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.