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edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair


On October 9, 2003 a debate was held at venerable Trinity College in Dublin. Organized by the University Philosophical Society, the proposition to be debated was: “America’s foreign policy does more harm than good.”

Supporting the proposition were: WILLIAM BLUM, American author; David Barsamian, American radio journalist and author; and Tom Hanahoe, Irish author.

Arguing against the proposition were: John Bruton, former Irish prime minister; Bill Rammell, British MP and minister in the Foreign Office; and Gideon Rose, Managing Editor of “Foreign Affairs”, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, and former member of the Clinton National Security Council.

Near the conclusion of the debate, Bill Rammell was reduced to calling David Barsamian “anti-American”. And Gideon Rose, the most fervent of the opposing speakers, was reduced to asking the audience to understand that the choice is “a world run by the United States or a world run by Osama bin Laden”. I would place Rose in the category of “the best and the brightest”, the type that brought us Vietnam and now brings us Iraq.

At the end of the evening the large audience, by calling out “Aye” or “Nay”, overwhelmingly declared those supporting the proposition to be the victors.

My opening presentation was as follows:

In 1975, there was a committee of the US congress called the Pike Committee, named after its chairman Otis Pike. This committee investigated the covert side of US foreign policy and discovered a number of scandalous secrets, some of which were leaked to the public, while others remained secret. In an interview Congressman Pike stated that any member of Congress could see the entire report if he agreed not to reveal anything that was in it. “But not many want to read it,” he said.

The interviewer asked him “Why?”

And Pike replied: “Oh, they think it is better not to know. There are too many things that embarrass Americans in that report. You see, this country went through a bad shock with Watergate. But even then, all they were asked to believe was that their president had been a bad person. In this new situation they are asked much more; they are asked to believe that their country has been evil. And nobody wants to believe that.”

The word for that is of course “denial”. The fact that we are here to discuss the question of whether American foreign policy does more harm than good is further proof of that denial, for the question has been answered many times over. I could fill up this entire room with books floor to ceiling and wall to wall documenting the great harm done to every corner of the world by American foreign policy.

Here is a short summary of what Washington has been engaged in from the end of World War II to the present:

Attempting to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments.

Unprovoked military invasion of some 20 sovereign nations.

Working to crush more than 30 populist movements which were fighting against dictatorial regimes.

Providing indispensable support to a small army of brutal dictatorships: Mobutu of Zaire, Pinochet of Chile, Duvalier of Haiti, Somoza of Nicaragua, the Greek junta, Marcos of the Philippines, Rhee of Korea, the Shah of Iran, 40 years of military dictators in Guatemala, Suharto of Indonesia, Hussein of Iraq, the Brazilian junta, Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Taliban of Afghanistan, and others.

Dropping powerful bombs on the people of about 25 countries, including 40 consecutive days and nights in Iraq, 78 days and nights in Yugoslavia, and several months in Afghanistan, all three of these countries having met the first requirement as an American bombing target — being completely defenseless. And not once ever has the United States come even close to repairing the great damage caused by its bombings. Afghanistan and Iraq are of course the latest examples.

Increasing use of depleted uranium, one of the most despicable weapons ever designed by mankind, which produces grossly deformed babies amongst its many endearing qualities, and which, in a civilized world not intimidated by the United States, would be categorically banned.

Repeated use of cluster bombs, another fiendish device designed by a mad scientist, which has robbed numerous young people of one or more limbs, and some of their eyesight, and continues to do so every day in many countries as the bombs remain on the ground.

Assassination attempts on the lives of some 40 foreign political leaders.

Crude interference in dozens of foreign democratic elections.

Gross manipulation of labor movements.

Shameless manufacture of “news”, the disinformation effect of which is multiplied when CIA assets in other countries pick up the same stories.

Providing handbooks, materials and encouragement for the practice of torture.

Chemical or biological warfare or the testing of such weapons, and the use of powerful herbicides, all causing terrible effects to the people and environments of China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Panama, Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia and elsewhere.

Encouragement of drug trafficking in various parts of the world when it served the CIA’s purposes.

Supporting death squads, especially in Latin America.

Causing grievous harm to the health and well-being of the world’s masses by turning the screws of the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and other international financial institutions, as well as by imposing unmerciful sanctions and embargoes.

Much of the above has led to millions of refugees wandering homeless over the earth.

And what do those who champion the mystique of “America” offer in defense of this record? Well, denial is the first line of defense — Well-known and respected foreign policy analysts in the United States write entire books on American foreign policy with scarcely a hint of what I’ve just mentioned. When all else fails, they fall back on the argument that “The United States means well.” It may sometimes blunder, even occasionally do a bit more harm than good as things turn out … but the intention is always benevolent.

Let us look at a recent example of what some people would say was evidence of US foreign policy being a force for good — Afghanistan, where the awful Taliban were overthrown. How can one argue against that? Well, in the past the past two years, US bombings and ground combat have taken the lives of many thousands of innocent civilians in addition to killing many so-called combatants, who are simply anyone defending against the US invasion; countless homes and other buildings have been demolished; depleted uranium has begun to show its ugly face; the warlords have returned to extensive power; opium cultivation is booming anew; crime and violence have once again become a daily fact of life; the president is nothing less than an American puppet; and the country is occupied by foreign troops (i.e., American) who often treat the population badly, including the use of torture; Afghanistan has become a protectorate of the US and NATO.

And remember, the awful Taliban regime would never have come to power in the first place if the United States, in the 1980s and 90s, had not played an essential role in the overthrow of a secular and fairly progressive government, which allowed women much more freedom than they’ll ever have under the current government.

The problem, then as now, is that the consequences for the people of Afghanistan have been a matter of imperial indifference. On Washington’s agenda in this case are secure oil and gas pipelines, military bases, and, if and when security can be instituted, the forces of globalization will march in.

Meanwhile in Iraq, what the US bombing, invasion and occupation have brought to the people there is every bit as appalling.

WILLIAM BLUM is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir. He can be reached at:


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