Litkicks Message Board Archive

US foreign policy... doctrine of preemption?

Posted to Poetry and Politics

Ok. I know this is a huge topic to tackle in one thread, but I wonder about this "doctrine of preemptive policy" that seems to be the mainstay of US foreign policy, particularly from the 1960s and onward. Maybe it's a lingering Cold War
hangover... I'm not sure. I've read in some recent discussions that a larger battle against a larger perceived enemy is sufficient justification for all manner of nefarious foreign intervention and alliances in the name of expedience and "prevention", and I'm curious as to what people think of this.

I suppose Communist regimes did pose a real threat to US security in the '50s and into the '60s, but once the US met the initial wave of transparent Communist aggression (Korea, the Cuban missile crisis, etc.), how substantial was the continued threat? Did these events usher in decades of over-reaction by US policy-makers? Has this mindset lingered for far too long? I understand that the US faced the real threat of invasion in WW2, and thus was compelled to fight along with perhaps "non-trad." allies against the aggressors.... but that's not what I'm talking
about.... that's self-defense and not preemption.

So the evidence and aftermath of this preemptive policy mindset now litters the past several decades. Examples include, but are not limited to the following: The CIA armed the Contras to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Muslim radicals (jihadists) were armed and trained by the CIA to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. A military coup in Chile was orchestrated which killed Pres. Salvadore Allende and installed Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Saddam Hussein was armed to wage a bloody war against Iran (although this was probably more related to oil). The US recently started a war with Saddam's Iraq based on little more than suspicion. US troops were sent to Vietnam to fight not just the Viet Cong, but the "domino theory" of Communism. And the US even (somewhat tacitly) aligned itself with Pol Pot and the Kmer Rouge in the '70s-'80s for the same reason.

This last alliance is particularly disturbing to me. In the late '60s, Cambodia's leader, Prince Sihanouk, sought to maintain neutrality in the Vietnam war, refusing to aid either Washington or Hanoi. A frustrated Pres. Nixon ordered a CIA/military coup to oust Sihanouk and install Gen. Lon Nol, and one month later, Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia with 20,000 US and S. Vietnamese troops. Cambodia became a massive battlefield and the site of the most intense saturation bombing in history.... all kept in secret from the US people.

After the American intervention, with Cambodia destabilized, it's economy in a shambles, Pol Pot and the Kmer Rouge began to win wider support, eventually wresting power from Lon Nol in l975 and proceeding to carry out policies far more consistent with fascism than socialism. People were rounded up and made to labor under harsh conditions. Hundreds of thousands died of overwork, starvation or disease, and many more were executed in campaigns against all forms of culture and intellectual life. The nationalist xenophobia of Pol Pot's leadership also led to clashes with Vietnamese near the border, until Hanoi finally ordered an invasion in 1978 which removed the Kmer Rouge from power.

But here's the thing. The US continued to see Pol Pot as a Cold War ally, since he was at war with Vietnam (an ally of the Soviet Union). As such, the US backed China in it's effort to supply the Kmer Rouge with military equipment, while the right-wing military regime in Thailand (more or less a client-state of the US) allowed a free flow of supplies to Pol Pot's guerrillas along the Thai-Cambodian border. For more than a decade, the US backed the seating of Pol Pot's representative as the Cambodian UN delegate, and throughout the '80s, the Reagan Admin. blocked international efforts to to characterize the Cambodian events of '75-'78 as genocide, or to hold the Kmer Rouge responsible for mass murder, since it would undercut the American alliance with Pol Pot.

I mention all of this because it just strikes me as a prime example of how this "preemptive" mindset can go horribly wrong, beyond redemption (and please enlighten me if I've made any historical/observational errors in my description). And I'm not trying to say that every US policy or intervention has been negative. Our (US) recent efforts in Bosnia and Somalia come to mind as being worthwhile and more genuinely well-intentioned. Any thoughts? Comments?