William Blum

Debate on United States foreign policy

By William Blum

On October 9, 2003 a debate was held at venerable Trinity College in Dublin. Organized by the University Philosophical Society, the proposition to be debated was: “America’s foreign policy does more harm than good.”

Supporting the proposition were: William Blum, American author; David Barsamian, American radio journalist and author; and Tom Hanahoe, Irish author.

Arguing against the proposition were: John Bruton, former Irish prime minister; Bill Rammell, British MP and minister in the Foreign Office; and Gideon Rose, Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, and former member of the Clinton National Security Council.

Near the conclusion of the debate, Bill Rammell was reduced to calling David Barsamian “anti-American”. And Gideon Rose, the most fervent of the opposing speakers, was reduced to asking the audience to please understand that the choice is “a world run by the United States or a world run by Osama bin Laden”. I would place Rose in the category of “the best and the brightest”, the type that brought us Vietnam and now brings us Iraq.

At the end of the evening the large audience, by calling out “Aye” or “Nay”, overwhelmingly declared those supporting the proposition to be the victors.

My opening presentation was as follows:

Let me take you back to the year 1975. ┬áThere was a committee of the US congress called the Pike Committee, named after its chairman Otis Pike. This committee investigated the covert side of US foreign policy and discovered a number of scandalous secrets, some of which were leaked to the public, while others remained secret. In an interview Congressman Pike stated that any member of Congress could see the entire report if he agreed not to reveal anything that was in it. “But not many want to read it,” he said.

The interviewer asked him “Why?”

And Pike replied: “Oh, they think it is better not to know. There are too many things that embarrass Americans in that report. You see, this country went through an awful trauma with Watergate. But even then, all they were asked to believe was that their president had been a bad person. In this new situation they are asked much more; they are asked to believe that their country has been evil. And nobody wants to believe that.”

The word for that is of course “denial”. The fact that we are here to discuss the question of whether American foreign policy does more harm than good is further proof of that denial, for the question has been answered many times over. I could fill up this entire room with books floor to ceiling and wall to wall documenting the great harm done to every corner of the world by American foreign policy.

Here is a short summary of what Washington has been engaged in from the end of World War II to the present:

And what do those who champion the mystique of “America” offer in defense of this record? Well, denial is the first line of defense – Well-known and respected foreign policy analysts in the United States write entire books on American foreign policy with little more than a hint of what I’ve just mentioned. When all else fails, they fall back on the argument that “The United States means well.” It may sometimes blunder, even occasionally do a bit more harm than good as things turn out … but the intention is always benevolent.

Let us look at a recent example of what some people would say was evidence of US foreign policy being a force for good – Afghanistan, where the awful Taliban were overthrown. How can one argue against that? Well, in the past two years, US bombings and ground combat have taken the lives of many thousands of innocent civilians in addition to killing many so-called combatants, who are simply anyone defending against the US invasion; countless homes and other buildings have been demolished; depleted uranium has begun to show its ugly face; the warlords have returned to extensive power; opium cultivation is booming anew; crime and violence have once again become a daily fact of life; the president is nothing less than an American puppet; and the country is occupied by foreign troops (i.e., American) who often treat the population badly, including the use of torture; Afghanistan has become a protectorate of the US and NATO.

And remember, the awful Taliban regime would never have come to power in the first place if the United States, in the 1980s and 90s, had not played an essential role in the overthrow of a secular and fairly progressive government, which allowed women much more freedom than they’ll ever have under the current government.

The problem, then as now, is that the consequences for the people of Afghanistan have been a matter of imperial indifference. On Washington’s agenda in this case are secure oil and gas pipelines, military bases, and, if and when security can be instituted, the forces of globalization will march in.

Meanwhile in Iraq, what the US bombing, invasion and occupation have brought to the people there is every bit as appalling.

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Books by William Blum

America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else

Rogue State

Rogue State

A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower

Killing Hope

Killing Hope

U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II

Freeing the World to Death

Freeing the World to Death

Essays on the American Empire

West-Bloc Dissident

West-Bloc Dissident

A Cold War Memoir