Selective Attention of Western Powers in Foreign Conflicts

by Connor Pugh ‘24

Privileged American’s attitude towards their government’s foreign actions is one of complacency. If America goes to war, attitudes range from unwavering support to a sigh and shrug, with only a small minority vocal about any consequences to the people affected. It’s been 50 years since the Vietnam War, when there was any mass opposition at a noticeable scale to a foreign conflict. Even if an American citizen may have criticisms, they usually still view the United States as one of the “good guys,” the counterbalance to authoritarian states such as China and Russia. However, the truth is far from this simple, and the United States and its allies France and Britain have a long history of crimes and violent actions globally, from the Cold War to the modern day.

From the beginning of the Cold War the United States has laid out its commitment to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation” in an attempt to preserve democracy across the globe. The United States’ powerful allies pledged similar support; Britain and France took intense political and military interest in many countries across the globe for the sake of “preserving democracy,’’ especially their former colonies that became independent nations in the 1950s and 60s. Wherever these Western powers exercised their influence the lives and future of the people and governments existing there were drastically changed. However, it’s increasingly obvious that the interventions in foreign matters of other states by these formidable Western Powers were less out of a supposed goodwill and more towards maintaining the existing global hierarchy of control and keeping Western powers at the top.

When the Cold War was still going strong, the main justification for any foreign actions by these Western Powers was the ongoing fight against Communism. Under Domino Theory it was argued that if one state were to fall to communism, it’s only a matter of time before all its neighbors and eventually the whole developing world succumbs as well. Therefore, it was absolutely imperative that the United States and its allies use their strong militaries and deep pockets to prevent this from becoming a reality by any means necessary, even if it means tearing a country apart or plunging it into a dictatorship (as long as it aligned itself with Western Power’s interests and views). A prime example is when Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, was violently overthrown in a coup in 1973 with the help of the CIA. The government of Chile was then replaced with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who instituted a brutal and oppressive regime that lasted for 17 years, violated numerous human rights, and sold off the country to the highest bidder at the expense of the people.

At the same time, Britain and France were trying to maintain control of their colonies by any means necessary. As they saw their grasp on their colonies slipping away, France and Britain turned to a variety of measures to preserve their authority, ranging from explicit military intervention to more passive or financial support of groups friendly to them. This included violent crackdowns against rebellions, including the British in Kenya and the French in Vietnam. These were often bloody affairs with both sides committing atrocities, but it was the oppressive and dehumanizing conditions created by the ruling colonial powers that led to people believing violent revolution was the only way.

Even after the “Fall of communism” happened with the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc, by no means did the foreign policy of these Western countries cease. As global affairs shifted away from fighting communism to fighting terrorism, the United States and its allies still seemingly exercised a lack of concern towards how their foreign policy ambitions affected the long term living of the people living in these places. The best case is the Iraq war: although Iraq was ruled by the dictator Saddam Hussain, the United States overthrow of the regime caused Iraq to collapse into decades of violence and instability, facilitating the rise of extremist groups such as the Islamic State.

The foreign policy of France, the United States, and Britain constitutes a failure to maintain basic respect for the people whose lives they hold immense power over. They act in direct contradiction to their professed humanitarian and democratic ideals. These countries possess robust political philosophies its citizens pride themselves in taking part in the democratic process. However, it seems that these ideals are forgotten when these countries exercise their vast influence away from home.