Imperialism and national protection resemble intertwined terms where the United States of America is concerned. This essay looks at two key speeches made by the U.S. presidents Harry S. Truman during the Cold War, and George W. Bush during the first Iraq war. In these documents we witness the definition of the United States, specifically, how the United States defines itself, how it sees itself as a country, and how it views itself as a member nation of planet earth.
The United States protects its own interests, namely, resources such as oil, as well as the democratic political system, and this protectionism extends to the four corners of the earth. Foreign policy is national security, and vice versa. Where the United States is concerned, borders, and the right of nations to govern its peoples as they see fit, remain lip service items.
Let us begin with the Truman speech. The Truman Doctrine was delivered on the 12th of March, 1947, before a Joint Session of the United States Congress. Since Truman’s time, and likely before, the United States has adopted a father knows best attitude toward the rest of the world.
The United States believes that it speaks for the world, and it feels beholden to look after the world. How much of this paternalism stems from self protection? All of it. Interestingly, however, in Truman’s words, “one of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion. This was a fundamental issue in the war with Germany and Japan.
Our victory was won over countries which sought to impose their will, and their way of life, upon other nations” (Truman 4). The irony of this statement, in light of the constant and unrelenting interference that the United States subjects numerous nations all over the world to on a daily basis, appears lost on Truman.
Truman’s speech points to one of the core tenets of the self image of the United States; colloquially, the United States defines itself as the world’s dad, in the traditional sense. It sets the rules, and it enforces the rules. The Communist threat that Truman spoke to in the Truman Doctrine was couched in terms that impressed upon Congress that the issue facing a small Mediterranean country somehow affected the United States.
In Truman’s words, “the very existence of the Greek state is today threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists, who defy the government’s authority at a number of points, particularly along the northern boundaries” (Truman 2). Central to the self image of the United States is the idea that other countries of the world seek their guidance and protection, which speaks to the paternalistic attitude the United States leads with in its foreign policy.
Truman speaks to the legitimizing effect that Americans have on the political processes that take place in other countries when he points to the “692 Americans [who] considered this election to be a fair expression of the views of the Greek people” (Truman 3). Certainly, the United States does not recognize its own domineering nature, and thus feels no need to correct it.
Rather, the United States tends to justify its actions as necessary, Truman details, because “the free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms. If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world. And we shall surely endanger the welfare of this nation” (Truman 6). Foreign policy as national security, though self serving, appears to be genuinely rendered.
In 1991 George W. Bush addressed the people of the United States from the Oval Office to announce and contextualize the commencement of military actions against Saddam Hussein following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces. In this speech, Bush exhibits a little more care than Truman to present the case for war as having been decided via consensus with other nations, and only after the exhaustion of all other avenues:
This military action, taken in accord with United Nations resolutions and with the consent of the United States Congress, follows months of constant and virtually endless diplomatic activity on the part of the United Nations, the United States, and many, many other countries. Arab leaders sought what became known as an Arab solution, only to conclude that Saddam Hussein was unwilling to leave Kuwait….Our Secretary of State, James Baker, held a historic meeting in Geneva, only to be totally rebuffed (…290).
Bush also carefully asserts that “our goal is not the conquest of Iraq. It is the liberation of Kuwait,” and reminds the American public that “this will not be another Vietnam” (Bush 292). Bush elucidates that Saddam’s actions forced the hand of the world. “The world could wait no longer. Sanctions, though having some effect, showed no signs of accomplishing their objective…While the world waited, Saddam Hussein systematically raped, pillaged and plundered a tiny nation, not threat to his own” (Bush 291).
Bush also paints the United States as an equal member in this large team of concerned international interests, when he highlights that “twenty-eight nations – countries from five continents Europe and Asia, Africa, and the Arab League – have forces in the Gulf standing shoulder to shoulder against Saddam Hussein” (Bush 292).
The Bush speech also contains an interesting tactic. To address the issue of oil, widely understood to be the main reason why the United States became involved in the first place, Bush employs a sympathetic and highly credible source as his mouthpiece: the soldiers themselves:
Listen to Hollywood Huddleston, marine lance corporal. He says, “Let’s free these people, so we can go home and be free again.”…Listen to one of our great officers out there, Marine Lieutenant General Walter Boomer. He said, “There are things worth fighting for.
A world in which brutality and lawlessness are allowed to go unchecked isn’t the kind of world we’re going to want to live in.” Listen to Master Sergeant J.P. Kendall of the 82nd Airborne: “We’re here for more than the price of a gallon of gas. What we’re doing is going to chart the future of the world for the next 100 years (Bush 292).
In the United States, imperialism and national protection essentially complement each other, and function as synergistic terms. The United States protects its own interests worldwide, as opposed to within its own borders. Foreign policy is national security, and vice versa. The right of free nations to govern themselves remains conditional upon United States’ approval.
Bush, George. “Address to the Nation Announcing Allied Military Action in the Persian Gulf.” America Through the Eyes of Its People, Vol. 2. 3rd ed. Boston: Pearson Longman, 2006. 290-293. Print.
Truman, Harry S. “The Truman Doctrine.” America Through the Eyes of Its People, Vol. 2. 3rd ed. Boston: Pearson Longman, 2006. 1-6. Print.