Globalism and American Interests

With respect to Jim Mattis’ resignation letter (transcribed here): It is noteworthy that he devotes his longest paragraph, and the first one of substance, to a “globalist” vision of America’s relationship with the world:

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9/11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Setting aside the usual idealism about America’s role as a guarantor of freedom, the pragmatism underpinning this argument is unsurprising to anyone that knows U.S. history.

Even before this country was born, its foreign policy proved pivotal to its success and survival. It was the alliance with France—the first country to recognize our independence, and the only one that could challenge Great Britain—that was most decisive in securing victory in the Revolutionary War. Nearly all the Founders recognized the importance of international trade, commerce, and recognition, which provided economic growth as well as legitimacy. Hence the Constitution places great importance on international agreements (the Treaty Clause), elevates ratified treaties to the same binding force as domestic law (the Supremacy Clause), and has language apparently obligating America to enforce the “law of nations” (the Offenses Clause).

Contrary to popular belief, the top brass has always recognized this: Far from being jingoistic, many of them are well versed in international relations and world history. Some of the most noteworthy military leaders today—Mattis himself, David Petraeus, James Stavridis—studied international affairs, foreign policy, and other internationalist “soft” sciences.

Like it or not, our highly globalized world does not permit us to disregard alliances and cooperation. The people most involved in our national security recognize that.

The War Against the Third World

Extensively, we manipulated and organized the overthrow of functioning constitutional democracies in other countries. We organized secret armies and directed them to fight in just about every continent in the world…Trying to summarize this Third World War that the CIA, the U.S. National Security Complex with the military all interwoven in it in many different ways, has been waging, let me just put it this way, the best heads that I coordinate with studying this thing, we count at least minimum figure six million people who’ve been killed in this long 40-year war that we have waged against the people of the Third World.

-John Stockwell,  former CIA officer

Though never a nakedly colonial state like the European empires, the US has nonetheless had a long and complex history of foreign interventions, ranging from explicit military operations, to covert CIA-lead regime change. This was especially pronounced after 1945 and throughout the Cold War, when the US became a superpower with the means and interests to involve itself across the world.

As with most “underground” topics, the internet is a hotbed for disseminating information about this grim and mostly forgotten subject. Though I was fortunate to have been taught about this in an academic setting, most people don’t have more than an inkling (usually brought on by entertainment media) about America’s actions abroad.

Though the web is generally full of sketchy and unreliable information, sometimes loosely-based on real facts, I managed to find one decent source that a friend courteously shared with me. Once again, YouTube becomes a valuable resource. The following is a rather long but detailed compilation of just a handful of these secret operations.

Sadly, as of this post, the video has so far received very little attention. I hope to change that at least a little bit. I wonder how much of this sort of thing is still going on today – and will continue to well into the future. The US is hardly alone in this regard too, even if it is the most egregious perpetrator by nature of it’s power and resources. There’s a whole hidden world of this sort of thing transpiring beneath public consciousness even as I speak.

Amigo: The Forgotten Phillipines-American War

Of all the myriad military interventions we’ve been involved in – and there’s quite a lot of them – our conflict in the Phillipines is perhaps one of the bloodiest and most complex. It’s also one of the least known, given brief mention in history textbooks and little to no acknowledgement in popular culture. In fact, very few films, books, or television series have been made about the war, and any knowledge of it’s existence seems limited only to historians and academics. I can attest by personal experience how few people, especially in our generation, realize the depth of our involvement in Phillipines.

Thankfully, a film has finally been made that gives this dark and mysterious chapter of our history some well-needed cinematic attention. Amigo, set in the early years of the war, provides an even-handed account of all the factions involved: American troops, Filipino rebels, collaborators, sympathizers, and all those stuck in the middle of it. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen some excerpts of it, as small films like this don’t make it to very many theaters (it’s an Independent film, go figure). But from what I’ve seen, as well as heard from other accounts, it captures the bleakness, ambiguity, and convolution of a conflict we should have never been involved in (sound familiar?). NPR had a pretty good episode about it, including an interview with the director, on Talk of the Nation.

Comparisons to Vietnam – the same type of warfare, the jungle setting, the moral ambiguity, the lack of popular support – certainly abound, and with the benefit of hindsight, the war seems to be an ominous foreshadowing of the same sort of conflicts we’d later find ourselves in after World War II. The famous struggle between isolationists and so-called internationalists – themselves split from within along numerous philosophies – would start to form, as our Phillipines war would be the turning point marking heavier involvement in global affairs (though some would argue that the Spanish-American War that precipitated it, or even the Monroe Doctrine of decades before, would really be the watershed).

If there is any consolation about this imperialist venture, it’s the push-back and criticism that the war met at home. Though nothing on the scale of what we saw in response to the Vietnam War, and similar conflicts since, the Phillipines intervention saw the beginnings of outspoken pacifistic advocacy, foreign policy scrutiny by citizens, and journalistic criticism that would soon become definitive in later conflicts. Perhaps the most well-known reaction was Mark Twain’s  famous founding of the Anti-Imperialist League, uniting a politically and ideologically diverse number of figures devoted to keeping the US out of such conflicts. He summed up the sentiments of his fellow anti-imperialists rather well in this public declaration:

There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it—perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands—but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector—not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now—why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I’m sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation.

Dishearteningly, the League and other opponents to the conflict were never as influential as they aimed to be. Public opinion was either indifferent or supportive of the conflict, and the men that were coming to power in government were increasingly in favor this and other foreign escapades. Twain and his colleagues came from an older generation rooted in more traditional and romantic notions of American liberty and freedom, the kind that should be defended and allowed to flourish outside the country, not suppressed due to geostrategic and economic interests.

What’s most tragic is that many Americans had no intention of colonizing the country or being mired in some sort of conflict – it was something that escalated quickly, often with the connivance of less-well-intentioned elements, as well as by circumstance, misunderstanding, and confusion. Some saw this as a chance to “enlighten” the Filipino people and provide humanitarian assistance, while others believed it to fulfill America’s rightful Manifest Destiny as a global power. Still others saw riches and an opportunity for prosperity. There were so many overlapping and conflicting goals, interests, and actors. Once again, I see many parallels with contemporary history.

I’d love to get into greater detail about the timeline and nature of the conflict, as well as important events and figures, but as always I remain pressed for time. I’ll leave you all to check out some great source material if you care to do some research about it on your own. As long as people are at least aware that this war happened in the first place, I’ll feel satisfied. Otherwise, here is where you can get more information: