Time for a paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy
The statue “Let Us Beat Our Swords into Plowshares,” a gift of the Soviet Union to the United Nations, which was installed in the north garden area at UN Headquarters in 1959. The bronze statue is by the Soviet sculptor Evgeniy Vuchetich. It represents the figure of a man holding a hammer in one hand and, in the other, a sword which he is making into a plow, symbolizing man’s desire to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of mankind. | via United Nations

This year marks 75 years since the end of World War II. Over that span, the United States has followed a consistent foreign policy, an imperialist one that buttressed its position as the pre-eminent capitalist power. And while for seven decades— through the Cold War, the collapse of the socialist system in the USSR and eastern Europe, and the “War on Terror”—Washington has adjusted and adapted its tactics to meet changes in international relations, it has remained true to its basic goals. Even Donald Trump, for all of his bluster and promises to make major changes in foreign policy, his “America First” view of the world has strayed little from the proven path.

U.S. foreign policy has been marked by several major themes: the creation of a series of military alliances, NATO being the most important; the establishment of more than 800 military bases in over 70 countries; massive military budgets (and the creation of the “military-industrial complex”); the creation of a network of 17 intelligence agencies, the best known of which is the CIA, and whose mission it was to use any method possible to maintain a pro-American world order; the use of military force dozens of times in all regions of the world; and the creation of several financial institutions designed to control the economic activities of countries, large and small, so as not to threaten U.S. economic hegemony.

The world of 2020 is vastly different than that of 1945, however. Seventy-five years is a lifetime, a period where we, as living organisms, have undergone profound changes. We could enumerate the vast changes that have taken place on Earth over that time, but suffice it to say that the bi-polar, “superpower” world of the 20th century is gone. The crises facing the whole planet today—from climate change and defeating COVID-19 to reducing the inequalities between rich and poor and improving the lives of billions of human beings—require a new approach.

Let us digress a moment. To get an idea of how the world can change in 75 years, let us look back to the previous three-quarters of a century, from 1870 to 1945, and get an idea of how society never stands still. And imagine that a hypothetical country existed that based its foreign policy on the world of 1870 and then left it basically unchanged throughout the period.

In 1870, the United States was about to enter its industrial age; it was a nation just recovering from a brutal civil war. It was the year that Italy became one country and a year before German unification. Britain was the dominant economic and military power on Earth with an empire on which the sun never set. France played a similar role, while Russia was a semi-feudal absolutist monarchy. In Asia, Japan had embarked on its “Meiji Restoration,” a period of modernization and national development. China was at the mercy of several European powers, and India was the “Jewel in the Crown” of the British Empire.

Compare that to the world in 1945. The United States, the world’s dominant economic power, led a triumphant coalition, with a socialist Soviet Union as its major partner, that defeated fascism and militarism. Britain and France survived as important world powers largely because of U.S. military power. The losing side in World War II consisted of Germany, Japan, and Italy, nation-states that barely existed in 1870. China defeated Japan but resumed its civil war between the Communists and Nationalists. India was on the cusp of independence after a liberation struggle that had lasted several decades.

The point is pretty clear. Now is the time for the United States to begin the process of re-orienting its foreign policy from one based on the idea that “we’re number one,” to one where we are one of many. At this point, the capitalists can rest assured that our country need not change economic systems to do so. The struggle to create a socialist society in the United States will continue regardless of our foreign policy. And this country could get used to the idea that it need not still dominate everyone else. Britain adjusted to its role as a lesser power after World War II and has made out pretty well in many respects.

The coronavirus pandemic can be an important turning point in U.S. history. The social ills laid bare over the last several months—an inadequate healthcare system, a depression economy, a national uprising demanding racial justice, and the growing crisis of climate change (note the record number of wildfires in the West and the damage done by several hurricanes and tropical storms)—need to be addressed. And the old answers will not work anymore.

Joe Biden, if elected, has the opportunity to move this country in a new direction. The question is whether he will do so. In a speech which he gave at the World Economic Forum three days before he left the Vice Presidency, Biden told his audience, “For the past seven decades, the choices we have made—particularly the United States and our allies in Europe—have steered our world down a clear path…. In recent years it has become evident that the consensus upholding this system is facing increasing pressures, from within and from without… It’s imperative that we act urgently to defend the liberal international order.”

There are voices even among those in the foreign policy establishment, however, calling for change. Ben Rhodes, a former National Security Advisor to President Obama, writing in Foreign Affairs, believes that such an effort “should include a different kind of world order, one in which the United States leads without dictating the terms, lives by the standards it seeks for others, and combats global inequality instead of fueling it.” His ideas are echoed by former Secretary of State John Kerry, who says that “If Biden promises a return to the familiar lines of American foreign policy, he will do so in a world that has changed significantly over the last four years.”

The choice is clear. The alternatives open to Mr. Biden, should he become the next president in 2021, are stark. Does the United States continue down the path which has outlived its usefulness (if it was ever useful in the first place)? Or does it embark on a new road, one which rejects war and builds on the dreams of billions of human beings and that understands the reality of the world of the 21st century? He could take a page from his top competitor in the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders, who called for a foreign policy that focuses on “democracy, human rights, diplomacy and peace, and economic fairness,” while leading “in the fight against climate change, militarism, and global inequality.”

It will be up to us, the people, to pressure our government to adopt a new approach to our relations with the rest of humanity. It is never too early to start.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.

More on U.S. imperialism:

Nearly two decades after 9/11, military-industrial complex is stronger than ever

U.S. angles for new ‘cold war’ with China; it must be stopped

U.S. AFRICOM: Africa and the world in the crosshairs


David Cavendish
David Cavendish

David Cavendish is a retired teacher, active in the union movement, the peace movement (many years in an anti-Iraq/Afghanistan War vigil), and other progressive political activities. He is a longtime contributor to People’s World. David Cavendish es un maestro jubilado, activo en el movimiento sindical, el movimiento por la paz y otras actividades políticas progresistas. Colabora desde hace mucho tiempo en People’s World.