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How American Foreign Policy Inspires Resistance, Insurgency, and Terrorism | Stephen Walt

How American Foreign Policy Inspires Resistance, Insurgency, and Terrorism | Stephen Walt


Well, the United States really since the end
of the Cold War has launched a project to try to spread what you might call a liberal
world order in many parts of the world. We started the 1990s thinking that democracy,
free markets, and lots of other good things were spreading almost automatically, but the
Clinton administration decided to give it a shove with NATO expansion, with a number
of other programs designed to spread democracy in various places, and then, of course, the
Bush administration took it to the next level with the invasion of Iraq. But this didn’t stop under the Obama administration
which, of course, tried to topple Muammar Gaddafi, as well. So this is a bipartisan product of democratic
liberal internationalists and republican neoconservatives, and the basic idea is to try to spread something
like the American system in as many places around the world as we could. The problem is: this doesn’t work very well. It failed in Iraq, it’s failing in Afghanistan,
it failed in Yemen, it failed in Libya, and it’s not looking particularly good in places
like Hungary and Poland, which are starting to show certain illiberal signs. Moreover, the optimism people once had about
Russia becoming a member of the democratic family of nations, I think, have been disappointed
as well. Now why has this failed? Well, the first problem, of course, is that
spreading democracy into other countries inevitably means regime change. You’ve got to get rid of the existing government
and replace it with something new. But of course when you take apart an existing
order you can’t be sure what the new order is going to look like, and you’re going
to create a lot of angry losers, people who are resentful at their loss of power and status. And in some places like Iraq or Libya they’re
able to take up arms to resist this effort. So simultaneously you create an incentive
for resistance, an incentive for insurgency, and by destroying the existing order you also
create an open space where terrorists and other extremists can flourish. So a big problem first is: you’re beginning
by tearing apart a new order without knowing how to replace it. And that really is the second problem: we
don’t know how to create viable democracies in other countries, and especially in countries
that have never been democratic before, where there are deep ethnic divisions, where they’re
not necessarily very prosperous. And we ought to remind ourselves that it took
200 years or more for democracy to emerge in the West, that was a violent and contentious
process. And to believe, as we did in say 2003, that
we could invade Iraq and create a shiny new pro-American democracy in five or ten years
was positively delusional. And I think you see this in one final way:
when the United States ends up owning one of these countries it has to occupy it, it
has to try to keep order, but it doesn’t know enough about the inner workings of that
society: which people are reliable? Which people can be trusted to do the kind
of social engineering that creating a new nation or creating a new system of government
would entail? So, recently in Afghanistan a local American
commander had to apologize for issuing a propaganda leaflet, which included the flag of the Taliban,
some Quranic verses, and an image of a dog. Dogs are regarded in parts of the Islamic
world as unclean, and to associate that with the Quran, of course, was deeply offensive
to many of the Muslims for whom it was intended. Now I mention this only because the United
States has been in Afghanistan for 16 years and we still haven’t fully figured out how
to operate in that society in order to have reliable positive effects. And the bottom line here is this well-intentioned
effort to spread American values, American institutions, into many different corners
of the world has been an almost complete failure. And if the United States wants to promote
its values it ought to devote much more effort to creating an exemplary democracy here in
the United States so that other countries will look at the United States and say, “I’d
like to have something like that,” and then build their version of it. It’s something that we can do leading by
example, but not leading with the military edge. Two more good illustrations of our inability
to do nation building in many parts of the world are the failed effort to create a new
democracy in Libya. There was an uprising in Libya as a consequence
of the Arab Spring and the United States and several of its democratic allies, especially
France and Britain, decided to intervene on behalf of the rebel forces. Now this was originally intended, or so we
said, as a purely humanitarian act to prevent Muammar Gaddafi, who was at that point still
in power, from conducting some kind of mass killing of the rebels. But we quickly expanded beyond that and gave
help to the rebels in the form of air power, such that they eventually succeeded. But of course, once the Gaddafi regime, which
was by all accounts a horrific, inefficient despotism, but once it was gone there was
no order left, and instead of a stable, effective democracy, what you had instead was the emergence
of warlords, factions, militants, and essentially a failed state. It also involved Libya’s very considerable
arms arsenal getting spread out and scattered to a variety of other extremist groups in
other places, including Syria. So the bottom line here is: a well-intentioned
effort to promote human rights and spread democracy ends up creating a failed state
instead. And that is essentially the same story one
could tell in a place like Yemen where the United States has repeatedly intervened to
try to promote more democratic outcomes, and where we now have another failed state, one
where Saudi Arabia has intervened with military force, where there is a cholera epidemic that
spreading, vast human suffering, and the country is further away from being an effective democracy
today than it was when the United States first started meddling. Again, this just teaches us the lesson that
the United States has enough trouble making democracy work here in the United States itself,
trying to create it in other places that have never been democratic—and especially trying
to do that with military force—simply doesn’t work. I think there are a set of humanitarian circumstances
where the United States should think about intervening. And primarily when we think there is going
to be a large-scale mass killing in the order of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands
of people. And in those circumstances we may or may not
intervene, depending on, first of all, whether or not we have strategic interest that reinforce
the imperative to do more, but also whether or not we are confident that intervention
is actually going to make things better as opposed to making things worse. Now an obvious case of this is Syria. There’s been a horrific civil war going
on in Syria now for more than five years, upwards of a half a million people have died
and many Americans have wanted the United States to get more actively involved in arming
one side or the other or perhaps trying to impose some kind of no-fly zone. The difficulty is: it is hard to be confident
that any of those measures are actually going to make the situation better. Why? Because there are really no “good guys”
in this particular fight, and to the extent that there are some moderate forces within
the Syrian Civil War they are among the weakest and the least likely to succeed. So if the United States were to intervene,
it is as likely to bring some kind of violent extremist, some kind of al-Qaeda offshoot
organization like ISIS to power as it is to bring a bunch of nice, peace-loving, pro-American,
liberal democrats. So it would be nice to say remove the Assad
regime, put him on trial for war crimes, but what we may be leaving behind would be something
considerably worse. So even in the case of a clear humanitarian
incentive, and those circumstances will arise from time to time, I think we want to be careful
and only intervene when we know we can make it better and when we also see a way to get
out so that we don’t end up having to be there for decades.

100 comments on “How American Foreign Policy Inspires Resistance, Insurgency, and Terrorism | Stephen Walt

  1. The US government = the new Reich! Wars and meddling in the worlds governments, yeah that will end well, not!

  2. You idiot what about south korea, japan, they never had democracy and they are thriving under freedom after americas intervention.

  3. What do you do when countries are attacking the west, like in Afghanistan, where terrorists have political power?. With Iraq, lets not forget he invaded Kuwait (an ally) he went to war with Iran killing 1.5 million people and he gassed thousands of Kurds. We can point to a few disasters but ignore the millions who live in freedom, protected by the US. Its mainly the Islamic world where these failures occur. I agree its pointless to try to help Islamic countries become democracies, they are too brainwashed by religion to be anti-western, and they prefer religious laws to secular laws.

  4. "Well-intentioned"
    "Democracy"
    Lol, no. Our intentions are to make money and spread our hegemony and our love of "democracy" only extends to states that are willing to be completely neoliberal capitalist AND trade with us. Otherwise we fucking crush them.

    Also, there ARE good guys in the Syria fight: Rojava and the YPG. But we would never admit that, because they're affiliated with the PKK, who are dirty commies.

  5. While I completed agree. Stephen isn't going far enough/being truthful enough. It is very narrowsighted to think that the US was going into these countries for humanitarian aid. It's typical economic colonization and control. It's profitable for the US to destabilize other countries they want resources from.

  6. Charles Koch wants an exemplary democracy in America? Then why does he fund the current crony capitalist regime? I suspect that the Kochs don't want the US meddling in foreign countries so that they can meddle instead.

  7. Aside from free speech, this is a good reason for burning the American flag. Then watching all the hypocrites supposedly in the military saying they would attack you if they saw you because they fought for your rights……while at the same time wishing they could infringe on them & even go as far as to commit a crime in doing so….

    What part of America is great again? Or was? What exactly is it that makes it so much "better" than every country on the planet?

  8. The United States is a Republic not a Democracy. It's important to understand the difference, our founding fathers did. https://youtu.be/VogzExP3qhI

  9. Where i grew up – if someone pushes you, you must push back harder, otherwise every thing will be taken off you.

    If a nation pushes another and they grew up with the same ideal – they will push back as hard as possible.

    Alas I have learned that those who push the most often get other people to do the pushing – the pawns.

  10. One of the few big think videos I actually agree with. I think US should just be more conquest oriented. lmao usually they have stupid speakers doing stupid subjects.

  11. By saying "Well intention effort to spread American values and institutions…" you mean bombing the country for their oil and drug traffic networks right?

  12. Not only is this corporate and imperial whitewashing, but I suspect a message based primarily on profit strategy, now Trump allows such lunatics to plunder their home country's resources after plundering foreign countries for decades.

  13. Just a caveat I think is worth noting: Since the United States has become the lone military superpower on the planet s/p WWII, the planet has experienced a time of peace. This stability has been very good for the global economy and has abetted the greatest increase in the quality of human life in history. Billions of people have lifted themselves out of poverty.

  14. "Our good [USA] intentions to spread democracy … " Stephen Walt – is he a Harvard tool or truly suffering from the petro-dollar propaganda his career and life is twisted in?

    Good that Walt want the US to lead by example but that seems ludicrous to ask given the foundational hypocrisy of the USA.

    Very disappointing Big Think.

  15. Why can't the US government just admit that's it's a colonial empire? My country the UK, was quite happy to just say it out loud as they crushed the skulls of every harmless native people they came across in 19th century. At least it was honest. Fess up to your war crimes, US. You broke international law and have even had the absolute nerve to lecture others about it when you were the first. That's not even to say about turning war into an enterprise so you have to have war in order to keep making money for weapons companies while everyday US citizens live in poverty, drinking toxic water from a D+ graded infrastructure. There's a reason why when asked, people say the biggest threat to world peace is the US.

  16. this sounds like a comedy show, " well-intended effort to spread American values, American institutions into many different corners of the world…" bahahahah

  17. I guess it is possible, maybe even necessary, to make this point in an argumentative way – to explain in a coherent and causally consistent story, how and why these efforts are going to fail. Maybe that will convince some people. I sure hope so.
    But even in this video, this seemingly reasonable man is not even contemplating the main question: What the fuck is wrong with you, America? Do we really need another #MeToo for countries that have been raped by America's foreign policy in the past? How is it any less obvious, that you just don't force yourself into the affairs of other countries? Even this point could be made with arguments: first and foremost the United Nations Charter. I just don't understand, why this video is beating around the bush concerning state sovereignty.

  18. It was never about spreading democracy. It was about stopping democracy from happening. That's why the US has had a 120 years (give or take) love affair with dictatorships. People forget that both Mussolini and Hitler both received enormous support from the US and that's just the start of the list. Bastista in Cuba, the Shah in Iran, General Pinochet in Chile, the massacres in El Salvidor, arming the Taliban in the Afganistan. Shall I keep going? So may of these STARTED as democracies. The guy here is talking shit. If the US cared about human rights, it would be sending doctors and relief workers. Not soldiers and drone strikes.

    Also Big Think, why the fuck is this video sponsored by one of the Koch Brothers' organisations? I thought you knew better.

  19. American foreign policy has been about supporting liberalism, and by that I mean economic liberalism, rather than actual democracy. Examples for this are countless (Latin America, Indonesia.. etc).

  20. Moral of the story: You cant force cultural change, you have to encourage it. Showing it works by example and making it a desired goal, voluntarily.
    That said. I do think the world needs to unite under some common values. Like respecting individual rights and way of living, and aspire to leaderships that lead by example and not authority.

  21. It's not about democracy, it's about control over resources/wealth using regime change, creating terrorism, & the military industrial complex

    These people/videos are fucking stupid 😂

  22. See, there's three kinds of people: dicks, pussies, and assholes. Pussies think everyone can get along, and dicks just want to fuck all the time without thinking it through. But then you got your assholes, Chuck. And all the assholes want us to shit all over everything! So, pussies may get mad at dicks once in a while, because pussies get fucked by dicks. But dicks also fuck assholes, Chuck. And if they didn't fuck the assholes, you know what you'd get? You'd get your dick and your pussy all covered in shit!

  23. America and NATO bombed my country using uranium charged missiles for democracy and human rights. After bombing ended, rather sooner than later, our hospitals became full with patients having various cancer issues. Doctors see increase in having babies born with defects and various genetic disorder. Let us consider for a fact that acting outside UN is illegal regardless if it is USA or not that is acting. But USA don't care about that – everything is driven by the interest even if it is the one that just ensures that particular country falls under sphere of USA and not any other country. But people that are there – they remain to suffer as we know – uranium needs few millions of years to decompose. So I have to live in my neo-colonized country with radiation saturated soil from which we grow our food… What do you think – do I like USA?

  24. The US involve themselves with countries that have strategic importance to them or to stop the spread of ideologies they despise and/or fear such as communism/socialism. I can't even think of a conflict they tried to resolve purely to stop genocidal acts without any other agenda behind these motives. The US should stop getting involve in countries affairs altogether not just with its armies but also by sending weapons, supplies and information you have done enough damage and you only make things worse for everyone involved both directly and indirectly. As this guy said you need to sort your own shit out if you really want to be a leader of a free world lead by example not force, especially for your own gains at the expense of hundred's of thousand's suffering…..

  25. Poland and Hungary has been working democracy for 20+ years. Even if they have problem now I doesn't prove the idea was wrong. Just that some things got bad down the way. Those countries may not be liberal democracies in 100% right now. But they are reasonable wealthy democracies with free elections. If we would judge by the true liberal democracy standard USA isn't one also. There are also a dozen more democracies around the world that aren't perfect. Should they also be abandon and not encourage?
    USA shouldn't try to establish democracy by force in countries that have no civil society. But sure as hell they should support young democracies that emerged on their own.

  26. It would help if the rest of the First World would start picking up their tab on national defense. As it is, the US is forced to play the role of world police because the rest of Western Civilization is too comfortable with their social programs to invest in their own defense. The US has been subsidizing security since the end of WWII.

  27. If Donald Trump needs a minister of Newspeak, Prof. Walt is his man. Prof. Walt perpetuates the myth that interventions such as the invasion in Iraq are examples of efforts to spread democracy abroad. In other words, the interventions are supposedly good intentions gone wrong. This is a lie. The goal of American military interventions and of instigating regime changes is to protect American economic interests. The regime changes often prevented democracy from spreading.

    For example, Mohammad Mosaddegh was the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran from 1951 until 1953. One of his political decisions was to nationalize the Iranian oil industry. The American CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service supported a coup d'état which installed a government that brought back the foreign oil companies.

    As for the invasion in Iraq, see Naomi Klein's book "The Shock Doctrine".

    Big Think should be ashamed for publishing this type of propaganda on its channel.

  28. Nationalism is a very powerful force. People in other countries tend to reject foreign meddling in the same way that we would. So intervention starts off at a very strong disadvantage.

    Also, most societies consist of different ethnic and social groups that fear each other, but which have found ways to coexist. American intervention disrupts those compromises and sets different groups against each other.

  29. If you want spread your values and do good for the world, take care of the people who actually WANT to be part of the US, and not let european countries have to deal with the millions of immigrants/refugees.

  30. America's democracy is a sad joke compared to real democracies . I honestly believe that they no longer really believe in the democratic process. All they really believe in is " winning" , Trump being a glaring example of that mindset. Anyway America practices a very bastardized form of democracy which allows a small minority of citizens to control the majority.just follow the money.

  31. Makes alot of sense to get our own shit together first and allow others autonomy though arms length alliances that respect differences. The fact is that many cultures are not ready for a democratic republic like the US. Other cultures (Islamic) view free societies as an evil to be destroyed, enslaved, and forced into Sharia. Best thing is be strong at home and align with like-minded cultures and peoples.

  32. As long as the United States don't get rid of two things called insularity and arrogance about the world, the country is faded to repeat the same mistakes throughout history (if it survives this carcinogenic process). I can't believe how hypocritical the U.S is when it comes to other nations and itself by the way. Washington wants to impose its will across the globe, with their "democratic institutions", which is fact nothing more than lies to the goverments that accepts this horses…t (including my country, Brazil) when they can't even come to terms with their own domestic problems. I'm sorry but this makes the United States of America a joke to the eyes of the world. I love the USA but their hypocrisy and arrogance are so big that I just can't conceive into my mind. I still believe in the United States, but it has to act more in accordance with the world. Unilateralism is simply not the answer, no wonder Russia and China want to end the American-led world and when acts of terrorism are commited against its people, American citizens are flabbergasted with this. Check the actions of your government abroad, for you not be caught off guard when someone says they hate the USA.

  33. Fantastic irony that the Koch institute is paying for these studies given the Koch brothers financial interference in US governance for years. The US is neither a democracy, nor well-meaning in its international interventions. “Well-meaning intervention” is propaganda that only Americans believe.

  34. This all relies on the US presumption that democracy is the best form of government. Any despot who disagrees with that is a target for regime change.

  35. The US is not exporting democracy but securing military allies and destroying its opponents. Some Western countries have honest and sincere democratic regimes, the US is not one of them. The illusion that "we are free" because of our capitalistic system is pure propaganda. The other side of this resides in free speech. The reality is that the US is far from promoting free speech. The info is muzzled by the media, truth and issues kept quiet from the public, tied to an establishment, the press is owned by large corporations. Finally, the fact that people are "allowed" to vote is not what a democracy is about. People voted in the Soviet Union within a 2 party system that did not take the popular vote into account anyway. The worst dictators of the world also conduct elections. The fact is that the US elections are rigged, as everybody knows, by a 2 party system tied to the same establishment as the press. The people's vote doesn't matter and the people know it so well that they don't bother to vote. The The US regime is an oligarchy, a plutocracy and a tacit military dictatorship, in short a fascist regime. And, you wonder why it can't export itself?

  36. That's you're "big think". After a hundred years of installing dictators, arming dictators, killing innocent people by the millions. Our cia doing all sorts of horrible things you think we are interested in spreading democracy, grow up. If you're country doesn't let our corporations "take control", our media will vilify you, followed by our military, or our intelligence services. So a tiny segment of our population can make millions upon millions. The usa isn't interested in democracy around the world or at home, only in control and profit. We are not the world's police by any stretch of the imagination, we are the world's mafia, pure and simple, and the blueprint for destruction, corruption, and waste.

  37. How about stop using the word "democracy" for covering the US bloodthirsty desire of controlling the world oil and natural resources? Is the US public really that incredibly stupid to believe in such blatant lies? Democracy? How about spreading democracy in Saudi Arabia or Qatar? The US policy is nothing but a modernized Machiavellian style of being brutal tyrant covered in nobel dresses. Seems we as human beings are all the same, when it comes to power. You see, the same things we heard in Eastern Europe from the Soviet leaders, they wanted to spread their socialist values. No they did not, we got pissed of their "values". Now the USA values came in. The invasion of Lybia, Iraq, Syria was for oil, smarthead, even a kid could figure it out. The US backing of so many latin dictators in Latin America, was not for democracy purposes, genius. In Afghanistan the US backed the so called mujaheedeen, who later became talibans in order to push away USSR. And yet, until today the US still using radical islam to tople inconvenient governments, which are by far more democratic than the ones they are backing (like Saudi). The criminal wars like the one in Yemen is not spreading democracy. It's showing our typical greedy violent human nature.

  38. "We don't know how to create viable democracies in other countries" My suggestion, work out how to do that for the USA first 🙂

  39. Sorry, I should have added in that last post that Senator McCain is a "prisoner of war survivor", "cancer victim" and all round great guy that is a (sometime) maverick.

  40. "Well intention-ed effort to spread american values", go say that to the Vietnamese, the Iraqis, the Libyans, the Syrians, the…

  41. Because spreading liberty and democracy are done by force? If democracy and free markets are better, they will win across the world on their own. If you must use force to keep down socialism/communism/etc, then they are proving better. As nations must compete, better nations will rise to the top. Of course, if under actual national threat, then we should use force to protect our way of life.

  42. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Besides, how would America respond to foreign troops on its borders, or an invasion from another country to "help us"? It's not rocket science to know this.

  43. Poor America 🙁 is this guy serious! He uses words invasion and spreading democracy in the same sentence! Democracy indeed

  44. I don't agree always agree with Big Think speakers but this one was on point. Also, America tried that here in the Philippines, making the country in their image, didn't really turn out as well as they hoped.

  45. Wrong, we know how to create democracy and republics via historical lessons: A countries citizens must want it and fight for it on their own. Interference or coerced change by other countries will always fail.

  46. The United States of America should stop telling excuses about democracy and invade Mexico. The border between Guatemala and Belize is just third in length and easier to patrol against the influx of illegal immigrants. Why not run all the way to Panama? They should not worry about the UN forces because they have enough firepower to wipe them all out in one night.

  47. The truth is the USA is trying to destabilize countries to put in their puppets so they can go after natural resources such as oil. Its military intervention has nothing to do w/ spreading democracy. Syria is as democratic as the USA but Assad won't let oil companies put a pipeline through Syria so Assad has to go. And, then there is the oil in Golan Heights, occupied by Israel, that Genie Energy has some how obtained rights to drill, even though it is really Syria land. Interestingly (or not), Dick Cheney and other neocons are on the board of Genie Energy. Basically, US taxpayers pay for the wars for oil, with profits going to oil companies and the military industrial complex. It's treason.

  48. American foreign policy turns other countries into burned out, unlivable hell holes.
    Its domestic policy is pretty much the same, only proceeds at a little slower pace.

  49. The result of American Interventions is that, it leaded to humanitarian crysis in a country, as for example Iraq. The American Government thought that ony an intervention will solve a problem. But rebels after ending a war became terrorists. Let me remind you, that almost a half of Sadaam Khuseyn's generals took the side of terrorists. And therefore, there was created a terrorist organisation as "Islamic State".
    Nevertheless, After innaguration of Donald Trump I had a vision that the USA will focus on only their domestic policy. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

  50. US foreign policy seeks to influence (by any means) the choice of leaders for many other countries so that only the most corrupt, those willing to put US interests ahead of their own nations interests, can be allowed by the US regime to take power and any democratic leader who is loyal to his own country and refuses to bow to US demands must be taken down.

  51. Walt seems like a very intelligent man. Does he really believe that the motivations of the United States are really as pure and altruistic as he seems to?

  52. Resistance -> Insurgency -> Chaos That's exactly what America wants. It's not "bad ideas" with "good intention" – don't be naive people. America benefits from chaos from other parts of the world, and from others' suffering can America prosper and maintain their extremely materialistic way of life and world status.

  53. With the Name of God.

    "There was two servants of God whom were guided grape gardens each with fields of produce. They had date palms surrounding the gardens. They had growing produce with no decrease. They had running water in the midst of them

    When the two servants were mutually talking

    My Grape garden and my children are superior to yours and and I am more superior than you in respect of Men. And the day of resurrection is a lie. I will find better possessions with my God if it is true"

    Said the other Servant:

    "As for me, I hold no equals with God. Do you disbelieve in God.You may have been given such possessions because I am going be given better possessions. You may be given a disaster like fire, lighting bolts or even the running water may sink in to the ground and you cannot have not be powerful enough to get the water.

    God gave torment to the servant. He was only clapping his hands out of sorrow. "

    This is from the Noble Qur'an.

    Like this example we should be like merciful dads and like amicable doctors. And Not be ungrateful to God and disbelieve in His Who is to say God won't make you poor after he has made you rich. (As there are many examples of that ). We cannot be certain of God, He is One .

  54. Well intentioned? Thanks for the laugh. All States are criminal enterprises. Their intent does not matter. Hitler and Stalin had good intent as well. I know, we are good. All states think they are good. We call this imperialism. Walt needs to quit smoking crack and hiding in the salon.

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