Lehn is a junior law, politics and society and history major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some may see Operation Iraqi Freedom as being an anomaly, yet the 2003 invasion has a direct link to a 200-year-old American policy. A look back upon U.S. foreign affairs shows the roots of the conflict lie in the tenure of the nation’s fifth president.
It was during the administration of President James Monroe that America began to lay the foundation to become the world’s next great power. In 1823, the president declared to the world that any colonization within the western hemisphere by a foreign nation would be considered an act of aggression against the U.S. Although there was no way for Americans to enforce such a policy, no European power attempted to defy Monroe’s claim.
Left alone, Americans began to pursue expansion in the West at a rapid pace. As the push towards the Pacific coast grew, so did the ideology of manifest destiny: the belief that a group is destined to conquer the frontier to advance the nation’s economic interests. By creating new towns, states and industries, those who settled the West also became pioneers in commerce. Yet, once the explorers reached the Pacific Ocean and the frontier had been exhausted in this country, American leaders then looked for new trading markets overseas, as the U.S. was dependent on the idea of maintaining a frontier to continue its growth.
By the beginning of the 19th century, the United States had become a formidable economic power, but had run out of room to expand. China was the last major undeveloped market in the world and was constantly bombarded by foreigners trying to establish new trading markets. In an effort to preserve American economic interests in China, the United States established the Open Door Policy at the turn of the century.
After witnessing the aftermath of the partitioning of the African continent in the 1880s, America tried to prevent a second mass colonization in the name of free trade. Because the United States had not established a significant sphere of influence within Asia, the Open Door Policy was a way to keep the hopes of an American — Chinese market alive while preventing damaging European borders from being carved out on a map.
Following the initial success of the Open Door Policy in China, this new policy became the Monroe Doctrine of the future. Because the frontier had died on the U.S. mainland, international markets evolved to fill the gap in trade that was vital to American prosperity.
Two years after World War II, President Harry Truman fused the main points of the Monroe Doctrine and the Open Door Policy to create his own agenda designed to combat a new threat to the American frontier: communism. According to Truman, the U.S. as the lone superpower would police the world to make it safe for other countries to be self-determinate, preserve global free markets and maintain world peace. Although the Soviet Union was in a state of complete disrepair after World War II, Truman laid out a policy initiative that framed the devastated socialists as the largest threat to the American way of life and world peace.
Despite being designed to contain the influence of the Soviet Union, Truman’s policies continued to play a large part of the United States’ foreign policy. Since its inception, armed conflict in Korea, Lebanon, Vietnam, Iran, Beirut, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq were all conducted under the banner of fulfilling the Truman Doctrine and protecting the economic interests of the United States. American forces did not spend exorbitant amounts of money and blood in countries like Korea and Vietnam solely to quell a Communist uprising. Instead, these conflicts were conducted to protect American investments and to keep the frontier of the free market economy open.
Although Saddam Hussein was not a communist leader, his attempts to cut off America’s access to oil markets pushed the United States to fight to keep those major investments open. Sure, Iraq may have had weapons of mass destruction, and yes, Saddam may have been a threat to world peace, but had he not interfered with America’s oil investments, and thus the Monroe Doctrine, he would still be in power today.