Empire of Freedom or Imperial Republic (1890 - 1939)?

De Baripedia

We will deal with the issue of the place of democracy in American foreign policy. The first chronological sequence covers the years 1890 to the end of the inter-war period, the second from the Second World War to the end of the 1980s and the third from the post-Cold War period to the present day.

Why the 1890s as a time limit for the beginning? From the point of view of U.S. foreign policy and international projection, the 1890s are crucial because it is a period marked by an extremely important process of expansion. This expansion has an original character that is the international projection of the United States, the foreign policy of the United States and the power politics of the United States. This originality holds in several points:

  • The fact that it is relatively little characterized by territorial conquests;
  • There is the idea of the expansion and diffusion of American democracy, that is to say, a political system that the United States considers superior to that of others, and its conception of democracy is a certainty of having achieved a perfect political synthesis by the end of the 18th century. This is at the heart of American foreign policy;
  • There is the fundamental aspect of conquering foreign markets. The economic dimension is linked to the political dimension.

It is about the role of democracy in American foreign policy. It is not a question here at all of adopting a geographical perspective, nor is it an emancipatory perspective by saying that the discourse on democracy is a screen to hide American imperialist politics. You have to take things literally. It is the question of the democratic regime and its international establishment as a historical goal of American foreign policy. There is the issue of democracy, what it looks like, how this foreign policy works and what its measures are. The idea is to understand that the promotion of democracy is a common thread of American foreign policy with the fundamental idea of promoting democracy is absolutely inseparable from the promotion of American national interests. The spread of democracy is an integral part of the security policy sought by the United States, because since the end of the 18th century, the idea has been that if we promote democracy, we will strengthen national security, because we will create friendly regimes. There is an inseparability between the promotion of a type of political system and the promotion of American interests.

When we look at what happened in the 19th century, after the failure of the 1848 revolutions and the conservatist reaction in the 1850s and 1860s, the democratic question became a national issue within each country. What is interesting with the United States is that democracy is once again an international issue, and the United States sees it as an ideological issue in international relations. From the end of the 19th century onwards, there was a rise in American power, and with the Russian Revolution of 1917, the theme of democracy gradually took root at the heart of international politics. The Russian Revolution is indeed both the fact of overthrowing the tsarist regime and a challenge to the European conception of democracy against which it stands. As early as 1917, one of the guiding principles of American foreign policy was to propose an answer. There are two systems already face-to-face even before the Cold War of 1947.

The beginnings of the American Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The 1890s were an extremely important founding moment.

Imperialism in Debate[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Scene at the signing of the United States Constitution, by Howard Chandler Christy. This chart depicts the 33 delegates who signed the Constitution.

The question of imperialism was debated within the American political class and American society from the 1890s onwards when the territory's unification was finalised. Many wondered whether the border should be pushed beyond the limits of the American continent. There is an important debate about whether to conquer an empire or halt territorial expansion. It is a debate that will occupy from the late 1880s to the early 20th century. Pro-imperialists and anti-imperialists are going to fight each other. At the end of the 20th century, the United States was the only one that did not yet have an empire.

Anti-imperialists raise a whole series of reasons:

  • economic argument: an empire must be conquered, must be maintained, it is expensive. The United States as a rich enough country does not need it;
  • political argument: if the United States begins to conquer an empire, it will contradict the founding principles of American democracy, and it will sink into imperialism;
  • racial argument: if the United States conquered a colonial empire, it would trigger migrations, which would dilute the white race as a result of migration following annexation. A colonial empire would import a whole series of other "races" that would weaken the white race. The American elites develop the discourse of WASP America at this time in history. This is an interesting question in terms of transnational history. There is a chronological coincidence between the debate on imperialism in the United States and the implementation of segregation laws. In a way, one wonders whether the introduction of segregation has slowed down territorial imperialism?

The imperialists maintain that the United States must conquer its empire, "play" with the other European powers:

  • economic argument: the colonies are a guarantee of economic wealth, especially with the natural resources that can be exploited, but they are also points of support and relays to new markets. In a context where American companies are growing and looking for new opportunities, the economic argument is handled importantly;
  • strategic argument: the conquest of colonies and counters allows the construction of naval bases. Military power can be measured by the navy, which is why ports must be conquered and their hinterland controlled;
  • racial argument: it is the idea that by setting up a colonization process, we will bring civilization and assume the "white man's burden".

It is a raging debate in society, particularly in the media and political circles, but it will close when the United States begins to build an empire. There will be a process of conquest of an empire in the late 1890s, but this will be relatively shortened. From the beginning of the 20th century, the United States, under President Roosevelt's presidency will theorize a new type of expansionist that is not the conquest.

The conquest of an empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

From the moment the United States is unified, some consider that it is necessary to extend American territory and embark on an imperialist policy in the sense of building an empire, extending domination beyond its borders and not necessarily in the territorial sense, since this imperialist is a non-territorial imperialism.

The question is whether American imperialism is an accident. The American government may have pushed through pressure and accepted de facto situations, but the American expansion process is not accidental; it is the result of a process.

Finally, the expansion process began in the 1870s and continued through the 1890s. If we take the case of the Samoa archipelago, it begins with a simple trading post in 1872. The Pacific is a huge area where imperialist enmities are strong. Throughout this area, there are significant clashes between French, English, Dutch for the possession of these trading posts and natural resource places. From the late 1870s onwards, the United States began to negotiate, discuss with the English, German and French concerning the Pacific region and in particular with the Germans and English who in the 1880s and 1890s saw the establishment of a condominium until the eastern part of the archipelago was annexed by the United States in 1899. For the Hawaii Islands, the same process took place that was a simple trading post, in 1875 the United States established a base at Pearl Harbour until annexation was set up in August 1898. The balance of power is extremely unbalanced. The process of appropriation is done over fifteen years. For Hawaii, it is a strategic island and it is out of the question to let competitors settle there.

The major turning point in the establishment of the colonial empire was the war against Spain in 1898, which resulted in a change in the sovereignty of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. The Philippines was first taken from Spain, but a rebellion resulted in a war between 1899 and 1902 that allowed the United States to settle permanently until the 1930s. At the same time, Panama's region, which was part of Greater Colombia, will experience a rebellion in 1903 against the Colombian government supported by the United States, which will guarantee Panama's independence in exchange for a strong American presence.

While we are debating whether or not we need a colonial empire, at the end of the 1890s, de facto, there is a small colonial empire. In the 1890s, colonization became a political issue.

Empire of freedom?[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Soldats américains en mouvement près de Manille, 1899.

What are the characteristics of this empire, what is its originality? It raises the question of Jefferson's Empire of Freedom. The United States would promote a different kind of imperialism. When we look at the practice of imperialism, on the one hand, the United States conquered an empire like any other colonial power through military conquest. The American colonial wars are as violent as the European colonial wars, which take place with the same racial prejudice in a context of segregation. The coincidence of these two elements is significant. If we take the case of the Philippine war in 1899 - 1902, it is a colonial conflict to the letter of the term with 200,000 American soldiers on site with the racial dimension extremely present.

Finally, the United States is going to do something else quite quickly, starting with annexing the territories mentioned above, and quite quickly it is going to find different legal solutions because there are problems with annexation. To annex a territory means to integrate them into the United States and make the colonists American citizens, and because they are inferior races, they will immigrate and contribute to the decrease and weakening of the white race. The United States has found a different way of colonizing and making its imperialism live with a flowering of legal statutes that will find statutes to annex without annexing.

Page une de l'amendement Platt.

For instance, Guam and Puerto Rico are initially annexed, but we will change our status by inventing specific statutes. With the Foraker Act of 1900, Puerto Rico was no longer annexed, but became a "unincorporated Territory", i.e. it was a territory where American citizenship was extended to Puerto Rican citizens but they could not take advantage of it. Puerto Rico was granted citizenship in 1917 without giving Puerto Rican citizens the right to elect the American president. Since 1900 it has been a territory with a status of unincorporated territory, with limited citizenship. Today, Puerto Rico is still a free state associated with a special status. It will be the same for Guam, which will become a non-incorporated territory, Cuba and the Philippines will first be annexed and then become protectorates. In Panama, there will be a status of "titular sovereignty" established by the United States in the area of the territory along the canal. Panama is an independent territory guaranteed by the United States, but on the canal zone, the United States has full sovereignty. Precisely, when we talk about the Empire of Freedom, from the moment the United States is established in the various territories, there will be a physical and economic presence, but also a willingness to reshape the local political landscape with the first experiences of "nation building". We can see in particular in Cuba with the Platt amendment of 1901 and in the Philippines where the Americans will try to reproduce the American model on the spot by reforming the political institutions with the complete abolition of the Spanish legislation and the establishment of a political system based on their model with a bicameral regime, a federal system, a Supreme Court, a civil code, a censal elective system, universities and law schools in order to form civil law schools. It is the idea of creating an American-style democracy from scratch in these territories, especially with the Americanization of the Philippine political system.

William Howard Taft en 1909.

The first governor of the American Philippines is William H. Taft, who will become president of the United States, asking us about the transnational dimension because things are experienced in colonial empires before they are even applied in the United States. The colonies can be a political laboratory for the United States. In the enterprise of colonization, there is the will to create democratic regimes like the United States that is characteristic of American politics, something that does not exist at all in the European colonial enterprise.

Corollary Roosevelt[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The letter in which Roosevelt first used his now famous phrase
William Allen Rogers's 1904 cartoon recreates an episode in Gulliver's Travels

As much as the Monroe Doctrine was a declaration of intent to radically separate Latin American affairs from European affairs, which made the corollary Roosevelt in 1904 to the Monroe Doctrine is that Roosevelt whose motto is "speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far", reserves the right to intervene in Latin America.

The Monroe doctrine has gone from a stage where there is a radical separation of European affairs to a stage at the beginning of the 20th century where the United States will theorise its right to intervene in these areas from the moment when its economic and political interests are threatened. At that time, Latin and Central America and then South America became a US backyard with interventions in Panama in 1903, in Cuba in 1906, particularly in 1906, which was experiencing unrest, and in Santo Domingo between 1905 and 1941, which was to undergo a protectorate following political unrest and economic problems. In the case of Santo Domingo, we can see how this installation is also being carried out in order to eject European powers from these regions. The island of Santo Domingo was extremely indebted to France, Great Britain and Germany and the United States will take control of Dominican customs and trade. There is no political control, but the strategic sectors are taken over by the Americans, who set up a protectorate a little different from Cuba. Control of the island is in American hands. The protectorate on Santo Domingo and in almost all the others is not established by a "treaty", but by an "executive agreement" allowing the president to override the Senate's approval. We can see how the imperialist policy led by the United States at that time was carried out within the framework of a fairly strong opposition between the President and Congress and the protectorate agreements were part of the affirmation of the presidential prerogative in relation to the Senate, which is often on more Malthusian positions from the point of view of territorial expansion.

The Corollary Roosevelt is a time when the United States is theorizing its right to intervene outside American territory, particularly in Latin and Central America. This is both the formation of an empire strictly speaking, because the United States is conquering an empire in a similar way to the Europeans, but at the same time there is a legal construction that is being put in place. Finally, it is a different type of domination insofar as the presence is less strong, is based on contracts even if it is forced and with the will to import democratic regimes into it, which is not the fault of the European colonizers.

The birth of moral imperialism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

We are going to explore the originality of the expansion process put in place. The birth of "moral imperialism" signs the originality of the American imperialist process.

International Law and the Civilizing Mission[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

One aspect that is important to understand in understanding the specificity of American expansion is the role of the law that is inseparable from the certainty of the civilizing mission of the United States. At the end of the 19th century, the International Arbitration movement developed in both the United States and Europe. There is a whole movement that is a movement of the pacifist movement considering that international relations must be regulated by law, by contract and not by force and war. There are going to be a lot of organizations that will be involved in the implementation of international law that does not exist. The law is historically built on a national basis.

With the idea that international relations should be regulated by law, from the end of the 19th century onwards there was a whole series of organizations that were created, such as the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration in 1895, the American Society for Judicial Settlement of International Disputes and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1910, which was both a think tank and promoted research on international law. These organizations are led by lawyers and jurists, many of whom will pursue political careers such as Taft, who founded the American Society for Judicial Settlement of International Disputes and became president of the United States.

They are organizations at the crossroads between private and public, with and a profusion of organizations that will work on what is international law, which will theorize international law and the U.S. position on the international stage based not only on the military base, but also on the law. There is the idea that the United States must impose itself on the international stage in ways other than military force.

Precisely, when we look at the structuring of the American political line at this time, we see that there are a lot of lawyers, it is the lawyers who make political careers arriving at a very high level, whether on the Republican or the Democratic side. A large part of the political tenors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries find themselves in key positions in the state apparatus.

Republicans' house:

  • Elihu Root, Secretary of State 1905 - 1909
  • William H. Taft, President of the US 1909 - 1913
  • Frank Kellog, Secretary of State 1925 - 1929
  • Henry Stimson, Secretary of State 1929 - 1933


  • Woodrow Wilson, President 1913 - 1921
  • William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of State 1913 - 1915
  • Robert Lansing, Secretary of State 1915 - 1920
  • Brainbridge Colby, Secretary of State 1920 - 1921

They are people whose work as international jurists is inseparable from their activity in the American political system. We see how the establishment of international law is part of a United States strategy. The United States will play a major role in establishing an international law whose rules correspond as closely as possible to those of the United States. The law is an important part of the U.S. ramp-up strategy.

Woodrow Wilson: A complex character[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

There is a chronological hinge linked to a major figure of American politics in the affirmation of moral imperialism which is the period of the two Wilson Presidencies from 1912 to 1920. Wilson is a crucial person in the affirmation of moral imperialism. It synthesizes a whole series of elements that are very clearly manifested from the 1910s onwards in the American expansionist strategy. Moral imperialism, which is the specificity of American expansionism with several characteristics, is seen as mature:

  • the strength of law and democracy: this is the idea that law and democracy must be founding principles and organizing principles of international relations. In conception and discourse, the force of the law must be one of the major aspects in the emergence of new international relations;
  • divine providence: there is a religious dimension to the mission of the United States in the divine sense with the discourse of the Destiny Manifest;
  • the superiority of the American model: it is the certainty of superiority of the American model;
  • a global vision: it is a world imperialism, because the European powers have visions in terms of a bloc, whereas the United States will think of one world on a global scale.
President Wilson calling on Congress to declare war on Germany on 2 April 1917.

The moral imperialism and the rise of the United States on the international scene is inseparable from Wilson's rise to power himself and through him from the presidential figure in the American political system. The transnational perspective is very important because it shows how external aspects interact with internal aspects. The Senate and Congress in general is always on a less expansionist line than the President. The periods of expansion often correspond to statements by the presidential office. There is an important connection between interior and exterior appearance. Wilson's presidency is an important hinge in this process.

In international relations, Wilson was often limited to the First World War and the Fourteen Points. Concretely, moral imperialism crystallizes at this time because there is the First World War, but also a whole series of revolutions in Russia, China and Mexico. These revolutions are carried out in the form of a challenge to European democracy. Wilsonian moral imperialism is a response to these revolutions with the promotion of American democracy worldwide. In moral imperialism, there is the idea of a response to these different revolutions. Wilson's Fourteen Points is above all a response to the different revolutions, but above all a response to Lenin's intimate convictions.

Wilson is a complex character because there is the paradox of a character who is the chanter of democracy theorizing democracy as a global solution to lead international relations into a new era, especially with international law, but does not hesitate to use force in Latin America when he believes that it is necessary at the very moment when he theorizes the League of Nations. Wilson's presidency is an absolutely major moment in the crystallization of "American-style" imperialism, which is an imperialism of freedom, a non-territorial imperialism, a moral imperialism.

Latin America: Laboratory of Wilsonian Diplomacy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

There's the idea of seeing Wilson from a global perspective. Before we see Wilson in Europe, we have to see him in Latin America. The laboratory of Wilsonian foreign policy is Latin America. The idea that democracy must impose itself on its own without military intervention is factually questioned. It is an impossible thesis between the idea that countries are democratic and that order must prevail inside. We have to "teach the South Americans how to elect good leaders," Wilson will not hesitate to intervene:

  • Nicaragua, 1912 - 1925,1926 - 1934
  • Mexico, 1914
  • Haiti, 1915 - 1934
  • Dominican Republic, 1916-1925
  • Cuba, 1917
  • Panama, 1918

We see how in all of this part of Latin America, Wilsonian politics will handle both the rhetoric of democratization and military intervention on the pretext. Wilson is situated in this point of view in the continuity of the corollary Roosevelt. From the standpoint of foreign policy conceptions, the Democrats were very isolationist and Wilson is the first Democratic president to assert expansionist views in the line of American presidents and in particular Theodore Roosevelt. Latin America is the laboratory of Wilsonian diplomacy.

The First World War and Globalization of the Wilsonian Project[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The First World War was a major moment for the globalization of the Wilsonian project. Until 1917, Wilsonian politics was limited to the American continent, but the First World War saw the United States enter the world stage. Initially, the United States was neutral, but following a reversal of opinion, it became involved in the 1917-1918 conflict leading to the Fourteen Points.

The Fourteen Points are the answer to the Russian Revolution which denounces the imperialism of the European powers. Through these Fourteen Points, Wilson affirms the role of the United States in the international arena. The Fourteen Points speech was delivered on January 8,1918, the anniversary date of George Washington's first speech to the American nation, which was the forerunner to the State of the Union speech except that it was intended for Congress. It is a symbol of the United States' global mission.[4] It is an affirmation of the United States' role in international relations. This provides a new framework for international relations with the establishment of international law as a normal framework. Through the idea of a response to the Russian Revolution, an opposition between an American model and a Soviet model emerges.

Wilson suggests through the Fourteen Points:

  • end of secret diplomacy: the will to put an end to the secret diplomacy that is considered among those responsible for the declaration of the First World War;
  • The day of conquest and enlarandizement is gone ": Wilson promotes peace without territorial annexation;
  • right of peoples to self-governance: for those who are capable of self-governance;
  • global disarmament;
  • creation of the League of Nations.

We can clearly see how, on the one hand, there was the old Wilsonian conception and on the other hand, the Leninist conceptions that promote two contradictory political systems, namely the extension of the principles of American democracy to the whole world and the world proletarian revolution and the emancipation of the dominated peoples.

At the peace conference in 1919, Wilson imposed his agenda, but was unfamiliar with the European situation. This lack of knowledge of the European situation isolates it. From this point of view, Wilson will not impose his solutions, but what interests him is the global image of a society operating on the principles of law with the League of Nations. He will refuse to discuss the details of the situations and accept the creation of the mandate system.

The inter-war period: the end of democratic messianism?[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Between the two World Wars, democratic messianism was revised downwards. Firstly, because the Treaty of Versailles, which was to sign the triumph of the right of peoples to self-determination, is not the case. Acceptance of the mandate system is perceived as a setback to Wilson by the colonized countries. That is why part of the independence movements will turn to the Soviet side, which unambiguously asserts to him the right of peoples to self-determination, while Wilson is constrained by his companionship with the European powers. In the eyes of the independence parties, the USSR is becoming more credible than the American model.

The disappointment of the American downturn was confirmed in the 1930s when the political situation worsened in Europe. The United States entered an isolationist political system between 1935 and 1939 with the three neutrality laws that disengaged the United States from European affairs. The first neutrality law was the Neutrality Act in 1935 when Italy invaded Libya, then was renewed in 1936 with the Spanish War, in 1937 the Cash and Carry Act was passed, which committed the United States not to sell weapons to a war-torn country unless it paid cash and came to collect them.

The retreat of democratic messianism is a relative retreat. During the inter-war period it was a complete retreat. However wilsonism survived among non-governmental actors and in particular within the framework of private foundations such as the League of Nations Association founded in 1922, philanthropic foundations such as the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations, or through trade unions such as AFL-CIO and Samuel Gompers at the ILO.

The Second World War[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Second World War was an important turning point in the world and American history, as World War II continued the process of U.S. engagement in international affairs that had begun during the First World War, which was put on stand-by in the inter-war period. From the Second World War onwards, we can talk about the irreversible commitment of the United States to international affairs.

There is a paradox at the heart of American politics that both affirms universal democratic principles with the idea of applying to the whole world things that have succeeded to the American nation, on the other hand, the temptation of a power politics that is based on these principles. There is a balance in American policy between the affirmation of these principles and practices. What is important is to consider that there are not one or the other, but both at the same time.

We will see the issue of spreading the American model with the importance of democracy-building in American foreign policy. It is a policy with extremely uneven results.

Entering the War[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

As the United States engage in the war, we retrieve as certain number of themes. The entry of the United States into the war is not an automatic phenomenon insofar as it is the subject of discussions and negotiations within the machinery of the American state and administrative machinery and in particular between the President and his administration, and more precisely between the President and the War Department. In times of crisis, the president is often more interventionist than his administration, and moreover, periods of crisis are times when presidential power asserts itself over Congress. The outbreak of the Second World War did not escape the rule, there was a conflict between Roosevelt and his administration, which turned to Roosevelt's advantage. The United States is going to go to war after a fairly lengthy process.

From 1937 onwards, there were a number of factors that led American public opinion, the American political class and the President to gradually turn around and be in favour of intervention alongside the European powers. The year 1937 was the year in which World War II broke out sometime following Japan's invasion of China, which was the affirmation of Japan's clear ambitions.

Hitler and his officers, with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

1938 is important because in Europe there are anti-Semitic persecutions, especially in Germany they are unprecedented acts of violence with the Crystal Night in particular. Jewish immigration became important, bringing to the attention of American public opinion the reality of the Nazi regime. In September 1939 war broke out with the invasion of Poland.

As in 1914, in 1939, the question arises whether the United States should remain neutral. This gives Roosevelt and his Senate a great deal of debate. It is a question of whether or not the United States should declare itself in favour of European democracies. There's a whole time when we're waiting. What will really launch the machine of American engagement is the invasion of France and the fall of France.

The fall of France in May 1940 is symbolically important, because it is one of the nations that won the First World War, reputed to have the first year of the world. This is a real trauma for the French but also for Roosevelt, as American opinion and Roosevelt, among others, understand that France is no longer a great power. This will play an important role in Roosevelt's willingness to engage with democracies against Nazism.

From 1940 onwards, a machine was set up even if the declaration of war was not on the agenda. There is a preparation process in particular with the organization of conscription in September 1940. Above all, the Loans and Loans Act of 1941, which is a law that overturns the Cash and Carry Act of 1937, is a law that allows the United States to sell or lend any possible equipment that democracies might need. This is particularly true of Great Britain in March 1941, since it is virtually the only country outside the Nazi domination of Europe. It is a way of contributing to the European war effort without going to war.

The entry into the war is progressive, it has nothing mechanical and takes place through a number of gradations from the late 1930s to 1941.

The Four Freedoms[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The intellectual context and justification of the entry into war is important in so far as Roosevelt will engage the United States in the war, it does so in the name of a number of principles in particular the defense of democracy against totalitarianism which will become a common thread of his discourse. This speech was made as early as December 1940, when the United States gradually entered the organization of a war economy even though it was not yet there. This is the first time Roosevelt has announced that the United States must be the "arsenal of democracies", that is, put its industrial apparatus at the service of the fight against Nazism, even though it has not gone to war. It is also a way of preparing public opinion for what could one day be the entry of the United States into the war.

January 6,1941 is the date of the State of the Union's speech, which is a stocktaking exercise to find out where the Union stands at the beginning of each year. However, on 6 January 1941, Roosevelt not only gave a speech from the Union's internal point of view, but also gave a speech on the Four Freedoms which concerned the whole world, the fight against Nazism. This discourse on the state of the Union is also a discourse on the state of the world. In the American project, the line between what is happening inside the United States and what is happening outside the United States is extremely blurred in the idea that the world is an extension of the United States.

The speech pronounces the famous four freedoms which are four freedoms necessary to know the freedoms of expression and the freedom of religions applied to the whole world, but resulting from the American constitution allowing to glimpse the potentially internationalizable dimension of the American political synthesis. Finally, freedom to live free from the need not contained in the U.S. Constitution, but which is an achievement of the New Deal since freedom to live free from need was formalized in the Social Security Act of 1935, that is to say the birth of a social security system that makes it possible to constitute a net against the vagaries of life, the crisis and in particular the economic crisis. The fourth freedom is the freedom to live free from fear with a profession of political faith which is that of a struggle against totalitarianism is to place the cursor with a simple alternative between democracy and totalitarianism.

Through the discourse of the Four Freedoms, there is a global project that is affirmed even though the United States has not gone to war. This project was further elaborated in August 1941 with the Atlantic Charter, which takes up the discourse of the Four Freedoms and places the fight against Nazism and thus the construction or reconstruction of democracy at the heart of the United States' international priorities. We can see how the Atlantic Charter is only a resumption or extension of the Wilsonian project and in particular as expressed in the Fourteen Points of 1918. There's a continuity between Wilson and Roosevelt. There is also the affirmation of the anti-colonialist principle that is consubstantial to American foreign policy and becomes central to a project that has an international vocation with the idea of making it a structuring principle of what the future organization of the world will be when the war is over. The Atlantic Charter affirmed that the future pillars of the United Nations, which are largely American in origin, will be the pillars of the United Nations, namely world peace, democracy everywhere, the market economy as linked to democracy and the issue of social security.

Sharing Areas of Influence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

At the end of the war and at a time when the settlement of the conflict is imminent, the essential point is the sharing of zones of influence between those who have become the two great actors and powers of the conflict, namely the United States and the USSR with a whole series of conferences, notably in Tehran between November and December 1943, in Moscow in October 1944, in Yalta in February 1945, in San Francisco from May to June 1945, and finally in Potsdam. Post-war issues are resolved in several years with a series of major summit conferences addressing two main types of issues: military and political. Military issues are a matter of strategies to be implemented being immediate problems from the military point of view, political problems concerning what will happen after the war. In 1944, the issue is not whether the war will be won, but when. A system-to-system, design-to-design logic is already being implemented. These are two very different ideas from the post-1945 geopolitical order.

Allied leaders at the conference. From left to right: Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin.

It is in Yalta where it is discussed in more detail, the fundamental principles are:

  • The final destruction of Nazism, i. e. unconditional surrender;
  • Affirmation that all liberated peoples should be able to choose the political regime they wish to endow themselves with the idea that free elections should be held everywhere;
  • The fact that Stalin enters the war against Japan once Germany is defeated in order to pick up Japan;
  • the reconstruction and replacement of Poland to the west;
  • enlargement of the Polish provisional government so that the Polish government is open to non-communists. Poland is a central element of Eastern European geopolitics, as it was at the end of the First World War.

Yalta was the subject of a great bargain. Roosevelt and Churchill are prepared to make major concessions in particular to secure Stalin's military engagement against Japan. In Yalta, the one who gets his way is Stalin who gets a lot of things from Churchill and Roosevelt making extremely vague promises about the elections in Eastern Europe and Poland in particular.

During the 1944 - 1945 period there was a division of zones of influence where the respective political projects finally began to confront themselves with a whole series of nonformalized ambiguities but which were to become clearer in the weeks and months that followed.

Entering the Cold War: Europe[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Denazification and Democratic Reconstruction[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The challenge is denazification in Germany and Austria. In Germany, the reconstruction of German society and politics is taking place. One of the most important goals of the United States is to rebuild German society on a democratic basis. We will see the US nation-building project unfold, Germany being one of the experimental sites. The idea is ultimately to eradicate the germs of totalitarianism from German society and to build a society on new foundations, especially on a democratic basis, hence the Nuremberg Tribunal. The denazification involves trying those guilty of war crimes. The notion of war crimes was built on the occasion of the Nuremberg Court, during which Nazi dignitaries were judged.

Robert Jackson addressing the court.

The Nuremberg Court only deals with the greatest personalities, but the American objective is to de-nazify German society in depth. An extremely detailed questionnaire process is submitted to those who have had administrative responsibilities at any level in the Nazi state. Finally, it soon turns out that it is difficult to implement the process of denazification because, to varying degrees, whole sections of German society have more or less willingly or forcibly participated in the totalitarian enterprise. The American ambition to set up a survey on the scale of the German society turns short quite quickly because it is difficult to implement, it is difficult to know the degree of responsibility of each other, to know whether it was voluntary or not. In addition, the company is faced with a concrete reality that in order to put the German political, economic and social machinery back into operation, it is necessary to have managers capable of running the state, local and national administration, companies, etc., who are capable of running the company. On the one hand, the results are rather mixed, and after some trials, from 1948 and 1949 onwards, the denazification enterprise was more or less abandoned. The project is much less ambitious than expected.

Alongside the process in depth, there is an important and real restructuring of political institutions, since it is the whole political and administrative functioning of Germany that has been merged with the complete repeal of all Nazi laws since 1945 and the fundamental law of 8 May 1949, which is the constitution of what will become the Federal Republic of Germany. When we look at the fundamental law and the American constitution, there is a lot of similarity and in fact, the German political system is built on the model of the American political system with, in particular, a federal state, a bilateral system. The American model is quite clear: there is a concrete manifestation of a strategy to rebuild an ex nihilo political regime, since there is a complete abrogation of Nazi laws and the construction of a democratic constitution in a country that has no democratic tradition.

In Austria, the process is about the same with the same project and the same problems. However, Austria is the stake of a geopolitical object which means that it will not be anchored in the west, the Austrian state treaty ratifies the neutralization of Austria in 1955. In a way, the political reconstruction effort in Austria has been far less than in Germany.

The denazification and democratic reconstruction are two things that go hand in hand and which, despite the broad initial ambitions, are gradually being abandoned.

The USSR: the glacis strategy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

On the one hand, the United States is putting in place a global strategy, on the other hand, the USSR is in a defensive position setting up a continental strategy of glacis on a more than global scale. It is a superpower like the United States, but in a weak position being economically less developed than the United States.

The USSR paid the heaviest price with 20 million deaths, almost half of the total number of victims of the Second World War, the country is completely traumatized by the two successive invasions of 1914 and 1941, the obsessive objective of which is to ensure security against a possible invasion in the near future, hence the strategy of the glacis in order to create a certain number of buffer states between the Western powers and the Soviet Union. All the communist regimes established in 1945 - 1946 and confirmed in 1947 - 1948 are regimes intended to ensure the security of the USSR. The question in this process is whether this strategy is a threat to Western Europe and what Stalin's intentions are.

In the American vision, there is the idea that communism can spread in Europe and that the glacis can go further and further west. This may explain the affirmation of Cold War policy in Europe from 1946-1947.

The American response: Containment[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

This is to respond to the potential threat that the American Cold War policy known as containment in shaped. At first there is a passive attitude of Roosevelt who is at the end of his mandate and at the end of his life. He was ready to make many concessions in order to obtain from Stalin a whole series of things and in particular Stalin's commitment against Japan. It was from 1946 onwards that the new President Truman gradually reacted with the implementation of a strategy, notably with the telegram Kennan in February 1946 describing the Soviet strategy and advocating containment.

Between the beginning of 1946 and the beginning of 1947, the containment strategy was put in place, the first concrete manifestation of which was in March 1947 with the help of the Greek and Turkish governments, which was a first release of funds in order to redress the situation in particular of Greece, which the United States considered as potentially winnable by the USSR. Finally, March 1947 was the beginning of the Marshall Plan even before the Marshall Plan began.

What is interesting is to see how the containment strategy is implemented. There are both globalist principles and at the same time the entry into the Cold War is not mechanical either. Between 1945 and 1947, the Cold War logic was established and the American doctrine of containment became clear, applying to Europe and rapidly becoming a global doctrine on a global scale.

The strategy is comprehensive because it covers all areas of activity; it is military in the first place, referring in particular to the National Security Act; it is an economic strategy resulting in the implementation of the Marshall Plan; it is also a political strategy with the idea of nation-building in order to help a certain number of countries financially and militarily and to support a certain number of organisations which the United States believes that they are able to support.

Confrontation on the field[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

A 1962 nuclear explosion as seen through the periscope of a U.S. Navy submarine. The goal was to contain Communist expansion without a nuclear war.

On the ground we are in a very concrete confrontation logic between the two. Between 1947 and 1949, there was a series of very important events such as the Berlin Airlift episode following the Soviet blockade of the Allied area of Berlin.

With the creation of the Atlantic Pact in April 1949, there was the creation of a military alliance between the various European countries and the United States. The significance of the Atlantic Pact is the American military umbrella of all Western Europe. It is a logic of a confrontation with the creation of the Warsaw Pact that will respond to the Atlantic Pact.

The Greek crisis of 1949 is important from the point of view of the American strategy since there is on the one hand the United States which proclaims the principle of universal diffusion of democracy considering Greece as an absolutely fundamental and key country ready to fall on the communist side. In the Greek crisis, the United States will come to support a dictatorial regime that was imposed in the late 1940s to prevent the country from falling under communist domination. We see the contradiction or paradox in the principles and the global strategy and action on the ground, where realpolitik prevails over the implementation of the fundamental principles.

Finally, in the 1950s, the American strategy did not follow a very clear guideline; it was an evolutionary and hesitant strategy between a firm attitude towards the Soviet Union or a much more flexible attitude aimed at protecting the adversary.

Globalization of the American model?[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Japan[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Japan is a key location since it was occupied by the Americans between 1945 and 1952, administered by General Mac Arthur. One of the objectives of the US military occupation is also to rebuild Japanese society on a democratic basis in order to remove the bases of Japanese militarism. Like Germany, the American objective is to rebuild a society on democratic bases on the basis of the American model. The Americans act alone while in Germany the American occupation is with the English and French. The nation-building process is set up according to the same pattern as in Germany, with the abolition of laws passed under the military regime, the establishment of religious freedom and freedom of expression, but also the establishment of a political system similar to that of the United States with political pluralism, a two-chamber system, the constitution of intermediary bodies and in particular trade unions. It is a democratic political regime, even though strictly from a legal point of view Japan is a constitutional monarchy, but functioning as a democracy.

The Japanese constitution of 1947 is a kind of "copy and paste" of the American constitution, there is an important influence of the American political system in the reconstruction of the Japanese political system. There are also a series of trials of Japanese criminals. His also implemented an agrarian reform to deconcentrate land ownership and a process of decartellisation since the Japanese economy was concentrated among a few groups.

There is a series of fairly similar processes at the global level. There is the same process as in Germany, and just like in Germany, the process runs up against the same problems. The process of demilitarisation and "detotalitarisation" of Japanese society is confronted with the same problems as in Germany, i. e. if everyone is judged, there is no one left to rebuild the country. At some point the process is halted and particularly in the economic field, decartellisation is halted fairly quickly, since only large industrial groups are able to turn the economy around quickly.

From the moment that the Cold War logic is announced and asserted, denazification in Germany and demilitarization in Japan is second only to the fight against the communist. The political project of democratization becomes secondary behind the realpolitik of power relations with the USSR. There is soon a return of traditional elites, including those who were very much involved in Japan's expansionist enterprise, are hardly worried. The emperor himself is completely out of the question and not judged, because the United States needs a symbol that embodies the unity of Japan. Any discussion of the Emperor's role in Japan's declaration of war effort is ignored.

There is an important nation-building process with an undeniable remodelling of Japanese institutions but it is a process that remains largely unfinished for both internal and external reasons that are linked to the Cold War logic.

China[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

China is an extremely important country in Roosevelt's strategy. If Roosevelt wanted to involve China in the Security Council at the end of the 1930s, it was because the Communist Party was almost ready to take power. Roosevelt's primary objective is to prevent China from falling into the communist escarcelle and admitting it to the great powers club in 1945. The idea is to try to anchor it as far west as possible and give it the opportunity to do a democratic reconstruction.

It is a strategy that will gradually fail because of an extremely strong opposition between the nationalists and the communists who, after having set up a modus vivendi during the Second World War, are once again confronting each other, leading the installation of Mao in 1949 to power. We see the limits of American influence in the world. The seizure of power by the communists in 1949 is one of the undeniable signs that the American political project runs up against a number of resistance. The project pursued was identical, but was stopped by the Communist power prayer.

Korea[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In Korea, we find the same kind of situation since the south of Korea was occupied by the United States in 1945. In Yalta, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill shared areas of influence in both Europe and Asia. It was anticipated that North Korea would be under Soviet influence and South Korea under American influence.

Syngman Rhee, in May 1951.

Korea is occupied and the occupation of the country is ill-prepared. The United States was unfamiliar with the region, and there are very few interpreters who speak Korean that do not facilitate communication with the population. Finally, the United States does not know what to do in Korea in comparison with Germany and Japan. There is an attempt at reconstruction on the American model without having prepared things well. The United States will try to encourage the development of a moderate political class that shares the same objectives but does not succeed. The leaders they will find are much more conservative, especially with Syngman Rhee in power following the 1948 elections, which turned out to be much less democratic than the Americans had imagined. The United States will have to live with it because from 1947 - 1948 onwards we are in the logic of the Cold War, and stability is much more important than democracy.

While this regime was being established in South Korea, the communist regime was also being established in North Korea, triggering an offensive in South Korea in June 1950. This was followed by an American counter-attack, which was itself followed by the entry of China into the Korean War by unofficially sent soldiers. Quite quickly, we arrive at a status quo between the two Koreas, which was confirmed by the 1953 armistice, which cut Korea in half and to this day. The Armistice enshrines a political division that was more a division of zones of influence in 1945 - 1946 becoming a clear division.

After the armistice, the United States will continue to support Syngman Rhee's rebellion, which is not a very democratic regime and will be overthrown in 1961 by a military coup d’État that will maintain a fairly fierce dictatorship until the early 1980s, also supported by the United States. We note the same type of configuration between the objective of democratisation and then realpolitik and the adaptation to the Cold War context with the idea of stability, which is more important than the establishment of a democratisation of local society.

Vietnam: between Nation building and the excessive war[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In Vietnam, as in other countries and other Cold War theatres, the United States has tried to implement a nation-building policy on democratic bosses to anchor Vietnam in the west. There is competition between two political regimes. This nation-building process will go hand in hand with and violently contradict an excessive war process that was set up by the United States from the 1960s onwards. Initially, at the end of the Second World War, the United States was in favour of Vietnam's independence under its anti-colonialist posture, except that it would soon be lowered to half mast by the outbreak of the Cold War in 1947.

When the French moved back to Indochina in 1945 - 1946 after having been driven out by the Japanese, they were not welcome, but the United States let it go since the French would handle the rhetoric of containment. After the end of the Indochina war lost by the French in 1954, the United States took over from the French and settled in Vietnam with an interventionist program that reached a very significant degree in the 1960s.

The crisis of the model[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the late 1940s, throughout all of the 1950s and early 1960s, it was a situation of frontal opposition between the United States and the USSR with an American model that had an important prestige and a fairly positive image in much of the world. For part of the world, the United States is often a more attractive model than the USSR.

This model will enter into crisis from the 1960s onwards, particularly for internal and external reasons.

The flaws of the model proposed to the world[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The internal reasons are first and foremost the flaws of this model proposed to the world. On the one hand, a superpower that proposes the export of democracy, the liberalization of the market, that denazifiers; within the United States, society is not as democratic as it would like to be. In particular, there is the theme of "imperfect democracy" or "incomplete democracy" as the United States promotes democracy in the world:

  • Racial segregation: it is a society based on the strict separation of blacks and whites until 1954 with the judgment of Plessy v. Ferguson. This is a constant element in the debate about the relative role of the United States in the world;
  • the excluded from the consumer society: one of the important elements of the American democracy project is to link democracy and market economy. One becomes a citizen through access to the market economy and consumerism. However, the consumer society, even if it is broader than in European countries at the same time, it has many exclusions.

Throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, not only in countries opposed to the United States, but also in countries that are in American orbit, the United States is extremely critical of these two points. The flaws of this model were even more pronounced in the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement leading to intense unrest in the United States, even with extremely violent struggles.

The question of the discourse, on the one hand, and the question of action on the ground, on the other hand, refer to the question of the end and means. On the one hand, there is a global politics of which democracy is one of the pillars and at the same time the United States is implementing the National Security Act of 1947 the CIA which is a kind of free electron in the American administrative maze being involved in a number of coups d'état with the idea of democratizing by force or setting up regimes that are more anti-communist. The role of the CIA is widely debated throughout Europe, and this is one of the elements where the American model is being contested on a theme that cannot be democratised by force.

This debate has been growing since the late 1950s, when we can take stock of what American policy on democratization has been like since the end of the Second World War. There is an extremely mixed record because, on the one hand, there are two countries where there has been a relatively successful restructuring of the political regimes with Germany and Japan despite a few caveats, but there are also a whole series of failures, particularly Korea and Vietnam, which broke out in the mid-1960s.

The mid-1960s was the time when both the civil rights movement within the United States began to become extremely violent and outside it was the time when the United States became very active in Vietnam. Specifically, in Vietnam, nation-building policy collides with excessive warfare. The main failure of the United States in Vietnam is to have put in place both at the same time: to have put in place a nation-building policy with the funding of organizations, infrastructure and the attempt to set up civil society frameworks in parallel with a logic of excessive war commitment and the support of the regime in South Vietnam which is a dictatorial regime making their policy illegible for local populations making them hate even more. The Vietnam War is the implementation of the strategy of nation-building and excessive warfare.

A whole series of other more or less non-aligned countries will, from the 1960s onwards, highlight the fact that the United States has not succeeded in rallying them. From the mid-1960s onwards, we gradually entered a period of crisis in the American model, which would rise until the early 1970s.

Domestic Challenge[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The protest against the Vietnam war began within American society with extremely strong debates. The protest against the Vietnam War began on American campuses in the early and mid-1960s because American students did not want to fight in Vietnam. One should not think that opposition to the Vietnam war is only external, being debated within American society.

It is also important to take into account the evolution of the American left and part of the political class in relation to the American project. If we look at the long term, there is the implementation of American democratic messianism, which is initially rather manipulated by the Republicans with Theodore Roosevelt, then becoming a consensus within the political class, since the Democrats will appropriate this term especially with Wilson. Until the late 1950s, democratic messianism was a consensus within the Republican and Democratic parties. Democratic messianism will cease to be a consensus, particularly in the Democratic Party where the challenge to American politics and the American commitment to Vietnam is beginning to develop. Johnson who succeeds Kennedy is a Democratic president, but will have to deal with growing opposition within his own ranks against his engagement in Vietnam. A whole section of the Democratic Party and the left-wing Democrat obedience party will, from the late 1960s onwards, criticise American messianism. There is a rupture of political consensus and we see how a certain number of members of the Democratic Party break away from this idea, which is no longer necessarily a consensus in American politics. The crisis of this model has external aspects, but also internal aspects. The consensus broke in the 1960s.

External Challenge: Anti-Americanism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

There is growing criticism of the American political model, including in allied countries. From the 1960s onwards, anti-Americanism, including in Western Europe, became extremely strong at events such as the pivotal Vietnam War.

The Decline of the 1970s[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The 1970s were marked by a time when the United States downgraded the mission of universal diffusion of democracy, firstly because global messianism was a bit of a stalemate, and secondly because a whole series of Third World countries did not side with the Western world, marking a failure on the part of the United States. The 1970s were a time of reflection at a time when the Soviet model was gaining a number of successes:

  • 1970: Creation of the Democratic Republic of South Yemen
  • 1974: coup d'état in Ethiopia
  • 1975: MPLA takes power in Angola
  • 1975: Creation of the People's Republic of Mozambique
  • 1975: Reunification of Vietnam
  • 1975: Khmer Rouge capture of power in Cambodia
  • 1975: Creation of the Lao People's Democratic Republic
  • 1978: Communist coup d'état in Afghanistan.

These are countries where communist regimes take power as strategic defeats for the United States. From the moment the United States disengaged, North Vietnam took over from South Vietnam, leading to Vietnam's reunification in 1975. There is the seizure of power by communist regimes, which are points gained by the Soviets and points lost by the United States. After 1973, the United States lost influence in Latin America as a result of the coup d’état in Chile.

The 1970s were marked by an expansion of the Soviet model, which was already completely in crisis from an internal point of view, but which, from the outside, was extremely attractive when one looked at the various countries where these regimes were set up.

The last symbol of the American backlash is the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the seizure of power by Ayatollah Khomeiny ending with the crisis of the hostages of the American embassy. Looking back at the 1960s and 1970s, there is a period after a flourishing American model after the first few years of the Cold War, a fairly strong decade, when messianism based on the global diffusion of an American-style democracy came to a standstill in the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1970s, we came to the end of a time marked by the Iranian revolution.

The transformations of moral imperialism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

There is a mutation in both the ideological underpinnings and forms of American interventionism abroad in the diffusion of democracy.

1980 to 2013 corresponds to the end of the Cold War. The exit process from the Cold War is relatively long. A number of things that are present in the 1990s have already been put in place in the 1980s and under the Reagan presidency. In this period, there is an extremely strong domination of the United States on the world stage. From the break-up of the USSR, there is an extremely strong imbalance between the United States and the other powers. This period from the late 1970s to the present day and marked by a return to American unilateralism, even if this is not valid for the whole period, but above all for the decade from the 1990s to the present.

The Democratic Party and the Decline of Democratic Messianism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Moral imperialism is not only an American specificity that began to be forged at the beginning of the 20th century with the Wilson presidency. Moral imperialism remained an element of consensus in the American political class until the late 1960s when consensus cracked and broke. American moral imperialism remains, but there are a number of transformations.

The transition from moral messianism is from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party since there is a time when American messianism, broadly formulated by the Democrats, becomes much more of a republican discourse with other expectations.

Official portrait of Jimmy Carter, in 1977.

The Vietnam war is an absolutely fundamental moment that is a crack in the model, when the American model appears increasingly doubtful in increasingly important parts of the world. This is valid in the American political class, in American and world opinion. There is a time when the consensus breaks down. We can see it clearly in the subsequent presidencies and in particular in Jimmy Carter's presidency, who is the first president since Wilson who is a democrat to lower the theme of the worldwide diffusion of democracy. It is a time when the American model is going backwards, there is a whole series of successes of the Soviet model. There is a setback in the American model, and during the Carter presidency from 1976 to 1980 there was half-mast of this process in favour of a north-south dialogue. On the other hand, there is a relaxation of relations and dialogue with the USSR, particularly through disarmament agreements. It is clear that the Carter presidency marks a change in the United States' position from a democratic messianic standpoint.

Official portrait of Barack Obama in 2012.

The Clinton and Obama Presidencies have highlighted a number of elements, including the democrats' abandonment of democratic messianism. The discourse is apparently very Wilsonian, but in the end, on the ground, there is a rather cautious foreign policy that is moving fairly quickly towards unilateralism. When we look at the various intervention frameworks, particularly following the suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen Square riots, there is almost no reaction except formal one from the American presidency's point of view. When we look at the attitude towards political unrest in Haiti in the early 1990s, while Haiti has traditionally been an American field of intervention since the early 20th century, there is a relatively cautious policy. In Somalia, the U.S. intervention is suffering some damage, and the United States is rapidly retreating. The discourse remains the same, but this will be characterised in particular by the fact that the fields of intervention are reduced and from 1994 onwards, the United States will withdraw from UN peacekeeping operations. It is a strong symbol, knowing that the United States was very much involved in the creation of the United Nations. In the aftermath of the 1990s, disengagement was confirmed as the reason why the United States did not intervene during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, while its intervention in the former Yugoslavia was very limited. Under Clinton's presidency, the notion of moral and democratic messianism and handled with extreme caution. This is paradoxical since the United States has a boulevard ahead of it, since the Soviet model has collapsed, offering the United States the opportunity to embody the only model on offer. Since 2008, with Obama's presidency, this caution has been evident in particular with the withdrawal from Iraq and a status quo in Afghanistan with a planned withdrawal in 2014.

Whether it is Carter, Clinton or Obama, the question that may be asked is whether the Democrats can still make Wilsonian moralism their own. The answer is not univocal, but rather negative.

The Neoconservative Movement[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

There has been an extremely important change in American foreign policy since the late 1970s, marked by the rise of the neoconservative movement and the influence that movement will have on American foreign policy, not having an immediate impact but over the long term. To understand the movement, we have to go back up the chronology and in particular to the 1960s. The origins of the neoconservative movement are in fact within the democratic party and a fraction of a part of the Democratic Party that does not agree with the democratic politics of the 1960s. These are people who disagree with the civil rights policy and affirmative action in the 1960s by Johnson. A fraction both agree with Johnson's interventionism in Vietnam, but disagree with his domestic positions. There is a split within the Democratic Party with a fraction of the Democrats who will gradually break away from their party's consensus. In the 1960s, the rupture is still not very visible. From the moment the presidency disengages from Vietnam, they are people who will be orphaned by the Democratic Party and go to the other side. The origins of the conservative movement lie within the Democratic Party with both internal and external political influences.

Logo of the Committee on the Present Danger.

For the time being, this is relatively inconspicuous because there is a relative minority group within the Democratic Party, but one that will gradually pass its arguments on to the Republican side. There was an important moment when the Committee on Present Danger was reactivated in 1976. This committee is a lobby set up in 1950 with the aim of trying to push and influence in favour of a more aggressive policy towards the USSR in support of the NSC-68 directive, which sets the framework for American policy on containment of communism and the explosion of military credits. From the moment the NSC-68 passed, it is a committee not formally dissolved, but dormant. This committee will reactivate itself in the early 1970s at a time when American foreign policy is in retreat from the time the idea of democratic messianism and offensive action in the Cold War is muted.

It's a body where Democrats are the first to meet, but there are a number of Republicans, including Ronald Reagan, who went into politics in front of the President of the United States in 1981. This committee is a meeting place between a fraction of the Democratic Party and Republicans. It is a place of passage from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party where there will be more resonance. It is one of the laboratories of the constitution of what will become an ideological corpus of the Republican Party during the Reagan presidency.

The Republican Party: a neo-wilsonism?[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas.

The question that can be asked is whether the Republican Party, Reagan and the Bush fathers and sons have a neowilsonian body of doctrine that makes the spread of democracy their battle horse.

Under the two Reagan Presidencies from 1980 to 1988, the neoconservative discourse was to have an important influence and in particular a whole section of the American academic community and American politicians who were to contribute to the development of the neowilsonian discourse of the Republican Party such as Francis Fukuyama who worked at the RAND corporation and Robert Kagan who worked at the Policy Planning Staff. There is a relationship between the sphere of political expertise and the sphere of political decision-making. All these people will contribute to the construction of the neoconservative body of doctrine in which the crusade for democracy plays a fundamental role.

The neoconservative body of doctrine will find its way into the federal administration through individuals who will hold positions in the Reagan administration such as Paul Wolfowitz who is part of the principal private secretary[PPS], Casper Wainberger at the Secretary of Defense. All the key positions have neoconservatives or people who are relatively close to them.

Their influence is crucial in understanding what is one of the guiding threads of foreign policy under Reagan, which is the Cold War's resumption. With the arrival of Reagan in power there is a frontal resumption of the Cold War with support for the mujahedin in Afghanistan against the Soviets. In Nicaragua, there is support for the opposition to the Sandinista regime in Ortega. At a time when the situation had stabilized in the 1970s, there was a resumption of the American offensive in all the theatres of operations with the idea of specialists and neoconservatives to overthrow the Soviet regime and those who belonged to them and were related to them, and which must be pushed in this direction. It is a logic of recovery and rising from the Cold War. The Star Wars project allows the military budget to increase again.

The Bush presidency from 1988 to 1992 is complicated to interpret. It has Wilsonian accents, but generally speaking, it triggers the war in Iraq and opts for a cautious policy in Iraq. Under Bush Sr., the neo-conservatives had less influence than under Reagan. The major fact is the war in Iraq, which is the first war in Iraq to drive Iraq out of Kuwait and leave Saddam Hussein in place when the neo-conservatives wanted to drive him out of Iraq.

Under George W. Bush's presidencies from 2000 to 2008, there is talk of "kicked wilsonism" which is an expression of political scientist Pierre Hassner which means a revival of Wilsonian moralism with a militaristic dimension which in the body of doctrine is provided by the neoconservatives. The foreign policy put in place is based on a whole university production that develops immediately after the fall of the communist world. Francis Fukuyama talks about the end of history with the fall of the USSR since there is only an existing model which means the end of history. There is a discourse according to which during the 20th century, there was a confrontation between several forms of regimes. As Nazism and communism collapsed, the American model is all that remains. It was also the period of the Democratic Peace Theory and Democratic Transition Theory that updated the theories of modernization in the 1950s. This production seeks to implement a completely new theory of the political situation that illustrates the fall of the communist world.

That is when institutionalist liberalism becomes a true ideology. It is from there that there is the certainty that the democratic model represents the only model is that it is legitimate to impose oneself, including by all means, in the rest of the world. There is the observation that the Soviet model has collapsed and a legitimacy to export the American model to the rest of the world. After the neoconservatives were removed from key positions during the Bush and Clinton Presidencies, they return to the time of George W. Bush's presidency.

An organization serves as a meeting place, the Project for the New American Century, where the tenors of the neoconservative movement meet with Fukuyama and Kagan. This project is a neo-conservative think tank that calls on the US government to assume its responsibilities in terms of foreign policy, calling for the US model to be disseminated by all possible means. In the aftermath of the September 11,2001 attacks, it was this group that wrote an open letter to President George Bush in support of an intervention in Afghanistan.

This corpus will be put into practice when the neoconservative movement recovers seats in George Bush's administration. The Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld trio will play a role in designing the frameworks for the US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003. The key moment of the neoconservative movement is 2003 - 2004 when there is still a fairly strong consensus at the level of opinion. From 2004 onwards, the movement cracked with an increase in protest. Between 2000 and 2004, the neoconservatives were at the helm of American foreign policy.

The spokesman for neoconservatism and the republican party became from the 1990s onwards a more aggressive movement with the intervention in the Afghan and Iraqi cases.

From the Communist enemy to the Islamist enemy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It is interesting to see the transition from one to the other because it reveals a number of things about the constitution of American politics.

The fall of the USSR[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

What characterizes the Reagan presidency in foreign policy is the resumption of the Cold War with the idea of harassing the USSR as much as possible in order to hasten its downfall. On the other hand, there is a debate about whether the collapse of communism was due to harassment by the United States in foreign policy or simply the result of the internal disintegration of the regime itself. Through this debate, the legitimacy of neoconservatism is at stake. If the collapse of the USSR is the cause of the harassment of the neoconservatives, it legitimizes their rhetoric to continue to move in this direction; if it is the opposite, if the collapse of the Soviet regime is due to its internal disintegration and the reforms put in place by Gorbachev, the legitimising rhetoric is much less important. It is a debate that has stirred intellectual and political circles enormously. From this point of view, the place of the neoconservatives made more noises than the others. The idea was that if the USSR had collapsed so quickly, it was due to the federal administration of President Reagan.

The 1990s and the march towards unilateralism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

We must ask ourselves what is happening from the global point of view of the construction of American policy. There is a clear return of the United States to a clear, global and much more unilateral policy. In the early 1990s, there was the Gulf war, which was an episode if not a consensual one where international law was respected and legitimized by the UN. In a way, the First Gulf War may appear to be a Wilsonian moment in which there is international legitimacy and the application of democratic principles as part of a coalition to uphold international law and bring Iraq out of Kuwait.

When we look at what happens after that, it is finally a fairly rapid return to unilateralism. It is a cautious foreign policy, and the rejection of interventionism is also and is beginning to be that if ever there is a need to intervene, the United States would do it on its own. That is when there is a change in American foreign policy and the main target is no longer communism, but international terrorism. That is when the term rogue states first appears. International terrorism is becoming an important focus of US foreign policy, explaining that there is a proliferation of attacks on US interests. With Clinton, there is a very Wilsonian discourse, but at the same time, the United States is turning to a unilateral policy. George W. Bush is simply continuing a unilateral policy under Bill Clinton. The theme of rogue states, the focus on international terrorism, began under Clinton. Terrorism is becoming an important aspect of American foreign policy, the communist enemy and replaced by the Islamist enemy.

Under Clinton's presidency, we are in a time that is slipping towards unilateralism, particularly with two laws that fairly clearly demonstrate the extra-territorialism of the United States, testifying to the willingness of the United States to act on the international stage:

  • The Amato-Kennedy Law of 1996 established sanctions against American or non-American companies that will invest in strategic sectors in Iran or Libya. They are states that are considered Rogue states and will invest in oil and gas. The laws of extraterritoriality are in any case quite remarkable;
  • The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 which introduced sanctions against Cuba, implying sanctions against American and non-American companies trading with Cuba.

It is a shift in American foreign policy towards significant unilateralism.

The attitude of the United States towards the International Criminal Court is characteristic of unilateralism, since the International Criminal Court was created in 1998 and the United States did not adhere to it. After having been historical promoters of international law, when the International Criminal Court was created at that time, they did not participate in it, noting that the shift towards unilateralism began in the 1990s under the Clinton and Bush presidencies.

Transformational Diplomacy and the War on Terrorism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The shift towards unilateralism will gradually transform itself into transformational diplomacy by the federal administration and lead to a war on terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The war on terrorism is the Islamist threat implemented by the United States in the 2000s to a number of roots that must go back to the Iranian revolution of 1979, when Islam appeared as a geopolitical threat to the United States.

Throughout the Cold War, the Middle East was in American orbit with the Shah of Iran and the oil monarchies that were under American military umbrella. The Middle East is under control and not part of American concerns. Everything changes with the Iranian revolution of 1979 which brought to power the regime of Ayatollah Khomeiny which is a new political object is unknown for the United States being violently anti-western and anti-American.

The Iranian revolution of 1979, for the United States is the potentiality is the realization of the Middle East in general from the American orbit to something else. It's a region that the United States thinks it's coming out of, and that's in fact under its control. Islam in its most radical form enters the radar of American foreign policy. In the 1990s, Pakistan's case was grafted as an object of concern. Historically, Pakistan has been part of the Baghdad Pact as an ally and not a particular problem for the United States. On the other hand, at the time of the Afghanistan war, this becomes a special case as Pakistan becomes a backbench for the mujahedin against the communists and anti-American. Pakistan will play a double game by supporting the mujahideen and cooperating with the United States. Pakistan becomes an uncontrollable ally and potentially an enemy.

Saudi Arabia became an ally of the United States, except that from the 1980s and 1990s, Saudi Arabia was an ally, but also the cradle of terrorism, especially Osama bin Laden. Finally, the United States are less and less willing to play a double game against Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

A series of changes are taking place in the geopolitics of the Middle East. Islam in general becomes a potential political enemy. From the moment the Soviet regime fell in 1991, the enemy number one in American conceptions of the 1990s was radical Islam. The concept of the war on terrorism implemented in the 2000s is the culmination of this movement.

This will develop dramatically during the 1990s with the First Gulf War, but especially its aftermath and in particular the embargo imposed on the Iraqi population under the aegis of the UN, but under American dominance. The embargo aimed at bringing down Saddam Hussein does not work, starving the Iraqi people and damaging the American image in the region. The geopolitical situation in the Middle East is becoming increasingly uncontrollable during this decade. During the 1990s, opposition to the West and the United States became increasingly strong in this region of the world, resulting in a series of attacks, including the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and a series of attacks on American interests in the Middle East and Africa.

September 11 is only the most dramatic attack in a series of attacks. A huge literature has blossomed, but this is not such an important moment because it is not a fundamental geopolitical rupture. It is a symbolic event for the United States, but it is not a founding event. 9/11 is more of an accelerator than a breakup. The transition from American politics to a more unilateral dimension has begun further.

The neoconservative movement will push for a militarization of the American intervention. September 11 signals the Bush Presidency's transformational diplomacy to reshape the Middle East from Mauritania to Pakistan. The nerve centre of the Middle East and Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The idea is to consider all these states that are non-democratic or Islamist as potential enemies of the United States, and it is only by democratizing the Middle East that we can secure the area. Transformational diplomacy is the idea of turning the Middle East into a democratic environment. This strategy was first implemented in Afghanistan and Iraq. The name of the operations is symbolic of this policy with "Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan in 2000 and "Iraqi Freedom" in Iraq in 2003.

We see how danger number one in American foreign policy is no longer communism, but Islam.

Builders of democracy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

We will see how this strategy is being implemented on the ground and its effects.

Human rights diplomacy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

First, it is necessary to show how American foreign policy promoted democracy abroad from the 1970s and 1980s onwards gradually integrated human rights discourse.

Under Jimmy Carter's presidency, foreign policy is in line with a more relaxed policy towards the USSR. Carter will focus on supporting dissidents, especially in Poland. The notion of human rights first appeared in American foreign policy in the 1970s. This notion of human rights will become one of the central and ideological points in the justification of American foreign policy to the neoconservative movement.

Finally, one of conservatism's ideological construction elements is to have reinterpreted the question of human rights. That is to say when the discourse on human rights has established itself at the international level with the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are conceived as an element if not an integral part of the international system or at least to be considered as a universal concept. Precisely, the neo-conservative movement will use the notion of human rights in order to nationalize it, i.e. to consider that human rights are a fundamental element that must be part of the democratization of regimes that are under communist domination. The neoconservative movement will transform human rights from something universal to something national that will strengthen democracy in a given country. For the neoconservatives, human rights are not a universal right but protect against the State's discretionary powers. The concept of human rights is conceived in the political framework and in the context of the opposition between democracy and totalitarianism. Human rights are not meant to be universal, but as an element that should protect the individual from state encroachment on individual freedoms.

The concept of human rights is mobilized by the neoconservatives to promote the idea of democratization within. Human rights are an element of the struggle against totalitarianism. This is important because the idea of human rights goes against the discretionary power of the State. Human rights are becoming an element of fundamental democracy, becoming one of the elements that must justify the universalization of the American democratic model. The notion of human rights becomes a common thread and justification for the neoconservative ideology.

Furthermore, the concept of human rights is also used against international organizations and multilateralism, which is seen as an encroachment on individual freedoms. The neoconservative movement is a unilateralist movement. The way in which the issue of human rights is nationalized by the neoconservatives will be an important element in the construction of nation-building policy, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The theme of the nationalization of human rights will be adopted by a whole series of organizations and in particular by the National Endowment for Democracy created in 1983, which is a think tank of Democrats and Republicans and which will eventually be one of the places where the policy of support and strengthening of democracy led by the United States from the 1980s onwards will be developed.

This organization has significant public funds. This organization is conducting an American and international lobbying campaign on the theme of democratization both by publishing reviews and books, but by supporting a variety of movements such as those opposed to the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Their support is part of the United States' overall policy of strengthening democracy. It's a bit of an odd organization because in a way it's taking over some of the methods the CIA has put in place. It is an organisation that is much more than just a lobby and that a simple think tank is a laboratory for disseminating the discourse of democracy, but also an armed arm that continues to implement it.

Aid to post-communist Europe[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

During the 1980s, the doctrine of the idea of the diffusion of democracy developed. From the fall of the wall, a boulevard opens up to American foreign policy. Finally, very soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, U.S. foreign policy got underway with the launch of a number of programs designed to support the regime change that is taking place in the east. At the end of 1989, the Support for East European Democracy Act was launched after the Congress to support democratic transformation in Eastern European countries. From the time the USSR fell in 1991, the same type of program was implemented with the Freedom Support Act in the spring of 1992.


This policy was launched very early on, characterized by funding and a multiplicity of actors present on the spot with the American government, governmental agencies more or less attached to the government, but with a certain degree of autonomy such as USAID, there is all the machinery of NATO and a whole series of private, public, partisan or bipartisan think tanks, there is also a whole series of private organizations, the most famous of which are the Soros foundations. A plethora of actors set up action from the fall of the wall with the idea of pushing in the direction of democratisation of Eastern Europe and the former USSR.

The avatars of the Nation-building[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

États en déliquescence d'après le Failed States Index 2012 de Foreign Policy[5]
  États en situation critique de défaillance
  États en danger de défaillance
  États en stabilisation
  États en situation stable
  États en situation très stable

This will become a reality in the 1990s and 2000. Nation-building policy will be one of the central elements of the neoconservative ideology. The central idea that began to take hold in the 1990s is the idea that there is now a boulevard for American politics, that democracy represents the end of history and the more democracy in the world the more American security and hegemony is strengthened. This discourse is all the more developed as it is at this time that the Rogue states and Failed states theory develops, which is a creation of American political science creating a ground for nation-building politics because the idea is that failed states are a breeding ground for totalitarianism, especially Islamist totalitarianism. Bankrupt states are considered to be extremely favourable soil for totalitarianism and terrorism in general. U.S. policy will target the Failed States in particular and turn them into sites for its intervention.

From that point on, nation-building becomes extremely vast: it is a matter of building a society, a state, a political system. It will be a question of judging those who are responsible politicians or not involved in massacres or settling scores. In the longer term, the objective is to build democratic institutions on the American boss and on the style of Germany, Japan and the Philippines. It will also mean demilitarising the political lives of these countries. It is also necessary to build or rebuild the economies of these countries, build infrastructures and establish a free market. The nation-building strategy is something extremely broad, ambitious and long-term, becoming one of the overriding priorities of a world in which the USSR has collapsed and where, instead of the USSR, there is potential chaos that must be solved by means of an important democratic synthesis known, in particular, by the United States.

Loya jirga of Kabul on June 13, 2002.

On the Afghan case, there is the immediate objective and immediate justification for the intervention, which is retaliation against the attacks of 11 September. Still, there is the objective of building a state on a democratic basis in the longer term. Finally, in the American intervention in Afghanistan, there is a military dimension and a political and economic dimension aimed at building democracy. We see how the American strategy includes military operations and a process of bringing together local elites. Particularly with the meeting of Loya Jirga, which is a meeting of tribal and local chiefs to draft a constitution and elections in 2004 that will see Hamid Karzai elected, there is the idea of forming an Afghan army, unifying a country and developing a market economy, especially at the expense of the drug economy.

In Afghanistan, as in Vietnam in the 1960s, the strategy of nation-building and military operations was carried out simultaneously and collided head-on, one destroying the other. The material means used are relatively important. The nation-building strategy in Afghanistan is a mixed record at the moment, since the country's pacification has not been achieved and the construction of a political regime has not been achieved either. The same reasoning can be done for Iraq. We can see how these types of strategies have been at the centre of American policy since the fall of the Wall and how the results are contrasted or even in direct contradiction with the discourses set up.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  • Cosmas, Graham A. An Army for Empire; the United States Army in the Spanish-American War. Columbia: U of Missouri, 1971. Print.
  • Steinmetz, George. Politiques Impérialistes Genèses Et Structures De L'état Colonial. Paris: Seuil, 2008.
  • Stratfor. “The Geopolitics of the United States, Part 1: The Inevitable Empire.” Stratfor, Stratfor, 4 July 2016, https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/geopolitics-united-states-part-1-inevitable-empire.

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]