The Myths That Made an Empire

Monday, August 2, 2010
By Paul Martin

Contrary to what Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Bush have taught, America’s freedom and prosperity do not depend on democracy taking root in foreign lands.

By Bruce Fein

From the late 1940s to the end of the Cold War, U.S. presidents interceded everywhere in the world in an effort to contain or to defeat the USSR. No country was too small for the United States to believe its alignment with the Soviet Union would be pivotal to American safety, freedom, or prosperity. For the first time, America began to devise a foreign policy for every nation on earth, be it Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Nepal, or Fiji. And this attitude prevailed when no one would have dared an offensive war against the United States—at the height of its power, the Soviet Union flinched in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Two unassailable orthodoxies drove this hyper-interventionism. First was the belief that the national security of the United States was dependent upon the vitality of democracy in foreign lands. Second was the notion that a global military presence, with its ability to ensure international stability and access to resources, was indispensable to economic growth. Both orthodoxies are patent nonsense, yet both continue to dominate American thinking.

Harry Truman gave voice to the first during a speech before Congress on March 12, 1947, when he proclaimed the doctrine that now bears his name. His address sought to win approval of $400 million in economic and military aid to Turkey and Greece, two countries that the executive branch viewed as being endangered by Communist takeovers.

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