Constitution", was promulgated in 1947, establishing Japan as a constitutional democracy with a symbolic emperor. Economic and social reforms, including gender equality and workers' rights, were also implemented.

In all these cases, the US sought to establish stable and prosperous democracies, both to ensure long-term peace and stability, and to create a favourable environment for the market economy and the capitalist system.

Germany and Austria: Attempts at democratisation after the rise of Nazism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, better known as the Nuremberg Tribunal, was set up to try those most responsible for the Third Reich for crimes committed during the Second World War. It was the first time in history that an international tribunal was established to try war crimes and crimes against humanity. The period of the tribunal was from 20 November 1945 to 1 October 1946. A total of 24 senior Nazi officials were charged, but only 21 of them were tried because two were not captured and one committed suicide before the trial began. The charges were: conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, planning, initiation and waging of a war of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the end of the trial, 12 defendants were sentenced to death, 3 were acquitted, 3 were sentenced to life imprisonment and the remaining 4 received prison sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years. However, one of the death row inmates committed suicide before his execution, so only 10 were actually executed. The Nuremberg Tribunal set an important precedent for the trial of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and laid the foundations for modern international criminal law.

After the end of the Second World War, the Allies undertook a process of denazification in Germany with the aim of eliminating the influence of the Nazi Party and its ideologies from German public life. The United States played an important role in this process, especially in its zone of occupation in Germany. In addition to the Nuremberg Trials, which tried senior Nazi leaders, the United States conducted numerous other trials against individuals accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other criminal acts committed in the name of the Nazi regime. In all, approximately 5,000 people were tried in these US-led denazification trials. Of these, about 800 were sentenced to death, and about 500 of these sentences were actually carried out. The denazification process was criticised for various reasons. Some people felt that the process was too lenient and that it failed to completely eliminate the influence of Nazism in Germany. Others have argued that the process was too harsh or unfair, or that it was badly managed. Nevertheless, denazification marked an unprecedented attempt to hold a regime and its supporters accountable for their crimes against humanity.

After the end of World War II, the Allies undertook a series of radical actions to dismantle the Nazi regime in Germany. These measures included:

  1. Dissolution of the Nazi Party: This action was taken to completely eliminate the influence of the Nazi Party on German political life. All party symbols, including flags, insignia and uniforms, were also banned.
  2. Repeal of all Nazi laws: The Allies abolished all laws and regulations enacted under the Nazi regime, including the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 which instituted anti-Semitic policies.
  3. Disbanding of the Wehrmacht: The German army was disbanded to prevent any possibility of a resumption of the war by German military forces.
  4. Dismantling the propaganda apparatus: The Allies took steps to dismantle the vast Nazi propaganda apparatus, which included the media, cinema, youth organisations and cultural institutions.
  5. Reform of the education system: The Allies undertook to reform the German education system, which the Nazis had used to inculcate their ideology in German youth. These reforms aimed to eliminate Nazi ideology from the education system and promote democratic values.
  6. The dismantling of population control institutions: The Allies also dismantled Nazi organisations that were intended to control the population, such as the Gestapo and the SS.

These measures were taken as part of a wider effort to "denazify" Germany and establish a new democracy in the country after the end of the Nazi regime.

"Stunde Null", or "zero hour", is a German expression used to describe the state of Germany after the Second World War. It refers to the idea that Germany, after the defeat of the Nazi regime, was at a completely new starting point and had to be rebuilt from scratch. This conception offered a unique opportunity for the United States and the other Allied powers to rebuild Germany on a new basis, free from the ideology and structures of Nazism. This reconstruction was based on democratic principles, human rights and a commitment to peace and international cooperation. A key element of this reconstruction was the adoption of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) on 8 May 1949. This constitution established Germany as a decentralised federal state, with strong governments in each state (Land) as well as a federal government. It established a democratic system of government with a clear separation of powers, robust protections for human rights and guarantees for the rule of law. The creation of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1949 marked a major step in the post-war reconstruction of Germany. By becoming a sovereign state, the FRG was able to regain its autonomy and begin to play a role on the international stage as a democratic and peaceful nation.

Austria also underwent a major transformation after the Second World War, thanks in large part to the reconstruction efforts led by the United States and its allies. After being occupied by Allied forces at the end of the war, Austria finally regained its full independence with the Austrian State Treaty in 1955. This treaty, which ended the Allied occupation, also prohibited the Anschluss, or political union of Austria and Germany. This provision was intended to prevent any future attempt to resurrect the Third Reich and to guarantee Austria's independence and sovereignty. In parallel, economic reconstruction played a crucial role in the political stabilisation of Austria and Germany. This began with substantial emergency aid from the United States immediately after the war, which amounted to $8 billion in 1945-46. Subsequently, the Marshall Plan, formally known as the European Recovery Programme, provided massive economic aid to help rebuild the economies of Western Europe, including Germany and Austria. In addition to this aid, loans from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), also known as the World Bank, also played a role in supporting economic reconstruction. These efforts contributed to the political stabilisation of these countries by promoting economic growth, reducing unemployment and improving living standards, which helped to build confidence in the new democratic governments and reduce the appeal of extremist ideologies.

The democratisation of German society after the Second World War took place on several levels, including far-reaching reforms of the education system. This is often referred to as 'grassroots' democratisation, a concept inspired by the idea that democracy should be built up from the local communities. A key aspect of this democratisation has been the cleansing of the education system. Teachers who their involvement had compromised with the Nazi regime were dismissed. This ensured that the ideologies of the past would not influence the education provided to new generations. In addition, major reforms were implemented in the curriculum and teaching methods. The occupation authorities sought to promote a more participatory education, which would encourage critical thinking and civic engagement, rather than the blind obedience that had been fostered under the Nazi regime. These efforts were aligned with the idea that democracy is more than just a system of government; it is also a way of thinking and living. By reforming education, the authorities sought to instil these values in new generations, with a view to building a truly democratic German society.

The denazification of Germany after the Second World War had its limits. Although purification and educational reforms played a crucial role in the reconstruction of German society, other factors also influenced the process. The need to rebuild the country after the war led to a certain leniency towards those who had participated in the Nazi regime, as long as they were deemed necessary for the reconstruction. Many former members of the Nazi party were thus allowed to take up important positions in the new government and in the economy of post-war Germany. The emergence of the Cold War also had an impact on denazification. As tensions rose between East and West, the United States and its allies began to view West Germany as a potential bulwark against communist expansion. In this context, the partial rearmament of West Germany became a priority. In 1955, the Bundeswehr, the West German army, was created. These developments somewhat obscured the original goal of denazification. Nevertheless, despite these limitations, the process succeeded in eliminating many elements of the Nazi regime and establishing a stable democracy in West Germany.

Japan: From the Showa era to the Allied occupation[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

After World War II, Japan was occupied by Allied forces, mainly led by the United States, from 1945 to 1952. This period of occupation is known as the "G.H.Q. (General Headquarters)" in Japan, and was led by General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander.

The occupation of Japan had several main objectives:

  1. Demilitarisation: The immediate objective was the demilitarisation of Japan, with the disbanding of the Japanese army and the elimination of the country's war industry.
  2. Democratisation: The US sought to transform Japan into a constitutional democracy. This involved the drafting of a new constitution, known as the "Potsdam Constitution" or "Showa Constitution", which transformed the Emperor into a largely symbolic figure and introduced a democratic political system based on the American model.
  3. Economic and social reforms: The US undertook a number of reforms to transform the economic and social structure of Japan. This included land reforms, promotion of trade union rights, and the establishment of a more equal education system.
  4. Justice for war crimes: Military and political leaders responsible for the war were tried and punished in the Tokyo Trials, similar to the Nuremberg Trials in Germany.

The occupation officially ended in 1952 with the signing of the Treaty of San Francisco, which restored Japanese sovereignty while maintaining a US military presence in the country.

The period of American occupation in Japan after World War II was marked by a series of measures taken to dismantle the structures of the former Japanese Empire and to try those responsible for war crimes. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, often referred to as the Tokyo Tribunal, was established to try senior leaders of the Japanese Empire for war crimes, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. From January 1946 to April 1948, the tribunal tried 25 individuals, seven of whom were sentenced to death. Other trials were held throughout Japan and other Asian countries, trying thousands of people for crimes committed during the war. Between 1945 and 1949, these trials resulted in approximately 4,000 convictions. In addition to these trials, the occupation administration undertook measures to dismantle the institutions of the Japanese Empire. The Imperial Japanese Army was disbanded, and the Meiji Constitution of 1889, which had created a constitutional monarchy headed by an emperor, was replaced by the new post-war constitution of 1947, often referred to as the Post-War Constitution or the Showa Constitution. This new constitution established Japan as a parliamentary democracy, and reduced the emperor to a largely symbolic role. The 1947 constitution also established protections for human rights and civil liberties, and prohibited Japan from maintaining armed forces or waging war.

The demobilisation of seven million Japanese soldiers was a major task at the end of the Second World War. This included not only military personnel on Japanese soil, but also those stationed in Japanese-occupied territories across Asia and the Pacific. These soldiers were disarmed and repatriated to Japan, a process that took several years due to the logistical challenges involved and the difficult post-war conditions. The repatriation of these soldiers also created social and economic challenges in Japan, as the country had to absorb a large number of veterans into an economy already devastated by the war. The demobilisation and repatriation of Japanese soldiers was also an important part of Japan's demilitarisation process, which was stipulated by the post-war constitution and supervised by the Allied occupation forces.

The new Japanese Constitution of 1947, often referred to as the "War Post Constitution" or the "Showa Constitution", brought significant changes to the country's political and social system. Here are some key points:

  1. Political pluralism: The new constitution allowed for the existence of several political parties, ending the domination of the single military party during the war.
  2. Bicameral system: The Diet of Japan became a bicameral parliament, comprising the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. This contributed to a more balanced and democratic system of government.
  3. Strengthening of parliament: The new constitution strengthened the role of parliament in political decision-making, giving it the power to appoint the Prime Minister and approve the state budget.
  4. Symbolic role of the Emperor: The Emperor was stripped of any political or military role and his status was reduced to that of "symbol of the state and unity of the people".
  5. Demilitarisation: Article 9 of the new constitution renounced war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of resolving international conflicts.
  6. Freedom of expression: The constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, press and association, as well as the fundamental freedoms of religion and academia.
  7. Establishment of trade unions: The new constitution recognised the right of workers to organise and bargain collectively, allowing the formation of trade unions and strengthening grassroots democracy.

These reforms were essential for Japan's transformation from an authoritarian and militaristic nation to a peaceful liberal democracy.

The Cold War effectively hindered the process of full democratisation in Japan, and some important aspects of the country's social and political transformation were left unfinished. The following is an analysis of these two points:

  1. The Emperor and his relatives: Despite the involvement of Emperor Hirohito and the Imperial Household in Japan's military and political activities before and during the Second World War, they were largely spared war crimes trials. This was, in part, due to American policy which sought to use the emperor as a symbol of unity and stability for the Japanese population during the period of occupation. As a result, no serious debate about the responsibility of the emperor and the imperial house for the outbreak of the war was conducted.
  2. Return of the traditional elites: The American occupation was intended to dismantle the zaibatsu, the powerful economic conglomerates that had greatly supported Japan's war effort. However, with the advent of the Cold War and the fear of communist influence in Asia, the US reversed its policy of decartelisation. It supported the return of the traditional economic elites to power in order to strengthen the Japanese economy, which was seen as a bulwark against communism. This limited the economic and political transformation of Japan and allowed these elites to retain much of their power and influence.

The crisis of a model (1950s-1970s)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The period between the 1950s and 1970s was marked by major challenges to the American model, both domestically and internationally. These challenges put the vision of the US as a model of democracy and prosperity in crisis.

  1. Domestically: The 1950s were marked by the rise of the civil rights movement, which highlighted the deep racial and social inequalities that still existed in the US, despite its claim to be a model of democracy. In addition, the Vietnam War polarised American society and fuelled an unprecedented wave of protest, with massive demonstrations against the war and in favour of peace.
  2. International: US foreign policy was also challenged. Military interventions in Asia, in particular the Vietnam War, were criticised both inside and outside the country. In addition, the Suez crisis in 1956 and the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 highlighted the limits of American influence and the growing complexity of international politics in the Cold War era.
  3. On the economic front: The 1970s were marked by a series of oil shocks and inflation, bringing to an end the era of economic prosperity that had followed the Second World War.

These challenges challenged the ability of the United States to embody and export its model of democracy and prosperity to the world. They also triggered important changes in US domestic and foreign policy, which influenced the course of the following decades.

Democratic messianism and support for dictatorships[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Democratic messianism, or the idea that the United States has a special role to play in promoting democracy around the world, has sometimes been at odds with the reality of American foreign policy. Despite its rhetoric in favour of democracy and human rights, the United States has often supported dictatorial regimes, especially during the Cold War, when geopolitical control and the fight against communism were considered higher priorities. This was particularly visible in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, where the US supported authoritarian regimes in countries such as Chile, Iran, Guatemala and South Vietnam, often to counter the influence of the Soviet Union. This support has often involved military intervention, US-orchestrated or -backed coups, and financial and military assistance to repressive regimes. These actions have often been criticised, both inside and outside the United States, as being at odds with the democratic values that the country claims to promote. They have also sometimes contributed to the destabilisation of the regions concerned and the suffering of their populations, which has sometimes had a negative impact on the image of the United States abroad.

Philippines: Between democracy and authoritarian regimes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Although the United States formally granted independence to the Philippines in 1946, it continued to exert significant influence over the country's politics. This was particularly evident in their support for the regime of President Manuel Roxas, who was criticised for his authoritarianism.

Manuel Roxas, the first president of the Republic of the Philippines, was a key ally of the United States. He promoted an economic policy favourable to US interests and signed a series of agreements that maintained a strong US military presence in the country. Although these policies were presented as necessary for the Philippines' stability and economic development, they were also criticised for limiting the country's sovereignty and favouring US interests over those of the Filipinos.

US support for the Roxas regime is an example of how its commitment to democracy has sometimes conflicted with other political and economic interests. While the US officially promoted democratic values, it also supported regimes that were considered authoritarian or undemocratic when they served its geopolitical or economic interests.

Greece: The Dictatorship of the Colonels[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

For the United States, Greece was a crucial issue during the Cold War period. On the one hand, the country was facing a strong communist insurgency and, on the other, it was strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa. For these reasons, the United States supported the authoritarian regime of King Paul I from 1947 to 1964 to counteract communist influence.

In 1947, President Harry S. Truman declared that the United States would provide economic and military assistance to Greece to help suppress the communist insurgency, the so-called Truman Doctrine. This was an important part of the United States' Cold War containment policy, which aimed to prevent the spread of communism.

In 1967, a group of Greek colonels led a coup and established a military dictatorship that lasted until 1974. The United States has been accused of involvement in this coup through the CIA, although these allegations remain controversial. What is clear is that the US continued to support the colonels' regime, despite its human rights abuses, because of its anti-communist stance and its strategic role in the region. This is another example of how US foreign policy during the Cold War sometimes contradicted the US' proclaimed commitment to democracy.

Iran: The overthrow of Mossadegh and the rise of the Shah[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In Iran, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh was widely popular in the 1950s. He had nationalised the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control for decades. This provoked a conflict with Britain and eventually led to a boycott of Iranian oil.

In 1953, a coup was orchestrated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) to overthrow Mossadegh. The two Western powers were afraid that Iran would fall under Soviet influence and wanted to secure their access to Iran's oil reserves.

After the coup, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had been in exile during Mossadegh's tenure, was reinstalled on the throne. The Shah ruled as an autocrat, with US support, until he was overthrown by the Iranian revolution in 1979.

US support for the Shah, despite his authoritarian rule, has been criticised as an example of the gap between US democratic rhetoric and its practical foreign policy. It also had long-term consequences, as it fuelled anti-Americanism in Iran, which played a key role in the Iranian revolution of 1979 and in the tense relations between Iran and the United States since then.

South Korea: From dictatorship to democracy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

After World War II, the Korean peninsula, which Japan had colonised, was divided into two zones of occupation along the 38th parallel, with Soviet forces in the north and US forces in the south. Attempts to create a unified government failed due to growing tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, which eventually led to the formation of two separate states: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south.

Syngman Rhee was the first president of the Republic of Korea, starting in 1948. He led the country during the Korean War (1950-1953) but human rights violations and authoritarian measures marked his regime. Rhee was forced to resign in 1960 following mass protests against rigged elections.

After a brief period of democratic government, a military coup in 1961 brought General Park Chung-hee to power. Park ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly two decades, implementing economic policies that contributed to South Korea's rapid growth, but were also marked by human rights abuses and political repression.

Throughout these periods, the United States supported these authoritarian regimes in South Korea, largely because of the Cold War and the need to contain communist influence in Asia. This support has often been criticised for its apparent contradiction with the democratic ideals that the US claimed to promote.

Containment in Latin America: US-backed military dictatorships[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The policy of 'containment' was a key element of US strategy during the Cold War. It aimed to prevent the spread of communism by containing the influence of the Soviet Union and its allies. In Latin America, this often involved supporting authoritarian regimes that were anti-communist.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) was established in 1948 to promote regional cooperation and to serve as a forum for resolving disputes between member countries. The United States played a leading role in the creation of the OAS and has often used the organisation as a tool to promote its interests in the region.

One of the most famous US interventions in Latin America during the Cold War was the attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro's government in Cuba in the operation known as the Bay of Pigs in 1961. This attempt failed and strengthened Castro's position.

Other interventions took place in countries such as Guatemala, where the US supported a coup against the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 because of its land reform policies and alleged links to communists.

These interventions were often criticised for violating the sovereignty of nations and supporting authoritarian regimes that committed human rights abuses. However, they were justified by US officials as necessary to protect US national security interests and to prevent the establishment of communist regimes in the Western Hemisphere.

The overthrow of the Guatemalan government (1954)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954 is a key example of US intervention in Latin America during the Cold War.

Jacobo Arbenz was the president of Guatemala from 1951 to 1954. His government initiated a series of reforms, including an agrarian reform that affected the lands of the United Fruit Company, an American company that dominated the banana industry in several Latin American countries.

The United Fruit Company had large tracts of land in Guatemala, much of which was uncultivated. Arbenz's agrarian reform aimed to redistribute this land to Guatemalan peasants. This led to a campaign by the United Fruit Company in the United States to portray Arbenz as an ally of the Soviet Union, a claim that found favour with the US administration at the time, in the midst of the Cold War.

The CIA then orchestrated an operation, known as PBSUCCESS, to topple Arbenz. It provided financial, material and strategic support to an opposition force led by Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas. After a brief confrontation, Arbenz was forced to resign in June 1954 and Castillo Armas took power.

This coup marked the beginning of a long period of violence and instability in Guatemala, with a series of authoritarian governments and a civil war that lasted 36 years (1960-1996), claiming hundreds of thousands of lives.

US involvement in the overthrow of Arbenz was long denied by US authorities, but was finally officially acknowledged in 1999 in a CIA report.

The Cuban revolution (1959) and the US embargo (1962-present)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Cuban revolution began in 1953 and ended with the seizure of power by Fidel Castro in 1959. This revolution overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista, a military dictator who had the support of the United States. Fidel Castro and his movement, the 26th of July Movement, promised to end corruption, restore the Cuban constitution and establish a more equitable economy.

However, relations between Cuba and the United States deteriorated rapidly after Castro came to power. In 1960, the Cuban government nationalised all US companies without compensation, leading the US to impose a total trade embargo on the island. This embargo, which has been tightened several times since then, aims to weaken the Castro regime and promote regime change.

In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. In response to the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, the US imposed a naval blockade on the island and demanded their withdrawal.

The US economic embargo on Cuba remains in place today, although some aspects of the policy have changed over the years. Under the Obama administration, for example, some restrictions have been eased, allowing greater freedom of travel and trade. However, these relaxations have largely been reversed under the Trump administration.

The US intervention in Santo Domingo (1965)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The US landing in Santo Domingo (the historic name of the Dominican Republic) in 1965 was a key moment in the history of US involvement in Latin America during the Cold War.

In 1965, the Dominican Republic was going through a period of political turmoil after the overthrow of President Juan Bosch, a democratically elected social democrat, by a military coup in 1963. Bosch had tried to introduce social and economic reforms, but was deposed by conservative forces in the country who feared his left-wing orientation.

In April 1965, a rebellion broke out in the country, led by Bosch supporters who wanted him back in power. However, the administration of US President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration feared that the situation would lead to the establishment of a communist regime, similar to the one in Cuba.

Thus, in May 1965, Johnson ordered more than 20,000 US troops into the Dominican Republic to "prevent the establishment of a communist government" and "protect the lives of American citizens". This intervention was widely criticised both in the US and abroad.

The US occupation lasted until 1966, when Joaquín Balaguer, a US ally, was elected president in controversial elections. Balaguer remained in power for over three decades, ruling the country with an iron fist and often suppressing political opposition.

This intervention was an example of the US Cold War policy of containment, which aimed to limit the spread of communism, even at the expense of democratic processes.

Assistance in the arrest of Che Guevara in Bolivia (1967)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The capture and execution of Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967 is another example of the United States playing a key role in the affairs of a Latin American country during the Cold War.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, an Argentine Marxist revolutionary and one of the main leaders of the Cuban revolution, was seen by many in the United States and elsewhere as a threat to stability in the region. In 1967, Guevara was in Bolivia, where he sought to foment a revolution similar to that in Cuba.

The United States, anxious to prevent the spread of communism in the region, provided substantial assistance to the Bolivian armed forces to capture Guevara. This included intelligence information, training and equipment. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) played a key role in this operation.

Guevara was captured by the Bolivian army on 8 October 1967 and executed the following day. His death put an end to an emblematic figure of communist resistance in Latin America and was a blow to revolutionary movements in the region.

US support for General Pinochet's coup in Chile (1973)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The 11 September 1973 military coup in Chile, which overthrew the democratically elected government of socialist President Salvador Allende, was largely supported by the United States. General Augusto Pinochet took power after the coup and established a military dictatorship that lasted until 1990.

During Allende's tenure, the US was concerned about his socialist policies and his proximity to the Soviet Union. President Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, approved a series of measures to destabilise Allende's government, including financial support for opposition parties and a negative propaganda campaign.

When the coup took place, the US quickly recognised Pinochet's new government. It provided financial and military support to his regime, despite evidence of massive human rights violations, including torture, summary executions and enforced disappearances of thousands of Chileans.

The US involvement in the coup in Chile and its support for the Pinochet dictatorship has been widely criticised. Many see it as an example of US imperialism and interference in the internal affairs of another country. US support for Pinochet is often cited as an example of how US foreign policy interests during the Cold War sometimes took precedence over human rights considerations.

Democratic Messianism and War on the Rise: Vietnam[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

US military involvement in Vietnam effectively began after the end of the Indochina War (1946-1954), which had pitted French colonial forces against Vietnamese independence forces, primarily the Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh. After the departure of the French and the division of Vietnam in the Geneva Accords in 1954, the United States began providing military and financial assistance to South Vietnam, then led by President Ngo Dinh Diem. This assistance intensified throughout the 1960s as part of the policy of containing communism. In 1965, faced with the rise of communist forces in North Vietnam and the Viet Cong in the south, the United States began deploying combat troops in large numbers. At its peak in 1968, more than 500,000 US troops were stationed in Vietnam.

The Ngo Dinh Diem regime in South Vietnam did indeed receive significant support from the US. The Eisenhower and then Kennedy administrations saw Diem as a bulwark against the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, in line with the policy of containment. Ngo Dinh Diem came to power in 1955 after a controversial referendum, and established an authoritarian republic. His regime was strongly anti-communist and he conducted brutal campaigns against suspected communists in the south, which led to accusations of human rights abuses. The United States supported Diem with substantial financial and military aid, as well as with military advisors to help train the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). However, despite US support, Diem's regime faced growing opposition due to its repression of dissidents, its discrimination against the Buddhist majority and its mismanagement of the economy. As the situation deteriorated, the US began to lose confidence in Diem. In 1963, with tacit US approval, ARVN officers staged a coup and assassinated Diem. However, the elimination of Diem did not stabilise South Vietnam, but rather plunged the country into a series of unstable military governments, which eventually led to more direct US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Walt Whitman Rostow was an American economist and policy advisor known for his 'five stages of economic growth' model. He saw economic development and industrialisation as ways for countries to rise out of poverty and resist communist influence. In this sense, it is set in the context of the Cold War, when the United States sought to stem the spread of communism around the world. In the case of Vietnam, the US administration tried to apply Rostow's principles by funding the construction of infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and roads, in the hope of stimulating economic development and reducing the appeal of communism. One of the most ambitious projects was the development of the Mekong River Valley, inspired by the success of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States. The idea was to build a series of dams to control floods, generate electricity and improve irrigation for agriculture. However, due to ongoing conflicts and logistical difficulties, few dams were built before the end of the Vietnam War. Despite these efforts, the results have been mixed. Although some projects had a positive impact, they failed to transform South Vietnam into a prosperous and stable economy. In addition, corruption, inequality and political instability hampered the modernisation process. The Vietnam War also consumed a large amount of resources, limiting the scope of development initiatives.

The military escalation in the Vietnam War was marked by a dramatic increase in the number of US troops on the ground and an intensification of bombing operations. By 1967, the number of US troops in Vietnam had reached 500,000. This massive increase in forces on the ground reflected the US administration's belief that victory could only be achieved by intensifying the war effort. At the same time, bombing was also intensified. Operation Rolling Thunder, which took place from 1965 to 1968, was one of the longest and most intensive bombing campaigns in military history. According to the Air Force Historical Office, the operation saw the US Air Force conduct 153,000 air raids and drop 864,000 tons of bombs. To put the scale of these bombings into perspective, this is almost double the amount of bombs dropped by the US in the entire Pacific during World War II, which was 503,000 tons. These actions were highly controversial and helped fuel opposition to the war in Vietnam in the US and around the world. They also had devastating consequences for the people and environment of Vietnam.

The Vietnam War was widely contested both in the United States and internationally. This opposition to the war manifested itself in different ways and affected many aspects of society.

  • Political opposition: Many politicians, including some members of the US Congress, expressed their opposition to the war. Politicians such as Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy even made opposition to the war a centrepiece of their presidential campaigns in 1968.
  • Mass demonstrations: Demonstrations against the Vietnam War were a common phenomenon in the US and abroad. Thousands of people participated in marches, sit-ins and other forms of protest. One of the most famous demonstrations took place in October 1967, when tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Washington, D.C., to protest against the war.
  • University consciousness-raising: University campuses have been key sites of anti-war protest and activism. Student movements such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) played a leading role in organising resistance to the war.
  • Veterans' opposition: Many Vietnam War veterans also became vocal opponents of the war. Groups such as Vietnam Veterans Against the War have been active in protesting the war and have been particularly effective in raising public awareness of the realities of the war.
  • International opposition: The Vietnam War also generated considerable opposition abroad. Demonstrations took place in many countries, including US allies such as Australia and the UK.

Together, these opposition movements helped create the public and political pressure that eventually led to the end of US involvement in the Vietnam War.

The failure of military operations and growing public pressure led to a gradual withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had initially stepped up US involvement in Vietnam, announced in March 1968 that he would not seek re-election, marking a turning point in US policy. His successor, Richard Nixon, was elected on a promise to achieve 'peace with honour' in Vietnam. This led to a policy called 'Vietnamisation', which aimed to gradually transfer responsibility for the fighting to South Vietnamese forces while withdrawing US troops. However, the withdrawal was a long and complex process. Peace negotiations began in 1968 but were hampered by numerous obstacles and delays. It was not until January 1973 that the Paris Agreement was signed, officially ending the direct involvement of the United States in the conflict. However, fighting continued in Vietnam until the fall of Saigon in April 1975, which marked the end of the Vietnam War. The US withdrawal from Vietnam had profound and lasting consequences, not only for Vietnam itself, but also for US foreign policy. It led to a sense of mistrust of the government, a re-evaluation of US military strategy, and major changes in how the US engaged in international conflicts thereafter.

The ebb of American influence in the world in the early 1970s[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Vietnam War had a significant impact on the global perception of the United States and its ideology of 'democratic messianism'. Here are some ways in which this manifested itself:

  • The credibility of the United States was damaged: The Vietnam War revealed a significant gap between the values the United States claimed to stand for (freedom, democracy, human rights) and the actions it took during the war. This contributed to a decline in the credibility of the United States on the international scene.
  • The doctrine of "containment" was discredited: The Vietnam War highlighted the limits of the doctrine of containment, which aimed to limit the spread of communism. The war showed that this approach could lead to prolonged and costly conflicts without guaranteeing success.
  • The "Vietnam Syndrome": After the Vietnam War, the US was reluctant to engage in major conflicts abroad, fearing another "Vietnam". This had repercussions for US foreign policy and changed the way the US intervenes in international conflicts.
  • Internal criticism: The Vietnam War caused a major split in American society, with massive protests and growing opposition to the war. This contributed to a wider questioning of governmental authority and the role of the US in the world.
  • Questioning democratic messianism: The Vietnam War challenged the idea that the US had a special 'mission' to spread democracy and capitalism around the world. It raised questions about the legitimacy of US intervention in other countries and the idea that the US model was universally applicable.

The spread of the communist model[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the 1970s, the Soviet model, based on communism, gained influence around the world, particularly in developing countries and those seeking freedom from colonialism and imperialism. This was linked to a number of factors, including the failure of the United States to impose its model in regions such as Southeast Asia (the Vietnam War being a particularly prominent example), as well as the appeal of the Soviet model to national liberation movements seeking freedom from Western domination. However, the adoption of the Soviet model did not always lead to positive results. For example, in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge takeover led to one of the deadliest genocides of the 20th century. Similarly, in Afghanistan, the 1978 communist coup d'état triggered a civil war that lasted for decades, with direct Soviet intervention in 1979 that was widely condemned by the international community.

The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, also known as South Yemen, was established in 1967 after the independence of the previously British-controlled protectorate of Aden. The new country adopted a socialist orientation and was the only Marxist-Leninist state in the Arab world. In the 1970s, South Yemen was supported by the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. However, it was also marked by internal conflicts, political purges and political instability. In 1970, the country was renamed the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. In 1990, after the fall of the Soviet Union, South Yemen and North Yemen unified to form the present Republic of Yemen. However, tensions between the two former states have persisted, contributing to the current Yemeni civil war.

The coup in Ethiopia in 1974 marked the end of the Ethiopian Empire and the beginning of the communist period known as the Derg. The Derg, which means "committee" or "council" in Ge'ez, was a military group that took power after the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie. The coup was led by a group of military, police and civilian bureaucrats who formed the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police and Territorial Corps, more commonly known as the Derg. This group, initially without a clear political ideology, evolved into a communist orientation and was supported by the Soviet Union. The Derg was responsible for numerous human rights abuses, including during the infamous "Red Terror" where thousands were killed or imprisoned. The Derg's policies also contributed to the devastating famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s. The Derg regime was finally overthrown in 1991 by the forces of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

In 1975, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) took power in Angola following Portuguese decolonisation. The MPLA was one of three liberation movements that had been fighting for Angola's independence since the 1960s, the other two being the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) and the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). After Angola's independence on 11 November 1975, the MPLA, led by Agostinho Neto, proclaimed a people's republic and established a Marxist-Leninist regime with the support of the Soviet Union and Cuba. However, UNITA and FNLA did not recognise the MPLA government and a civil war broke out, which lasted until 2002. The MPLA takeover in 1975 marked the beginning of a period of intense conflict and economic hardship for Angola. Although the civil war officially ended in 2002, the country continues to struggle with the political, social and economic consequences of this period.

In 1975, Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, ending nearly five centuries of colonial rule. This was largely achieved through the efforts of the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), a nationalist, Marxist-Leninist liberation movement. After independence, FRELIMO declared Mozambique a People's Republic under a one-party regime, with Samora Machel as its first president. FRELIMO's ideology was based on a mixture of African nationalism and scientific socialism, and they sought to build an egalitarian society with common ownership of resources. However, independence also marked the beginning of a devastating civil war between the ruling FRELIMO and the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO), supported by Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and later by South Africa. This war lasted for about 15 years (1977-1992) and left deep scars on Mozambican society and economy. Today, although Mozambique is officially a multi-party democracy, FRELIMO continues to dominate the country's political life.

The reunification of Vietnam took place on 30 April 1975, when the communist forces of North Vietnam, led by the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, took control of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. This marked the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the transition period to socialism. The fall of Saigon led to the mass evacuation of people associated with the South Vietnamese government, including many civilians. Many fled the country by boat, leading to the Vietnamese 'boat people' crisis. After reunification, the country was renamed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The new government nationalised industry and agriculture, collectivised land and launched a series of re-education campaigns for former members of the South Vietnamese government and army. However, the country experienced significant economic difficulties after the war, compounded by isolation from the international community. It was not until the 1980s, with the Đổi Mới (renewal) policy, that Vietnam began to implement economic reforms to move to a socialist market economy, which led to a significant improvement in the country's economic situation.

The Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia in 1975 marked the beginning of one of the darkest periods in the country's history. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge implemented a radical vision of communist agriculture, which resulted in forced population displacement, mass executions, famine and genocide that killed about a quarter of Cambodia's population. On 17 April 1975, the Khmer Rouge took the capital, Phnom Penh, after defeating the US-backed government. They then began forcibly moving people from the cities to the countryside to work on collective farms. The stated aim was to create a classless society in which everyone would work for the collective good. However, the Khmer Rouge policy resulted in famine and thousands of deaths due to overwork and poor living conditions. The Khmer Rouge also carried out a brutal purge of anyone suspected of being an enemy of the state, including intellectuals, ethnic minorities, clerics and former members of the previous government. Thousands were tortured and executed in detention centres, the most infamous being the S-21 detention centre in Phnom Penh. Khmer Rouge rule ended in 1979 when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrew the regime. However, the effects of the genocide have had a lasting impact on Cambodia and its people.

The People's Democratic Republic of Laos was created on 2 December 1975, when the Pathet Lao, a communist group, took control of the government. The Pathet Lao overthrew the monarchy that had ruled the country, previously known as the Kingdom of Laos. The Pathet Lao was supported by Vietnam and the Soviet Union, and had led an insurgency against the royal government for many years before finally taking power. The Pathet Lao installed a one-party communist regime, nationalised the economy and implemented collective agrarian policies. However, unlike some other communist regimes of the time, the Lao government generally avoided massive purges or violent repression. Instead, the regime sought to consolidate its power through propaganda and persuasion. Laos has remained a one-party communist country to this day, although economic reforms in the late 1980s and early 1990s opened the country to foreign investment and allowed some liberalisation of the economy.

The communist coup in Afghanistan, also known as the Saur Revolution, took place in April 1978. The event marked the beginning of a series of radical changes in the country that led to the Afghan Civil War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The coup was orchestrated by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), a communist party supported by the Soviet Union. The PDPA overthrew the government of President Mohammad Daoud Khan, who had himself taken power in a bloodless coup in 1973, ending the monarchy in Afghanistan. After the 1978 coup, the PDPA established a radical communist regime, nationalising key industries and agricultural land, and launching land reform campaigns that were strongly resisted by the rural population. The regime also cracked down hard on political opposition, leading to mass arrests, torture and executions. These policies triggered an armed insurgency against the government, led by mujahideen groups funded by foreign countries, including the US, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China. Faced with this insurgency, the PDPA government sought military assistance from the Soviet Union, which led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The ensuing war lasted almost ten years and had devastating consequences for Afghanistan.

The decline of US influence in Latin America after 1973[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The decline in US influence in Latin America after 1973 can be attributed to several factors.

  1. Failed policies: US intervention policies in Latin America, often through CIA-backed coups, caused considerable resentment in the region. US support for authoritarian regimes, such as that of Augusto Pinochet in Chile after the 1973 coup, has fuelled this sentiment. At the same time, the effectiveness of these policies in containing communism was increasingly questioned.
  2. Policy change in the United States: With Jimmy Carter taking office in 1977, US foreign policy began to place greater emphasis on human rights. This led to a decrease in US support for authoritarian regimes in Latin America, which was sometimes interpreted as a sign of weakness or indecision.
  3. Rise of other actors: At the same time, other international actors began to increase their influence in Latin America. For example, the Soviet Union supported several guerrilla movements in the region, while Europe and Japan increased their economic investments.
  4. Internal political awakening: Within Latin America itself, there has been a political awakening with leftist movements gaining influence and popularity. These movements have often been critical of US intervention in the region.

All of these factors contributed to a reduction in US influence in Latin America from the mid-1970s onwards. However, the region remains important to the United States for strategic and economic reasons, and the United States continues to exert significant influence in the region.

The Iranian Revolution (1979): A movement in opposition to the United States[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Iranian Revolution of 1979, also known as the Islamic Revolution, marked a fundamental change in Iranian politics and society. The regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, which was supported by the United States and considered an important ally in the Middle East region, was overthrown and replaced by an Islamic theocracy under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The revolution was triggered by several factors, including popular dissatisfaction with the Shah's authoritarian regime, economic inequality, corruption, resentment of Western influence, and religious and nationalist aspirations.

Mass demonstrations and strikes began in 1978 and intensified until the Shah left the country in January 1979. In February, the royalist forces were defeated and Khomeini returned from exile to take power. In April, a referendum established an Islamic Republic, and in December, a new constitution was adopted, giving Khomeini the role of Supreme Leader, the highest political and religious authority in the country.

The Iranian revolution had a significant impact on international relations. It ended the alliance between the Shah and the United States and led to the American hostage crisis in Tehran, where 52 Americans were held for 444 days from November 1979. The revolution also sparked a wave of radical Islamism in the region and established Iran as a major player in Middle East politics.

The Iranian revolution was partly directed against the United States. Several factors explain this opposition:

  1. U.S. support for the Shah: The United States was a long-time ally of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and had supported him in the 1953 coup that restored him to the throne after Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh attempted to nationalize the Iranian oil industry. The Shah's regime was authoritarian and many Iranians resented American support for it.
  2. Westernisation: Under the Shah, Iran underwent a rapid process of westernisation and modernisation that eroded some Islamic traditions and values. Many Iranians saw this as an imposition of Western culture and blamed the US for its role in this process.
  3. The Shah's immunity: When the Shah was overthrown in 1979, he was admitted to the US for medical treatment. This triggered an occupation of the US embassy in Tehran by Iranian revolutionary students, who were angry that the Shah had been allowed into the US and demanded his extradition to face trial in Iran.

Thus, although the revolution had many internal political, economic and religious causes in Iran, there was also a strong anti-American sentiment associated with the revolution.

The Post-Cold War World: Renewal or End of Democratic Messianism (1990s-2020s)?[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the United States became the world's only superpower. This new era was marked by a revival of American democratic messianism, but also by significant challenges.

  1. Some interpreted the end of the Cold War as the 'end of history', where liberal democracy and market capitalism became the universally accepted model for political and economic organisation. The United States, as the leading liberal democracy and market economy, saw itself as the natural leader of this new world order.
  2. Interventions to promote democracy: During the 1990s and 2000s, the US intervened in several countries to overthrow undemocratic regimes and promote the establishment of democracies, often by military force. Notable examples include Iraq and Afghanistan.
  3. The 'war on terror': After the attacks of 11 September 2001, the US launched the 'war on terror', which justified several military interventions in the name of protecting democracy and liberal values.

However, this era was also marked by significant challenges to American democratic messianism.

  1. Scepticism about US interventionism: US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, among others, have raised questions about the effectiveness and legitimacy of using military force to promote democracy.
  2. The rise of non-democratic powers: Countries such as China and Russia have gained power and influence on the world stage, challenging US leadership and offering alternative models of political and economic organisation.
  3. Domestic challenges to US democracy: Internal political divisions, growing economic inequality and institutional crises in the US have also undermined the country's ability to promote democracy abroad.

Although American democratic messianism experienced a revival after the end of the Cold War, it also faced serious challenges and questioning.

The apparent triumph of liberal democracy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist and political philosopher, theorised the idea of the 'end of history' in a famous essay first published in 1989 and then in a book in 1992. According to Fukuyama, the end of the Cold War was not just another major geopolitical event. He saw it as the completion of a long historical process that had led to the emergence of liberal democracy and the capitalist market economy as the ultimate and supreme forms of government and economic system. According to Fukuyama, this 'end of history' did not mean the end of historical events per se, but rather that the great ideological debate about the best form of government had been resolved. Competing ideologies, such as fascism and communism, had been defeated and liberal democracy had become the universally accepted norm. From this perspective, the end of the Cold War represented a triumph for liberal democracy and for the United States as its principal advocate and model. Fukuyama's thesis has been widely debated and criticised. Many have questioned the idea that liberal democracy is the inevitable 'end point' of human political evolution. Moreover, the political, economic and social challenges and crises that liberal democracy has faced since the end of the Cold War have led many to question the idea that this form of government is necessarily superior or inevitable.

George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, took office at a time of significant global change, including the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. A commitment to the promotion of democracy around the world has marked his administration. In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September 1989, Bush expressed his vision of a "new compact" between the United States and the United Nations for the promotion of democracy, human rights and self-determination. He called for greater international cooperation to solve global problems, including poverty, disease and climate change. In his State of the Union address in January 1990, Bush expressed his belief in a "new era of peace" marked by democratisation and economic liberalisation. He declared that the United States must play a leadership role in this new world and called for a "new global strategy" to promote democracy and economic openness. These speeches illustrate how the Bush presidency was marked by an optimistic vision of the spread of democracy and economic liberalism around the world following the end of the Cold War. However, this vision has been met with many challenges, including regional instability, ethnic conflict and economic crises in many parts of the world.

The US project of global democracy promotion has faced many challenges and obstacles. Although the end of the Cold War allowed many countries to transition to more democratic forms of government, the process was not easy and was often marked by instability, corruption and conflict.

  1. Local and regional resistance: Efforts to promote democracy have often been met with local and regional resistance. In many cases, this resistance is due to historical, cultural or political factors that make the transition to democracy difficult. For example, in parts of the Middle East and Africa, factors such as tribalism, sectarianism, ethnic conflict and corruption have hampered democratisation efforts.
  2. Instability and conflict: Democratic transitions can often lead to short-term instability as former elites seek to preserve their power and privileges. This has been particularly visible in countries such as Iraq and Libya, where US intervention has contributed to political instability and conflict.
  3. Failure of democratic institutions: In some cases, newly established democratic institutions have proved ineffective or have been undermined by corruption and nepotism. This has often led to disappointment and disenchantment with democracy, sometimes leading to a return to more authoritarian forms of government.
  4. Rise of authoritarian regimes: Despite the end of the Cold War, many authoritarian regimes have persisted or emerged in the 21st century. Countries such as Russia and China, for example, have strengthened their authoritarian forms of government while resisting international pressure for democratisation.

These challenges show that the US project of global democracy promotion is a complex and uncertain process. However, despite these obstacles, many countries have successfully made the transition to democracy and maintained stable democratic forms of government.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States took various steps to support the transition to democracy in Eastern European countries and Russia. Two of these important legislative initiatives were the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act of 1989 and the Freedom Support Act of 1992.

  1. Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act (1989): This Act was passed to support Eastern European countries in their transition to free market economies and pluralistic democracies after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The SEED Act provided financial assistance to these countries to support privatisation, economic development and the establishment of democratic institutions. It also encouraged cultural and educational exchanges to foster greater understanding between the United States and Eastern Europe.
  2. Freedom Support Act (1992): This law was passed to support the transition of Russia and the other republics of the former Soviet Union to democracy and a market economy. The Freedom Support Act provided financial assistance to support economic development, democratic institution building, legal system reform and human rights protection. It also supported exchange and training programmes to help develop a vibrant civil society in these countries.

Although these measures have been criticised for being under-resourced and sometimes haphazard in their approach, they have demonstrated the commitment of the United States to supporting democratic transition in post-communist Europe.

The 1991 Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, was triggered after Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait in August 1990. In response to this invasion, a US-led international coalition was formed to liberate Kuwait. However, despite the coalition's overwhelming military victory over Iraq, the war did not lead to the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. The coalition's mission was limited to the liberation of Kuwait and was not explicitly aimed at regime change in Iraq. Moreover, there were concerns that the removal of Saddam Hussein could lead to instability in Iraq and the wider Middle East region. As a result, despite the weakening of his regime, Saddam Hussein remained in power until the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was explicitly aimed at his overthrow. It was only after this invasion that Iraq began a process of democratisation, although this process was hampered by major challenges, including a violent insurgency and sectarian tensions.

In 1989, the pro-democracy movement in China culminated in the Tiananmen Square protests, where thousands of demonstrators, mainly students, called for political reform and greater democracy. These demonstrations were violently suppressed by the Chinese government on 4 June 1989, resulting in an unknown number of deaths, with estimates ranging from several hundred to several thousand. Although the US and other Western nations condemned the crackdown and imposed economic sanctions on China in response, their support for the pro-democracy movement in China was limited. There were several reasons for this. First, US policy towards China was complex and influenced by many factors, including economic and strategic interests. China was seen as an important counterweight to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and after the end of the Cold War it became an important trading partner. Secondly, there was an acute awareness of China's sovereignty and its government's sensitivity to any form of external interference. The United States and other countries were therefore cautious in their approach to the issue of human rights in China. Finally, there was a perception that change in China would have to come from within, and that external pressure might be counterproductive. This led to a more measured approach, focusing on dialogue and engagement, rather than direct confrontation. However, the lack of more direct and active support for the pro-democracy movement in China has been criticised by some as a failure of US foreign policy.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Catholic priest, was elected president of Haiti in December 1990 in the country's first free and fair elections. However, his term was interrupted by a military coup in September 1991. Aristide was forced to flee the country, and a brutal military regime took power. The initial US reaction to the coup was ambivalent. Although it condemned the coup and called for a return to democracy, it did not actively support Aristide. Some have criticised this position, arguing that the US should have done more to support democracy in Haiti. However, under President Bill Clinton, US policy towards Haiti changed. In 1994, in the face of international pressure and gross human rights abuses in Haiti, the US led an international military intervention to restore Aristide to power. This intervention was successful, and Aristide resumed his duties as president in October 1994. Although the initial US response to the coup against Aristide in Haiti was limited, its policy eventually shifted to actively support the restoration of democracy in Haiti. This illustrates the complexity of US foreign policy and the challenges it faces when trying to promote democracy abroad.

The unilateralist turn and the end of democratic messianism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The reasons for the unilateralist turn in the 1990s[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the early 1990s, the United States was going through an economic downturn. The end of the Cold War had also led to a national debate about reducing military spending and restructuring the economy for the post-Cold War era. In this context, many voices in the US began to question the wisdom of costly international commitments. The military intervention in Somalia in 1993-1994, which resulted in the death of 18 US soldiers in the 'Black Hawk Down' incident, was a turning point. American public opinion was deeply shocked by this incident, and support for other humanitarian interventions declined. At the same time, US disengagement from the UN accelerated. Many Americans were frustrated by what they perceived as an over-reliance on the US for funding and military support for UN operations. In addition, there was a growing sense that the UN was ineffective and did not serve American interests. These factors contributed to a general trend towards unilateralism in US foreign policy during this period.

As the US adopted a more unilateral stance in its international relations, public opinion abroad about the US began to deteriorate. The military intervention in Somalia, the failure to intervene effectively in the war in Bosnia, and other actions contributed to a negative image of the United States in the world. However, it was the invasion of Iraq in 2003, seen by many as a unilateral action against a country that was not an immediate threat to the United States, that really fuelled anti-Americanism abroad. This action was widely condemned by the international community and contributed to an image of America as a global bully acting without respect for international law. Beyond the specific actions, there was also a growing perception that the US was out of touch with global concerns and acting selfishly on the international stage. This contributed to a decline in favourable opinion of the United States abroad. It was in this context that US leaders began to recognise the growing unpopularity of the United States abroad, which had implications for the way they conceived and implemented US foreign policy.

The rise of neoconservatives in the US state apparatus was a notable trend in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Neoconservatives, or 'neocons', are a group of thinkers and policymakers who believe in an aggressive US foreign policy, often favouring military intervention, to promote democratic values and counter threats to US security. In terms of foreign policy, neoconservatives generally favour unilateralism, i.e. independent action by the United States without necessarily seeking the approval or support of other countries or international organisations such as the United Nations. They believe that the United States, as the world's only superpower, has both the right and the duty to act to defend its interests and promote its values in the world. The presidency of George W. Bush (2001-2009) saw many neoconservatives occupy key positions in the administration, including Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense and Paul Wolfowitz as Under Secretary of Defense. This influence contributed to the Bush administration's adoption of a more unilateral and interventionist foreign policy, including the decision to launch the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Radicalisation under the presidency of George W. Bush (2000-2008)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The presidency of George W. Bush was marked by a radicalisation of US foreign policy, particularly after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

The rise of Islamist terrorism, particularly al-Qaeda, was a major factor in US foreign policy from the 1990s and especially after 9/11.

  1. Al Qaeda was founded in 1988 by Osama bin Laden and other fighters who had participated in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The group was initially formed to support jihad (holy war) against the Soviet Union, but after the end of the Cold War, it turned against the United States and its allies.
  2. Radicalisation of al-Qaeda: The first Gulf War in 1991, which saw a broad US-led coalition expel Iraq from Kuwait, was a key factor in the radicalisation of al-Qaeda. The presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, considered the holy land of Islam, was denounced by Osama bin Laden and other Islamic extremists. In addition, the international sanctions against Iraq after the war caused great suffering among the Iraqi population, which was used as another propaganda element by Al Qaeda.
  3. Israeli policy: Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories, particularly the construction of settlements in the occupied territories, has been another factor in radicalisation. Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups have used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to stir up anger against the United States, which is perceived as unconditionally supporting Israel.
  4. Attacks on the US and its allies: After 1991, al-Qaeda began to plan and execute attacks against the US and its allies. These attacks culminated in the attacks of September 11, 2001, which killed nearly 3,000 people on US soil.
  5. The US response: The September 11 attacks led to a radical change in US foreign policy, with the adoption of the "War on Terrorism" by the Bush administration. This policy led to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, and marked a new phase of US involvement in the Middle East and the Islamic world in general.

Attacks by Islamist terrorist groups against US interests increased from the 1990s onwards. Among the most notable are:

  1. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing: A van loaded with explosives exploded in the underground car park of the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people and injuring thousands. The aim was to bring down the twin towers on top of each other, but the attack failed in this respect.
  2. The 1996 Khobar bombing: A massive explosion destroyed a residential complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 US servicemen and injuring nearly 500 people. Although Saudi Arabia blamed the attack on Iranian-backed Shiite militants, some also suspect al-Qaeda.
  3. US Embassy bombings in 1998: The US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were targeted in near-simultaneous bombings on 7 August 1998. The attacks, attributed to al-Qaeda, killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.
  4. USS Cole attack in 2000: The US warship USS Cole was attacked by a small boat packed with explosives while anchored in the port of Aden, Yemen. The attack killed 17 US sailors and injured 39 others. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.
  5. The September 11, 2001 attacks: In the deadliest terrorist attack in history, 19 al-Qaeda hijackers hijacked four US airliners. Two crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, a third hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and a fourth, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers tried to regain control of the aircraft. In total, nearly 3,000 people were killed in these attacks.

The US National Security Strategy, published in September 2002, marked a turning point in US foreign policy. The new strategy was developed in response to the changing global threats, particularly international terrorism, following the attacks of 11 September 2001.

The main features of this new doctrine are

  1. The primacy of national security: The strategy affirms the priority of the United States to protect the country and its citizens from terrorist attacks.
  2. Militarisation: The strategy emphasised the strengthening of military capabilities to deter and repel attacks on the US or its allies. It promoted the idea that the US must maintain military superiority to prevent conflict.
  3. Preventive war: One of the most controversial features of this strategy is the adoption of the doctrine of preventive war, which allows the United States to take military action to prevent potential attacks against it, even if an attack is not imminent. This doctrine was used to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on allegations (which turned out to be unfounded) that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
  4. Promoting democracy: The strategy also stressed the importance of promoting democracy and individual freedoms worldwide, considering that free societies are less likely to threaten international peace and security.
  5. Unilateralism: The strategy also affirmed that, while the United States seeks to work with other nations and international organisations, it will not hesitate to act alone if necessary to protect its national interests.

The 2002 National Security Strategy led to a series of US military interventions, whose primary motivation was the protection of US national security, rather than the promotion of democracy. Examples include:

  1. Invasion of Afghanistan (2001): In response to the attacks of 11 September 2001, the US invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime, which was harbouring al-Qaeda. The main objective of this operation was to eliminate the threat posed by Al Qaeda, although state-building and democracy promotion efforts were also included in the mission.
  2. Invasion of Iraq (2003): The US invaded Iraq on the basis of allegations that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. Although the promotion of democracy was presented as a secondary objective, the main goal was to eliminate what the US considered a threat to its security.
  3. War on Terror: Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, the national security strategy led to a series of counter-terrorism operations around the world, from the Horn of Africa to Southeast Asia. In many cases, these operations took place in countries that were not democracies, and the main objective was to disrupt terrorist activities rather than to promote democracy.

These actions have often been criticised for their unilateralism and reliance on military force. Moreover, while US security was the priority, these interventions often had major political and humanitarian consequences in the targeted countries, and their long-term success in promoting stability and democracy was widely questioned.

Intervention in Afghanistan (2001-2021)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Military intervention in Afghanistan began in October 2001, barely a month after the September 11 attacks in the United States. The main objective was to dismantle al-Qaeda by overthrowing the Taliban regime, which was harbouring them and refusing to hand them over. A UN Security Council resolution supported this intervention. The operation was carried out mainly by US forces, supported by international coalition allies, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. In parallel, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established under a UN mandate to help stabilise the country and establish a new government. Despite the presence of many countries, the United States has provided the bulk of the troops and resources. It has played a leading role in strategy and operations on the ground, including in the fight against the Taliban insurgency that followed the initial overthrow of the regime. Over the years, the war effort in Afghanistan has become increasingly controversial, both in the United States and abroad, due to the high human and financial costs, persistent insecurity and endemic corruption in the Afghan government. Despite efforts to establish a stable and functioning democracy, the country has continued to be marked by instability and violence. In 2021, after two decades of military presence, the United States withdrew its last troops from Afghanistan, leading to a rapid return to power of the Taliban. This outcome raised many questions about the effectiveness and long-term consequences of the intervention.

Institutional reconstruction in Afghanistan was a key element of the US and international community's intervention after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001. The democratisation process was formalised with the adoption of a new constitution in 2004, which established a tricameral political system consisting of a House of Representatives, a Senate and a Loya Jirga (a traditional assembly of community leaders). However, despite efforts to build democratic institutions, the democratisation process was hampered by various factors. These included endemic corruption, persistent insecurity, lack of economic development, deep social inequalities and ethnic and regional tensions. In addition, the resurgence of the Taliban continued to threaten the country's stability. As a result, the objective of political stabilisation and security became increasingly prioritised over democratisation. This was reflected in increased support for the Afghan security forces, as well as efforts to negotiate a peace agreement with the Taliban. However, these efforts have not succeeded in ending the violence or stabilising the country in a sustainable way, and Afghanistan still faces significant governance and security challenges.

Despite initial efforts to establish democracy and rebuild the country, the foreign presence in Afghanistan has met with increasing opposition over time. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Collateral effects of military action: Military operations have sometimes resulted in civilian deaths, fuelling anger and resentment against foreign forces. These incidents, whether night raids, air strikes or detentions, have often been perceived as attacks on Afghan sovereignty and honour.
  2. The militarisation of aid: Attempts to integrate development and reconstruction efforts with the counter-insurgency strategy have sometimes resulted in the politicisation of aid. In some cases, this may have led to inequitable distribution of resources or perceived favouritism, exacerbating local tensions.
  3. Corruption and governance: Corruption within the Afghan government, often perceived to be supported by the international community, has also fuelled discontent. Many Afghans felt frustrated by the lack of accountability and transparency of their leaders.
  4. Taliban resurgence: The Taliban used dissatisfaction with the foreign presence to recruit new members and carry out attacks against Afghan and international security forces. They have also taken advantage of the situation to regain ground in many parts of the country.

These factors have contributed to a complex and volatile situation, where the original mission of democratisation has been increasingly overshadowed by security and stabilisation imperatives.

The summer of 2021 marked a critical moment in Afghanistan's history with the full withdrawal of US troops, ending a military presence of almost two decades. Shortly after the US withdrawal, the Taliban quickly regained control of the country, toppling the US-backed government.

This rapid and often chaotic transition raised questions about US policy in Afghanistan and had several implications:

  1. US credibility: The precipitous withdrawal and rapid fall of the Afghan government has led to criticism of the US. Some have questioned the planning and implementation of the withdrawal, while others have debated the impact of these events on US credibility and international leadership.
  2. Stability of Afghanistan: With the Taliban back in power, the future of Afghanistan remains uncertain. The country faces many challenges, including human rights, access to education for girls and women, security and economic development.
  3. Democracy and human rights: The US withdrawal and the return of the Taliban have had a significant impact on democracy and human rights in Afghanistan. The progress made over the past two decades in women's rights, press freedom and democratic governance is at risk.
  4. Counter-terrorism: The return of the Taliban to power has also raised concerns that Afghanistan may once again become a haven for terrorist groups.

In sum, the situation in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal has raised many questions about the effectiveness and long-term impact of the US intervention.

The intervention in Iraq (2003-)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a major period in recent history, with far-reaching implications for international politics and security. The United States, with coalition support, invaded Iraq with the main argument that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which posed a threat to international security. These weapons were never found. Other reasons given for the invasion included Iraq's alleged links to al-Qa'ida, and the desire to establish democratic rule in the Middle East. These justifications were widely contested, both domestically and internationally. The operation, dubbed "Iraqi Freedom" by the US, began in March 2003. The lack of a UN Security Council resolution explicitly approving the invasion was widely disputed and criticised for violating international law. The invasion quickly toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, but triggered a long period of violent conflict, including an armed insurgency and sectarian tensions between Shiites and Sunnis. Efforts to establish a new government and rebuild the country faced many challenges, including corruption, sectarian violence and the impact of external interventions.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the United States and its allies faced great instability in Iraq. The lack of a clear plan for the transition to a new government led to many problems, including increasing sectarian violence, armed insurgency and insecurity. The US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was set up to govern Iraq immediately after the invasion. However, the CPA has been criticised for its management of the transition, particularly for its decision to disband the Iraqi army, which exacerbated insecurity and fuelled the insurgency. In 2004, the PCA transferred sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government. However, the United States remained heavily involved in Iraq's affairs, both militarily and politically. It has continued to maintain a significant military presence in the country and has played a major role in training and supporting Iraqi security forces. Efforts to democratise Iraq have been hampered by a multitude of challenges, including sectarian violence, corruption, lack of economic development and the absence of a democratic political culture. The priority has often been to stabilise the country and manage insecurity rather than to promote democracy. Ultimately, while Iraq has made progress towards some form of democracy, with several general elections since 2005, the situation remains unstable and the country is far from a stable liberal democracy. The United States continues to have influence in Iraq, but its role and impact is subject to debate.

The 2005 Iraqi constitution, adopted by referendum, did indeed seek to establish democracy in the country, setting up political institutions largely based on the Western model. It also sought to make a radical break with the country's authoritarian past under Saddam Hussein's regime. Some of the main elements of this constitution are

  • Bicameralism: The constitution established a bicameral parliamentary system, with a Council of Representatives (Majlis an-Nuwwāb) and a Federation Council (Majlis al-Ittihād). The Council of Representatives is the main legislative body, while the Federation Council is supposed to represent the country's governorates.
  • Supreme Court: The constitution provides for the establishment of an independent Supreme Court to judge the constitutionality of laws and regulations and to rule on conflicts of jurisdiction between the different levels of government.
  • Bill of Rights: The Iraqi constitution also includes a "Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms" which guarantees a number of civil and political rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the right to a fair trial.
  • Federalism: The 2005 constitution also introduced a federal system, recognising a large degree of autonomy for the Kurdistan region, which already had some de facto independence since the end of the first Gulf War in 1991.

However, the implementation of this constitution has been hampered by many challenges, including ongoing violence, sectarian tensions and lack of institutional capacity. Furthermore, the constitution has been criticised by some for exacerbating sectarian divisions, particularly through its quota system for different religious and ethnic groups.

The purge of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party has deeply disrupted the state apparatus in Iraq. This was partly due to the policy of "de-Baathification" implemented by the US administration after the invasion, which led to the ousting of many officials and military officers associated with the previous regime. De-Baathification has been criticised for contributing to instability in Iraq in several ways. First, it created a large number of dissatisfied and displaced people who lost their jobs and status, many of whom joined insurgent groups. Second, it dismantled institutions that were essential to the functioning of the state, creating a vacuum that the new Iraqi leadership and its US allies have struggled to fill. Moreover, the invasion exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq, leading to widespread violence between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish groups. The ensuing chaos and instability also created an environment conducive to the emergence of extremist groups, including the Islamic State (also known as Daech), which managed to take control of large areas of the country in 2014. Ultimately, the US invasion of Iraq and subsequent reconstruction efforts have left a mixed record, with major challenges to the democratisation and stabilisation of the country. This has contributed to discrediting the US intervention in the eyes of many observers, both inside and outside Iraq.

The Obama (2008-2016) and Trump (2016-2020) presidencies: the institutionalisation of unilateralism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Barack Obama's presidency marked a certain break with the unilateralist and interventionist approach adopted by the George W. Bush administration. In June 2009, in his famous speech in Cairo, Obama underlined his administration's commitment to a new relationship between the United States and the Muslim world, based on mutual respect and understanding. He also recognised that democracy cannot be imposed from outside and that it is up to the people of each country to determine their own path to democracy and freedom. However, Obama's ambition to end US interventionism in the Middle East has proved difficult to achieve in practice. While US troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011, the US remained militarily engaged in Afghanistan throughout his presidency. In addition, the Obama administration also had to deal with the crisis in Libya and the civil war in Syria, where it indirectly supported some rebel groups. Whether this period marks the "close of the cycle of democratic messianism opened by Wilson in 1917" is a question debated by historians and political analysts. Some argue that Obama's speech and subsequent policies mark a break with democratic messianism, while others argue that it is more of an evolution or reinterpretation of that ideology.

Barack Obama's term in office has been marked by many challenges on the international front, including dealing with the legacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, despite his initial intention to end the military intervention, Obama decided in 2009 to increase the number of US troops in the country to fight the Taliban. This decision was partly due to the continuing instability in Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban. The full withdrawal of US troops did not take place until 2021, under President Joe Biden. In Iraq, after the complete withdrawal of US troops in 2011, instability persisted and the Islamic State (Daech) took control of large areas in 2014. In response, Obama ordered the deployment of US troops to support Iraqi forces in their fight against the Islamic State. This decision was made primarily for security reasons, not to promote democracy. These events show that, despite Obama's stated intentions to end US interventionism in the Middle East, the realities on the ground have made this task extremely difficult. They also highlight the fact that democracy promotion was not the main objective of these interventions, but rather the protection of US security interests.

The presidency of Donald Trump (2017-2021) has been marked by a rhetoric of isolationism and 'America first'. This orientation has been clearly expressed in several notable policy decisions, such as the withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, the questioning of NATO, or the trade war with China. With regard to the Middle East, Trump has also expressed his intention to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. However, in practice, US troops have remained in these regions for strategic and security reasons. For example, in 2020, despite an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw completely, the US maintained a military presence in Afghanistan, largely due to the continuing instability in the country. Despite Trump's desire to withdraw troops in Iraq, the US has maintained a military presence to support the Iraqi government in its fight against the Islamic State and counter Iranian influence in the region. As under the Obama administration, the continued US military presence under the Trump administration was not primarily motivated by democracy promotion, but rather by security concerns and strategic interests.

The Trump administration has been characterised by unilateral decisions and an 'America first' approach that has often surprised and worried US allies. Several landmark actions and decisions have exemplified this approach:

  1. Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement: Announced in 2017, this withdrawal has been criticised internationally. The Paris Agreement had been signed by 195 countries, with the aim of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. The withdrawal of the United States, which is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, was seen as a blow to global efforts against climate change.
  2. Withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal: In 2018, Trump announced that the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, an international agreement designed to limit Iran's nuclear programme. This decision was made without prior consultation with the other signatories to the agreement (Germany, France, the UK, Russia, China and the EU), who have continued to support the deal.
  3. Trade war with China: The Trump administration launched a series of tariffs against China, triggering a trade war that has had global repercussions. The move has been criticised for its one-sided approach and negative effects on the global economy.
  4. Questioning NATO: Trump has repeatedly criticised NATO, saying that other member countries are not contributing enough to the alliance. These comments have raised concerns about the US commitment to NATO.

These decisions have fuelled tensions between the United States and its allies, and have led to questions about the US commitment to the international system and its traditional alliances.

The Biden presidency: what foreign policy for the United States?[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Joe Biden took office in January 2021 with a promise to restore international alliances and re-engage the US in global agreements and institutions. However, he also inherited significant challenges, including ending the war in Afghanistan.

  • Withdrawal from Afghanistan: In April 2021, Biden announced that the US would withdraw from Afghanistan, ending a war that had lasted nearly 20 years. The withdrawal was completed in August 2021. However, the speed with which the Taliban regained control of the country has drawn criticism, with some claiming that the withdrawal was mishandled and that the US has abandoned the Afghan people.
  • Recommitment to international agreements: Biden reinstated the US in the Paris Climate Agreement and re-engaged the US with the World Health Organisation. He also signalled his intention to restart negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Relations with China: Biden also recognised the need to respond to China's rise. His policy is a combination of competition and cooperation, seeking to challenge China's unfair trade practices while collaborating on issues such as climate change.
  • Relations with allies: Biden sought to reassure US allies that the country is a reliable partner and is committed to supporting the international system. He affirmed the US commitment to NATO and sought to strengthen alliances in Europe and Asia.

Although Biden sought to restore multilateralism, some challenges remain. Tensions with Russia, North Korea and other international actors remain. In addition, the way the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been handled has raised questions about the reliability of the US as a partner. It remains to be seen how Biden's presidency will develop and what impact it will have on the US role on the international stage.

Since taking office, Joe Biden's presidency has sought to reaffirm the US commitment to multilateralism. This has manifested itself in several ways:

  • International agreements: Biden re-engaged the US in the Paris Climate Agreement, which it had left under President Donald Trump. He also re-joined the World Health Organisation and showed a willingness to restart negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Relations with allies: Biden affirmed the importance of alliances, including NATO, and sought to strengthen relations with traditional US allies in Europe and Asia, which many feel have been neglected under Trump.
  • Diplomacy: Biden expressed his commitment to diplomacy and sought to re-establish the role of the US as the "leader of the free world". He stressed the importance of democratic values and human rights in US foreign policy.

However, Biden's multilateralism faces challenges. The withdrawal from Afghanistan, although widely supported by the American public, has drawn international criticism. In addition, tensions with countries such as China and Russia continue to pose challenges to US foreign policy.

On interventionism, Biden has sought to distance himself from the US military intervention policy of the past decades. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is a clear example. However, Biden's foreign policy remains focused on protecting US interests, which could potentially lead to interventions, albeit probably through non-military or less direct means, such as diplomacy, sanctions and assistance to other nations.

US policy towards Russia and Ukraine has been to support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, discourage Russian aggression and advocate a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. This has often involved economic sanctions against Russia, financial assistance to Ukraine and diplomatic engagement with both countries and the international community. The Biden administration's approach until 2021 has been to support Ukraine through economic, military and diplomatic assistance, while avoiding direct involvement in the conflict. This includes the provision of defence equipment, training of the Ukrainian armed forces, economic assistance and support for diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict. The fact that the US military is not directly involved in the fighting against Russia is consistent with this policy. It also reflects a widely shared concern that direct US military involvement could escalate the conflict and lead to a wider confrontation between the US and Russia, both nuclear powers.

Appendices[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]