Does US foreign policy remain broadly consistent with the principles contained in the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ and ‘Manifest Destiny’?
The Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny put forth American principles of the need for both protection and expansion within 19th century US foreign policy (Hietala, 1985). In highlighting the threat posed to US hegemony by means of the Monroe Doctrine, and assessing the legitimacy of justification of action under principles outlined by the expansionist Manifest Destiny, we can identify parallels in both historical and contemporary usage despite not always explicitly imposing such principles (Van Alstyne, 1978). However, due to the evolving nature of warfare and what we deem to be a security threat, this essay will compare the use of these principles historically, in the US-Mexican War, and contemporarily, within the Bush Doctrine. By investigating both the discourse and action taken in both eras of foreign policy, the essay aims to gage whether the concerns and desires outlined in the principles contained within the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny are still relevant in contemporary foreign policy.
The early ideas that came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine were first voiced by President James Monroe in address to Congress in 1823, where European interference in North America was considered “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition towards the United States,” (Hilsman, 1987, p. 273). This notion that the United States considered interference by peripheral powers to be a threat highlights how early US foreign policy was concerned with the guarding of the American sphere of influence in the West (Dumbrell, 1997, p.3). Therefore, the Monroe Doctrine puts forth the principle that the US should seek to protect their influence from interference, which in this period was deemed to be coming from Europe. On the other hand, the Manifest Destiny, a term introduced by John L. O’Sullivan in 1845 signalled a need for expansion to develop upon and exercise American liberty (Miller, 2006, p. 119). Such emphasis on expansion, whether ideological or territorial, allude to a notion of a 19th century American desire for an empire, a strength independent to that of Europe (Pletcher, 1978, pp. 526-230), suggesting that American expansionists sought to not only protect their sphere of influence, but to exert it; justifying foreign policy by means of the principles contained in the Manifest Destiny. O’Sullivan even went as far as to warn that failure to expand influence could lead to the collapse of the free government and enterprise (Hietala, 1985, p. 255). Thus, O’Sullivan arguing that in failing to act under the Manifest Destiny, the US would suffer the consequences could be used to legitimise the threat identified by the Monroe Doctrine. Hence, it can be argued that the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny can overlap in their prescription to both protect and exert American dogma in foreign policy, often through the conceptualisation of an enemy (Dumbrell, 1997, p.3). Furthermore, it would be worth mentioning the religious connotations present in the principles contained within the Manifest Destiny. For instance, even the use of the word ‘destiny,’ would suggest American expansion is predestined by God (Van Alstyne, 1978, p.584), and therefore could be argued to provide ample motivation to implement expansionist policy based upon notions of a God-given right. Ultimately, the principles contained within these two ideas could be used to understand the motivation behind US foreign policy throughout history. Henceforth, the American annexation of Mexico from 1846-1848 within the US-Mexican War, justified by the notion that Mexicans were unable to adequately develop upon their land in the way that Americans could (Billington and Ridge, 2001, p. 229), provides a clear example of both principles behind the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny at play. Firstly, the annexation itself implies a form of American exceptionalism that deemed them ideologically and intellectually superior to Mexico and thus deserving of their land; highlighting parallels between such behaviour and the Manifest Destiny. Secondly, after acquiring much of what we know today as Southwest America, President J. K. Polk invoked the Monroe Doctrine following concerns it would fall into the possession of the European powers (Hietala, 1985, p.84). Such concerns would suggest a fear of what could ensue if Americans did not act, which could be linked to principles within the Monroe Doctrine that identified a peripheral threat to the US sphere of influence. Thus, it could be argued that foreign policy within the 19th century reflected the principles contained within both the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny in how peripheral threats influenced a need to act, and how American expansionism acted under the belief that they deserved Mexican territory (Weinberg, 1935, p.253). Therefore, it can be argued that in the 19th century, foreign policy remained broadly consistent with the principles contained in both the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny. Furthermore, moving on to a contemporary example, his essay will now compare the motivations behind the Bush Doctrine to that of the annexation of Mexico in 1846. Following the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks, US foreign policy demonstrated an attempt to generate a unilateral response to terrorism initiated by the Bush Doctrine, a US counter-terrorism programme (Jervis, 2003, p.365). Firstly, in address to Congress and the American people on September 20, 2001, President G.W. Bush famously stated that states are either “with us, or with the terrorists,” and that any nation thought to be supporting terrorism will be regarded a “hostile state” (Bush, 2001). In distinguishing the American self from the “terrorists,” Bush’s use of dichotomy could be argued to allude to an ‘us vs them’ rhetoric which seeks to conceptualise an enemy by instating notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in international relations. Such behaviour could be likened to the 19th century notion of an “unfriendly disposition” in the same manner. Therefore, it can be argued that in contemporary US response to peripheral threats has remained largely consistent with the principles contained in the Monroe Doctrine by using ‘us’ versus ‘them’ dichotomy contained in the Bush Doctrine. In addition, the Bush Doctrine assured adequate military response, which aimed to eradicate terrorism and liberate Iraq through the promotion of democracy in the Middle East (Talbott, 2003, p.1042). Although, the classification of Iraq as a “rogue state” by the Bush Administration (Gerges, 1999, p.14) again provides the argument that the US, once again values itself and its beliefs to be ideologically superior to that of Iraq and in need of American assistance to liberate its own people. Such ideals can again be linked to manner in which the US seized Mexican land in 1846, by reasoning that the Mexican people were unfit to care for and defend their own land (Billington and Ridge, 2001, p.229). Such confidence in asserting American influence in foreign lands can be argued to reflect Manifest principles of American expansionism as dutiful. In addition, the promotion of democracy as the answer to peace in the Middle East suggests that these states are considered inherently un-peaceful or uncivilised, which firstly can be argued to be a simplistic assumption, but also that US imposition of democracy upon Iraq can be considered a form of ‘democratic imperialism.’ (Romaya, 2012, pp.364-367). Therefore, it can be argued that American expansionism can take an ideological form as much as material, as indicated in US attempts to ‘liberate’ Iraq through democracy. Ultimately, the Bush Doctrine provides clear examples of how the US has sought to protect their sphere of influence in the West, but also exert their influence in the Middle East. Thus, it can be argued to provide an umbrella term for a combination of both the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny (Romaya, 2012, p.63) in its need to protect the US from the threat of terrorism, and the desire to exert influence in the Middle East through the promotion of democracy. Similar motivations can be identified in historical examples of protection and expansion and thus can be said that US foreign policy, in an ideological sense, has remained broadly consistent with the principles contained in both the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny. However, it would be worth assessing the legitimacy of specific aspects of the Bush Doctrine, such as the proclamation for a “War on Terror,” (Bush, 2001) a term which has gone on to define much of contemporary US foreign policy. Firstly, it can be argued that the statement itself is unreasonable due to the subjective concept of terror itself (Youngs and Meadows, 2009). But also, the reality that terror regarding Islamic extremism, has no distinct state or leader, meaning it could fester within the US ‘sphere of influence’ itself. Therefore, this inability to identify a clear threat beyond what is essentially an ideology, suggests the Monroe Doctrine is no longer as relevant in contemporary foreign policy due to the changes in warfare. This isn’t to say that the exertion of American principles through foreign policy does not occur, but that the reasoning behind American expansionism has shifted through history from territorial disputes to a threat less discernible (Youngs and Meadows, 2009). Thus, providing the argument that it is more difficult to detect terror or intention to commit terror than it is defending your land from European imperialism without enforcing a form of thought police. Therefore, ultimately, it can be argued that the Monroe Doctrine has become decreasingly consistent with US foreign policy due to the shift in what the US consider an enemy. Finally, considering the Bush Doctrine in practice, the 2003 invasion into Iraq offered a unilateral and military response to the 9/11 terror attacks under Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) (Kellner, 2003). OIF suggests again that the US sought to liberate the Iraqi people from terrorism and dictatorship, but the brutality of US foreign policy towards Iraqi civilians during this period contest such an argument. For example, the use of torture camps such as Abu Ghraib alongside the sanctions that led to the death of thousands (Puar, 2004), recent statistics state the Iraqi death toll from 2003-2011 amounted to just under half a million (BBC, 2013). In comparison to the 3,000 killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks, such a response suggests Iraqi invasion had less to do with liberation of the Iraqi people, and more to do with exerting influence in the region through military domination. The justification for such action has been argued to have stemmed from fear and the American inability to understand the Arab world (Keegan, 2004) which could be likened to President Polk’s invocation of the Monroe Doctrine following fears of European invasion into Mexico, suggesting the Monroe Doctrine aided foreign policy in both scenarios in its justification to act before the enemy does. In addition, the invasion into Iraq itself clearly highlights the parallels between the annexation of Mexico and Operation Iraqi Freedom in how both sought to assert influence in the regions. Therefore, it can be argued that the US invasion into Iraq remains consistent with the principles contained in the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny as much in practice as it does in theory, due to the brutality of warfare highlighting a fear of peripheral threats and the desire to exert American influence to suppress it. In conclusion, the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny have gone on to define much of what the US consider threat and opportunity. Historically, such principles have highlighted a need to protect a young America from the intrusion of European colonisers in aims to establish a strength independent to that of their colonisers. Although, similarly, the desire to exert American ideals have also been prevalent in wishes to amass territory, justified by the ambitiously expansionist Manifest Destiny. However, in assessing whether these principles are still relevant to US foreign policy today, it can be argued that the Manifest Destiny remains broadly consistent with contemporary US foreign policy. Using the Bush Doctrine’s call for a War on Terror as an example, there is evidence for the desire to spread US ideals into the Middle East with the intention to liberate and democratise Iraq through direct military intervention. The main difference in the implementation of the principles contained within the Manifest Destiny in contemporary foreign policy however, is the shift from territorial expansion to ideological. Similarly, the Monroe Doctrine historically has concerned itself with the protection of the US sphere of influence in the West, which when considering direct intervention from European colonisers, has been easier implement. However, given the shift in what we deem security, it can be argued that the Monroe Doctrine has become decreasingly consistent with US foreign policy due to the difficulties in detecting, and thus protecting from ideological threats until they materialise. Ultimately, it can be argued that US foreign policy has largely remained broadly consistent with the principles contained in the Manifest Destiny, with consideration of how such expansionism has evolved to become ideological rather than territorial. Additionally, the Monroe Doctrine has only remained consistent to the extent that there are still aims to protect the US sphere of influence, it has just become more difficult to do so.
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