Throughout history, the United States has exhibited extensive international involvement, many of which, have allowed for major turning points in American foreign policy. Two important modern events that influenced foreign policy and will be discussed in this paper are the events of the Cold War, and that of September 11, 2001. Post-WWII, the United States emerged as a world super power left to rebuild the once empowering European nations, and to consolidate nations of Asia, specifically Japan, which were left in ruins by the atomic bomb. The occurrences of the Cold War challenged the newfound international identity and power of the United States. Multiple ill-mannered decision makings (i.e. Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis) brought to question its authority both globally and locally. The United States was no longer the only nation in the world with the capabilities of mass destruction, technological advancement or covert intelligence. The accessibility of the atomic bomb was now available for other nations, thus forcing a change in international confrontation approaches in global conflicts. After the Cold War, Samuel Huntington hypothesized the next phase of global conflict, as what he called the Clash of Civilizations. Huntington proposed that it was no longer social and economic means that allowed for conflict, but ideological differences between the west and “non-west”[i]. While his theory could be accepted to a certain extent, the Clash of Civilization theory as proposed by Huntington lacked to address the complexities of culture dynamics around the world. Huntington’s realist and one-tract minded localization and identification of cultures and their dynamics rests of Cold-War mentality, which one could claim, is out-dated and in need of revision to allow for acceptance of other emerging global powers.
In September of 2001, attacks on American soil left the United States in the feeling of vulnerability, yet again forcing a re-evaluation of US Foreign policy. To insure there would never be a second terrorist threat to US soil, the US adopted a policy of not only defensive, but also offensive actions against terror groups such as Al-Qaeda, which harbored an extremist “Islamic” viewpoint. Initially, the domestic response to the attacks were in support of Huntington’s ethnocentric claim of Western centrality. However, with the advancement of time, and examination of history, critics began to evaluate the apparent threat of these emerging terror groups on western nations; why is the United States the target of these attacks? In response, the notion of American imperialist actions in the eastern regions was entertained. Historically, the US had fostered the growth of corruption and structural violence in these nations through support of leaders who would not necessarily be for the people, but for American interests. John Burton states that Basic Human Needs cannot be quelled[ii], and some believe that the 21st century western aimed conflicts were that of unmet needs. While Huntington was correct that future conflict will be that of ideology, he failed to account for ideologies fostered by social and economic means which were put to work decades ago with the “meddling” of the west in eastern affairs.
Today, the terror group ISIS, or ISIL, makes home on the front pages of news sources, as it verbally threatens western societies. First, it must be noted that despite ISIL claims is “Islamic” belief, its actions resemble nothing that of what was said by Mohammed, or the Quran. Second, when examining the structure and dynamics of ISIL, one can see eminent structure similarities to that of the west. In his suggestions for Western nations, Huntington suggested the “[legitimization] of western interests and values, and promot[ion] of involvement of non-western states in those institutions,”[iii] and he was correct to a certain extent. However, in his over generalization of global cultures in his definition of seven global civilizations, he also undermined to capabilities of non-western players to do the exact same thing. Now, it is ISIL who legitimizes its interests and values, and promotes the involvement of westerners in its institutions. ISIL feeds on the regional instability fostered by structural violence, unmet needs, etc. in areas of the Levant, with the flag of its version of Islam. Huntington’s Clash of civilization theory mentions a convergence of ideologies, which definitely exists in the case of ISIL, however, it must be pointed out that the horror inducing ideology of ISIL converges with that of the whole world, not just the western United States. In addition, empowerment of ISIL is allowed by unrest in the region, be it between different religious sects, or civil violence.
In order to correctly address the conflict, a thorough, detailed outline of the conflict must be made. Generalizations must be put aside as the constant (and rapid) changes in culture/ identity dynamics do not allow for conclusions built upon stereotypes. Also, in support of anthropologist, Kevin Avruch, there must be an examination of “historically situated individuals, and the images encodements, schemas, and symbols – passed down from generations past”[iv] as well as those constructed by each individual internally. Non-western nations cannot be undermined as their advancements in capabilities must be acknowledged. A realistic, unbiased mapping of conflict allows for a realistic approach in its transformance. Once the conflict is understood, then educational and modulatory means of resolution can be determined.
[i] Huntington, Samuel. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Policy 72 (1992): 22-49. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.
[ii] Burton, Institutional Values and Human Needs, Deviance Terrorism and War, New York: St. Martins Press, 1979, pg 58.
[iii] “The Myth of the “Clash of Civilizations”. Edward Said.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.
[iv] Avruch, Kevin, Cultural Theory, Cultural Clash, and the Practice, Paradigm publishers. 2012. 81-95.