U.S. Foreign Policy and Dirty Wars


Dirty Wars, a documentary filmed in 2013, discloses shady U.S. activities in foreign nations that are relatively unknown by the public due to a political agenda to keep them a secret. Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill makes it his duty to shed a light on the new foreign policy the government has been practicing. According to Scahill’s investigations, the U.S. military is now occupying seventy-five countries. Despite this vast interference, the relationship the U.S. has with these countries is unheard of by the general public. Scahill’s documentary reveals the contemptible measures taken by the United States to fight “terrorism” in these lands. The unilateral use of arms, considered a norm in modern times, is a comparatively new system in relation to former foreign policy.

In chapter 18 Freeman explains the configuration of this policy, which fails to comply with the opinions of the general public in its bold intrusion into countries that did not provoke U.S. interest. Arguably, the foreign policy, which has been applied in recent times, arose at end of the Vietnam War. The devastating impact of Vietnam left Americans with distaste for military action, and leaders hesitant to exercise armed force. This resistance to war on the grounds of the widespread criticism of armed conflicts, and fear of additional defeat came to be known as the Vietnam Syndrome. Due to the dread of military use, foreign policy after the Vietnam War was dominated by indirect action through proxy wars. By the 1990’s, the Vietnam syndrome subsided with the success of the Panama Invasion, led by President George H.W. Bush.

Foreign policy, which was structured around the Soviet Union shifted after the end of the Cold War, launching a “new world order.” The United States now made it a priority to occupy a larger role in global interaction and to maintain an enormous military. The Panama invasion reinstated the prowess of the American military and eased the way for the President (and future presidents) to embark on more ambitious military operations, such as the Gulf War. George H. W. Bush’s appetite for war established a close-knit relationship between foreign policy and executive power that transferred over into future presidencies. Freeman discusses how the Clinton administration further contributed to the drastic changes in foreign policy that began under Bush’s authority. Clinton initially focused his foreign policy on promoting a global-free trade regime, and worked to make American products available to foreign markets.

As globalization thrived, the role of the military grew more secretive and it motives unclear. The relationship between economic expansion and military power became obscure, as military intervention took on the pretense of “in defense of human rights.” Tying in humanitarian efforts with military force made it easier for the U.S. to interfere in foreign affairs even if it was not directly threatened by it. “Clinton created precedents for the unilateral use of arms by the United States against foreign nations and force that had not attacked it. ” (437) This application of brute force against nations threatening American interests is demonstrated in Dirty Wars, in which the American government goes to great lengths to demolish any sources of susceptible terrorist activity. One of the most shocking attempts was the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki’s sixteen year old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. Anwar al-Awlaki was an American-born Islamic Cleric involved in Al-Qaeda activity, and was killed by a drone attack two weeks prior to his son’s murder. The U.S. government justified this heinous deed by claiming that the son was a liable threat just by being the son of a terrorist. The death of this guiltless child was not exactly widespread news, although if the situation had been reversed, in which an American child was killed by Al-Qaeda, it would’ve spurred a minefield of fury. Although the American public generally understands and seems to accept the role the U.S. takes in global affairs, they appear oblivious to it unless one of their own dies. Despite the fact that hundreds of innocent foreigners that may die in effort to target a few offenders, American media turns a blind eye to these “others,” as well as the sketchy endeavors of the U.S. military that result in the deaths of innocent people. This is proven in Freeman’s discussion of an event in which eighteen American soldiers died in assistance to UN efforts to deliver relief supplies to Somalia, resulting in an ambush that also killed hundreds of Somalis. It is only when actual images of the dead American soldiers surfaced that citizens began to retaliate and question the actions of the U.S. military. Americans were only caught off guard at the death of Americans, and perceived other casualties of wars, such as Awlaki’s son or Somalian civilians, as mere unfortunate repercussions.

This phenomenon of American belief is challenged in Jeremy Scahill’s documentary Dirty Wars, in which he attempts to put a human face and personal story behind the targets of the U.S. military. He does this in the beginning of the film when he investigates a night raid led by NATO that resulted in the killing of an Afghan police commander Mohammed Daoud and three women, two of whom were pregnant. Scahill discusses the death of these innocent civilians with Daoud’s brother, who not only lost his brother but his wife, sister and niece in the incident. The man claimed he witnessed U.S. soldiers carving the bullets out of the bodies of his family members in order to cover up their actions. He states that after the event that he no longer had the desire to live, and wished to blow himself up among Americans as revenge.

This desire to retaliate against the U.S. manifested itself in forms of terrorist attacks in American cities during the 1990’s, one being the first World Trade Center bombing. These attacks disproved the notion that the U.S.’ universal military deployment made the country immune to terrorism. The same weapons that the U.S. placed in the hands of former CIA agents such as Osama Bin Laden were now being pointing back at them. Freeman states that Bin Laden was the least of the U.S.’ worries during this time; as they instigated international conflict, the U.S. was now subjected to a world in which weapons of mass destruction were in the possession of multiple enemies.

Michael Dukakis

“Running against Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis… Bush ran an ugly, negative campaign. In a measure of how much liberalism had become delegitimized during the Reagan years, Bush’s main charge against Dukakis was simply that he was a liberal.”

pg. 409

Managed by Lee Atwater, the 1988 Bush presidential campaign represented the ugliness of American politics. The Willie Horton ad and the so called “southern strategy” played into American’s racial fears. It also shows how American discourse had started to shift to the right during the Reagan administration. This shift is continuing even in today’s world.

By all accounts, Dukakis ran a sloppy campaign. His decision to pose in a tank in order to seem more militarily informed proved to be a huge mistake for Dukakis. Also, running against a candidate manged by Atwater, one of America’s greatest (if morally questionable) campaign managers, proved to be too difficult for “bland” Dukakis. The Bush campaign was aggressive. All in all the failure of Dukakis to gain many votes solidified the idea of the “Reagan revolution” in the American political arena. The lack of public support behind liberal candidates at this time would lead Bill Clinton, a liberal before office, to run an administration that looked closer to a moderate Republican administration.

Oliver North

“Oliver North, a midlevel NSC staffer, set up a network of former military and intelligence officers, arms dealers, and private businessmen. White house officials repeatedly lied to Congress and the public when they denied that the administration was still involved in supporting the Contras.”

Page 396.

Although congress specifically denied any further funding to the Nicaraguan Contras, the Reagan administration completely defied this order. North worked to set up a secretive system where Americans would sell weapons to Iran in order to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon. The money gained from the sale of these weapons was then funneled to the Nicaraguan Contras. The goal was to help the Contras overthrow the Sandista government. This shocked many Americans who never would have guessed their government was negotiating with terrorists, secretly supplying the world with weapons, overthrowing democratically elected governments, and dealing in drug money. The fact that the military-industrial complex was able to do this despite congress’ explicit ban on these actions speaks to the power the military was gaining behind the scenes in the American political realm. This would create problems that we are still experiencing today, such as those illuminated in the documentary Dirty Wars.


Boris Yeltsin


“An August 1991 coup by communist leaders opposed to Gorbachev’s reforms fell apart after three days as a result of popular opposition, including large demonstration led by Boris Yeltsin, who headed the Russian Federation.” p. 403


The election of Boris Yeltsin as the first president of Russian Federation becomes a very significant event for many reasons. First, it leads to the dissolution of Soviet Union which gives independence to former Soviet states like Ukraine and Belarus. Second, by losing sovereign states, Russia loses the status of a world superpower. In fact, the first decade of its existence proves to be economically disastrous. In that time, United Stated pulls far ahead, essentially winning the Cold War. Yeltsin bans Communist Party of the Soviet Union which had been in power since 1917, completely reshaping the political status of Russia on international level. In a way, he becomes a leader of a brand new country with a brand new regime. His tenure will fall under a lot of criticism, but given the circumstances, he establishes a decent foundation for Vladimir Putin’s policies of 2000s that regained Russia much of its credibility as a world power.


Questionable Foreign Policy as Result of Clinton’s Economic Re-shift

Clinton’s presidency made for backdoor politics in U.S. foreign policy by overly focusing on economic issues, including globalization of a free market. The 1995 creation of the WTO with it’s international trade rules helped advance Clinton’s ideal, but did not effectively help regulate as it was supposed to. Clinton’s continuous focus on this ideal shifted the source of power from arms to pure capital, which left the military in a hazy role without clear purpose.
The military was used more and more indecisively, as the “humanitarian” effort in Haiti, compared to the lack of any in Rwanda, show. This indecisive military involvement created tension between the U.S. and those that did not welcome them, and displayed an inconsistent, unclear foreign policy. As indicated by the terrorist incident at the WTC, angry groups started retaliating where it, (now established by Clinton), hurts – the financial center. In turn, the U.S. tries to gain leverage with questionable actions based on questionable claims, and only escalates the situation.
Clinton’s globalization led to an aspect in foreign policy where countries would be so economically dependent on one another, that in order to ensure security, bailouts are necessary (as seen with Japan).

Harlan County: Gap Between Rich and Poor

The differences between the coal miners of Harlan County and the white-collar higher ups within the same companies represent the huge gap of America’s rich and poor. In addition, the almost futile efforts of the coal miners illustrate the greater struggle of America’s poor in comparison to the upper class. America isn’t the promised land of opportunity for all, just a privileged few. The perseverance of those who participated in the Brookside Strike  is fueled by the desire to be heard rather than a tiny increase in wages; they were supposed to be helpless because they were labelled so, but they proved to be able to catalyze change regardless.
The severe conditions of the poor in Harlan County was a direct result of side-supply economics’ soaring popularity in the 70’s, leading up to it’s solidification by Reagan. The blatant lack of effort by the rich to better the coal miners’ income and benefits reflected this.

George H.W. Bush

“Bush saw foreign policy rather than domestic affairs as the arena in which he would make his mark. Even there, he initially took a fairly passive stance, instituting a “pause” in Reagan’s headlong rush to improve Soviet-American relations.” (pg.410)

George H.W. Bush was elected to office in 1988 and served for one term until 1992. He was the Vice President of the United States under the Reagan Administration, but took a different approach when it came to domestic and international affairs. Reagan looked to improve the circumstances of the nation through “Reaganomics”  and many other policies, while Bush looked to expand power overseas. As Freeman makes clear in this chapter there were several conflicts that Bush found himself apart of internationally. First was the invasion of Panama in 1989 and the invasion of Kuwait after Hussein’s rapid invasion into the neighboring country in 1990. Bush would find himself in the middle of many conflicts, but the Gulf War would prove to solicit the United States power in the world especially over the Soviet Union.

Joint Special Operations Command – “Dirty Wars”

After watching the extremely controversial documentary, Dirty Wars, I strongly disagree with the independent journalist, Jeremy Scahill.  Freedom is not free and there is a price we have to pay as Americans to maintain our freedom.  War and violence is necessary for America’s national security and to defend against its radical enemies.  Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, is composed of America’s deadliest warriors and best equipped troops.  Navy Seals, Army Delta Force, and Army Rangers are a few examples of the elite units within JSOC.  JSOC is famously known for their successful mission of assassinating Osama Bin Laden.  Their mission is to seek out foreign terrorists that are combatants of war against the United States and assassinate or capture them covertly.  The reason for JSOC becoming extremely popular within the White House is because of its success and lower casualty rates opposed to traditional warfare and troops.  Scahill disagrees with the tactics and violence they use in order to carry out their mission and wants them to be held accountable for their actions.  It is unfortunate women and children are victims of war, but that is always a consequence of war.  I believe their deadly use of force in carrying out their mission is necessary for their safety and more importably for the safety of our nation.  We are able to live in a free society with a high standard of living because of the United States Military.  I strongly agree with Winston Churchill’s quote, “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.”  The United States of America is nowhere near equivalent to the colonial British Empire, but they’re are similarities and the British were forced to use violence as a means of keeping its empire together.


Mikhail Gorbachev

“Accepting the new reality, on December 25, 1991, Gorbachev issued a decree dissolving the Soviet Union and resigned from office.” (pg. 403)

Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 till 1991. He would also be the head of the state from 1988 until 1991. Gorbachev would ultimately be the person who issued the break up of the Soviet Union.  Gorbachev’s decree would eventually reorgonize many structures of the world. Many split up republics would adapt new ideologies and establish their own rights. The Cold War as Freeman describes would also eventually be over because of the Soviet Union break up. Military conflicts over the world and many tensions would also cease to exist because of the pressured break up by Gorbachev, who is still regarded as one of the world’s greatest former leaders.

Bill Clinton and the Economy

Bill Clinton won the 1992 Presidential campaign mainly due to the fact that George Bush Sr. focused mainly on foreign affairs and neglected the problems at home. Bush Sr. was seen to be an elitist politician, far removed from the everyday struggles of regular American Citizens. Clinton focused mainly on the economy and the problems at home. When he came to office he realized that he was very disillusioned as to where the actual power of the United States was centered.  As a candidate Clinton wanted to focus mainly on “investment in infrastructure, worker training, and job creations”. By the time he became President he did not realize that he appointed to many advisers to his staff that favored the private sector. People like Robert Rubin(co-head of Goldman Sachs) convinced Clinton to look at the financial problem in a different way. Instead of creating tax cuts and other stimulus programs, that were aimed at reducing unemployment, Clinton was convinced to help reduce the fiscal deficit.  In reducing the deficit and reducing federal borrowing requirements he created a highly favorable environment for the bond brokers on Wall Street. Besides that Clinton also helped to create free trade treaties with other countries and greatly reduced tariffs on imports. In doing so he greatly open other countries of the world to U.S. investment. This last part is what ties into the movie Dirty Wars. By helping to produce an environment for great growth of Wall Street investments in other regions of the world, such as for example the middle east, he opened a flood gate for violence and terror. In order to protect their investments in the developing world, large corporations began to employ their own private armies such as the Black Water security company. These mercenaries had no moral obligation to the United States people nor were hindered by any patriotic ideals. They simply went out and did what they were told to do in order to secure their paycheck.