From 2000 to 2014, the United States tried to overthrow ten governments. In 2011, the military intervention in Libya left the country in shambles and opened a power vacuum. Starting in 2015, the United States began to interfere in Yemen, and in 2020, the United States tried and failed to stage a coup in Venezuela. The United States seems to have an addiction to foreign interventions. However, it never plans for the consequences of such actions.
The US military is stuck in the Middle East in multiple continuous wars that have cost millions of lives and trillions of dollars. However, if the military leaves, there will be massive power vacuums left that will be filled by authoritarianism. America's interventions have multiple motivations: economic gain, human rights abuses, maintaining democracy, and protecting American interests abroad, to name a few. However, these interventions are rarely necessary, and when they are, they usually only become necessary because of how American, and Western powers in general, approach them. This gets into the difference between interventionism and internationalism.
Interventionism, quite frankly, is imperialism rebranded. It is the practice of intervening in the affairs of a foreign country's government, often without the consent of the government. While there are situations where intervention becomes necessary, it is often a result of how the situation was handled to begin with. Take, for example, Iran: Iran is considered one of the greatest threats to international peace and security if it obtains nuclear weapons. After years of sanctions and military threats, the Iran deal was signed in 2015. After President Trump pulled out of the deal and began launching strikes at Iran once again, Iran began enriching Uranium in 2019. After the assassination of their top nuclear scientist in November of 2020, reentering the deal will be incredibly difficult. However, the only reason Iran has a nuclear program in the first place is that, in 1953, the United States staged a military coup in Iran. They overthrew the democratically elected prime minister and replaced him with the Shah, who then started the nuclear program. The United States sold him Iran's first nuclear reactor.
US intervention in Iran since the Ayatollah took over has consisted of sanctions and military strikes that crippled the Iranian people and fostered further anti-West sentiment. This problem is a monster of our own making.
Even in 2020, the United States has yet to learn from past mistakes when it tried and failed to aid a coup in Venezuela. Its previous attempt at a coup to overthrow President Chávez in 2002 also failed. Because Venezuela is rich in oil, the United States has pushed for trade policies that enrich American oil companies and unequivocally hurt the Venezuelan people, thus once again fostering anti-American sentiment and instability.
American interventions, beyond causing loss of life and fostering anti-West sentiment, hurt the economy by increasing the deficit and burdening American taxpayers. These interventions are considered "necessary," even though the necessity for the intervention came from American policy in the first place.
So then, what is internationalism, and how would it serve the United States and the rest of the world better if the United States adopted an internationalist foreign policy doctrine instead?
Internationalism is the opposite of nationalism. It is the opposite of "America first, everyone else last." Internationalism is the principle of cooperation between nations to foster peace, security, and stability for all, not just one. Another important distinction is between internationalism and globalization. Globalization is the outward economic force of modern nationalism. It is the force behind trade agreements that cripple developing economies while lining the pockets of the wealthiest corporations. Internationalism, while also supporting international economic relationships, centers on mutually and equally beneficial relationships.
Internationalism is feared by the right, but it should be embraced by all. The closest instance of internationalism was seen with the Bretton Woods system post-World War II. The Bretton Woods system, while created out of American self-interest, brought about capitalism's global golden era, with low unemployment and inflation, high growth, and diminished inequality. Bretton Woods was born to maintain the strength of the American economy and avoid another depression post-World War II. It worked by transferring economic surplus to Europe and Japan, creating a system of wealth recycling. Under Bretton Woods, the government created an equilibrium with fixed exchange rates, strict banking regulations, and constant interest rates.
By the late 1960s, America had lost its surplus and slipped into a trade deficit and growing federal deficit. To fix this, Bretton Woods was killed and replaced by free trade and the exploitation of smaller and developing nations to maintain a facade of American hegemony while the deficit grew and grew. Globalization had been born.
Now in 2020, global inequality has created mass poverty and a power imbalance that fosters resentment towards the West and breeds nationalism and authoritarianism abroad. The pillaging of developing nations' resources for Western, namely American, economic interests is what created the "need" for interventions, and the only way to dig ourselves out of this rabbit hole is by acting against our self-interest for the benefit of all of humanity in the long run.
America's foreign policy strategy of haphazardly intervening in the affairs of foreign governments and pushing a trade agenda that takes advantage of weaker economies has created an ever-growing deficit and a list of hostile nations and military commitments a mile long.
To repair the damage done to our deficit and to developing economies, America must adopt an internationalist doctrine. While in the short term, this could be seen as going against self-interest, in the long run, it would strengthen our economy and the economies of other nations around the world. Part of this will include a global effort to combat climate change and create a green economy (which would require the US to give up its compulsive obsession with oil), trade agreements that support and require living wages for everyone, international cooperation to tax the wealthiest corporations that take advantage of tax havens and developing nations, and a system to curb trade surpluses and deficits.
Globalization and interventionism have caused America to be caught in a dangerous cycle of using "free trade" to exploit developing nations and bandage our economy, then intervening in these nations once anti-American sentiment has led to the rise of an authoritarian "anti-American" regime. These interventions only increase the deficit, thus forcing America to continue to use "free trade" to maintain its facade of economic superiority. Unless this cycle is broken, the deficit will continue to grow and interventions will continue. The only way to break this cycle is to adopt an internationalist doctrine.
Ghizoni, Sandra Kollen. “Creation of the Bretton Woods System.” Federal Reserve History, www.federalreservehistory.org/essays/bretton-woods-created.
Inskeep, Steve. “Born In The USA: How America Created Iran's Nuclear Program.” NPR, NPR, 18 Sept. 2015, www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/09/18/440567960/born-in-the-u-s-a-how-america-created-irans-nuclear-program.
Swanson, David. “U.S. Wars and Hostile Actions: A List.” Let's Try Democracy, 11 Oct. 2020, davidswanson.org/warlist/.
Tierney, Dominic. “The Legacy of Obama's 'Worst Mistake'.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 18 Apr. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/04/obamas-worst-mistake-libya/478461/.
“U.S Role in the World: Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service, 24 Nov. 2020, fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44891.pdf.
Varoufakis, Yanis. “Internationalism vs Globalisation: Why Progressives across Europe and beyond Must Forge a Common Internationalist Movement – Talk at the Royal Festival Hall, Accompanied by Andreas Gursky's Images and Danae Stratou's 'The Globalising Wall), 9 APR 2018.” Yanis Varoufakis, www.yanisvaroufakis.eu/2018/04/13/internationalism-vs-globalisation-why-progressives-across-europe-and-beyond-must-forge-a-common-internationalist-movement-talk-at-the-royal-festival-hall-accompanied-by-andreas-gurskys-images-an/.
Varoufakis, Yanis. “Yanis Varoufakis.” TED, www.ted.com/speakers/yanis_varoufakis.
Marielle is an undergraduate student at American University pursuing a degree in international studies and political science. She has been with the institute since its founding in 2020 and has had her articles published by both YIP and The Factual. Her research focuses primarily on U.S. foreign policy, NATO, and Russia. In 2021, her research on Russia’s economic modernization agenda was peer-reviewed and published by the Journal of Student Research.