American foreign policy since 1945 has often been a force for good. Much of 'the free world' has felt the need of US protection, and some of it has been grateful. In recent times, however, many people have come to regard the United States as a power as dangerous as any other. In reaction to the quietism of the Carter era, American foreign policy has become ultra-activist in both word and deed. This has gone down well with the voters. American public opinion was intensely proud of the successful invasion of the tiny island of Grenada. There was similar exaltation when the resources of the Sixth Fleet proved capable of forcing down an unarmed Egyptian airliner. And after some of Colonel Gadaffi's military installations were bombed, together with five embassies and the killing of 39 civilians, there was almost universal jubilation. There is a dangerous process whereby the Administration stirs up American public opinion, and public opinion in turn spurs on the Administration to further military adventures. US foreign policy usually needs a target, and American public opinion a crusade. With the USSR, Reagan's 'evil empire', too powerful to take on directly, Gadaffi has succeeded Stalin, Mao, Nasser, Castro and Ho Chi Minh as the current hate figure. Terrorism is now the vogue evil, and anti-terrorism the fashionable crusade, and few stop to consider the wisdom of the course the US is pursuing.
LRB 23 October 1986 | PDF Download