Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, attending the national Workers World conference in New York City November 17-18, 2012. Azikiwe writes extensively on African and world affairs., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Political Science 101
The Relationship Between United States Domestic and Foreign Policy: Reflections on Settler Colonialism, Slavery, Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Note: The following is a lecture delivered at Wayne State University on November 19, 2012.
This is a very important historic period to discuss today’s topic on how the domestic policy of the United States is mirrored in its foreign relations. When we discuss foreign policy it is important to emphasize that North America was in fact invaded and occupied by Western Europeans beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries.
However, before we examine this viewpoint, let us look at the current situation prevailing in Palestine, where the Gaza Strip is under bombardment by the State of Israel. The Israeli government is backed by the U.S. ruling class and its surrogates in the Congress as well as state and local governmental structures.
Since the formation and recognition by the United Nations of Israel in 1948, successive U.S. administrations have provided financial, military and political support. This assistance is essential to not only the continuation of the occupation of Palestine but the political rationale provided by the White House, the State Department and the Congressional leadership in regard to why the dominance of the Israeli state over Palestine is indispensable for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa.
President Obama has said that Israel has the right to defend itself. Well, what of the Palestinian people who have lived in the area much longer than most of the people of European Jewish descent who represent the dominant class in Israel?
Do the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and throughout the country have a right to defend themselves as oppressed people? Why should the Arab population be subjected to a different set of assumptions and rules of political and military engagement?
The founders of the State of Israel as leaders of the world Zionist movement which began during the later years of the 19th century closely allied themselves with European colonialism and imperialism. During this the same time period, the U.S. ruling class, which was and still is, predominately European, made a major push toward gaining colonial and imperial dominance through the so-called Spanish-American War and later its role in World War I and World War II, where Washington became the leading superpower internationally.
Is there a similarity between the rationale used to justify the removal, extermination and occupation of the indigenous people of North America and the current situation in Palestine and throughout the Middle East? How does the justification for 250 years of enslavement of the African people in North America relate to the current foreign policy orientation of the U.S.?
From Settler Colonialism to Slavery
Now let us go back to the formation of the British, French and Spanish colonies in North America as a means of gaining insight into contemporary realities. The imperative of European settlers in North America was largely designed for the purpose of enhancing European economic development and dominance over the world’s peoples.
Prior to the 15th century, the center and control of the world economy system existed outside Western Europe in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The historical processes of the period between the 15th and the 19th centuries required the mass extermination, exploitation, removal, re-location and enslavement of hundreds of millions of people in the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Pacific as well as North America.
As I wrote several years ago, “Slavery as a world economic system took firm root in the western hemisphere beginning in the early 16th century when in 1503 the Spanish directed their attention towards the African continent seeking a vast reservoir of free untapped labor power. Initially the indigenous peoples of the North American continent were transported to the Caribbean islands of St. Domingo and Cuba in astronomical numbers for the purpose of chattel slavery. Using the rationale of the necessity of spreading Christianity among the Native Americans, the indigenous people suffered and died in great numbers as a result of this barbaric treatment by the European slave owners.”
This same historical review went on to point out that “With the conquest of Peru and Brazil by Cortez and Pizarro in the early 16th century, the stage was set for the mass capture and importation of African slaves into South America, the Caribbean and later in North American continent. As early as the mid-1500s, the Native peoples of the Caribbean had virtually become extinct as a result of the genocidal economic and social policies of the European colonialists. Consequently, the African population became the numerically dominant group in the so-called West Indies by the middle of the 16th century, serving as the principle engine of economic growth for the Spanish colonialists. Soon afterwards, the British adventures embarked upon the trade in African labor as well, which they proceeded to carry out under charters issued by Elizabeth and James I.”
With specific reference to the initiation of slavery in continental North America, “In 1619, the British colony of Virginia, which later became a part of the U.S. in the late 18th century, introduced the indentured servitude of Africans. By 1670, approximately 2,000 Africans had fallen victim to the system of chattel slavery in this region of North America.”
Even after the American war of independence from Britain beginning around 1775-76 and extending to 1783, the African slaves were not granted the right to full citizenship. It would take another 80 years and a full-blown civil war to at least bring about the conditions for the “legal” abolition of slavery with the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.
The passage of the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865 ostensibly abolished involuntary servitude-- that is if you were not incarcerated in a penal institution. Yet what good is freedom without civil and human rights?
Therefore, the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution as well as other federal laws may have laid the foundation for abolition of institutional discrimination, however, the southern states and even the federal government after the Compromise of 1876, refused to enforce these laws.
Between the late 19th century, right through to the post World War II period of the mid-1950s, legalized segregation was the order of the day in the South and in many other regions of the country. It would take a civil rights movement, mass urban rebellions and radical organizing to win any semblance of equal and just treatment of African Americans.
Impact of Domestic Policy on Foreign Relations
Of course this political culture of national oppression and discrimination was reflected in the foreign policy of the U.S. After the Spanish-American war the U.S. would become a major imperialist power outside its own territorial boundaries.
Although the U.S. claims that it was not involved in colonialism in Africa, the West African state of Liberia was established in the 1820s to re-locate “freed African slaves” since the prevailing belief was the Africans could not live as equals with whites inside this country. The colonial project benefit U.S. imperialism and successive administrations backed by the ruling class supported those colonial powers from Europe when the national interests of Washington required it.
During the course of the national liberation movements of the Post World War II period, the U.S. ruling class and government never supported any genuine independence struggle. In South Africa, Rhodesia, Namibia, Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau as late as the period between the 1960s and the 1990s, the U.S. was in support and alliance with the European colonial and neo-colonial powers.
U.S. Foreign Policy in the 21st Century and Its Domestic Impact
Rather than subsiding, the military aggression of the U.S. is escalating. Since 2001, the U.S. has been involved in wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti, Colombia, Libya, Somalia and now Syria.
The impact of these wars have been monumental both in regard to domestic policy but also as it relates to the overall image of the U.S. around the world. This increase in militarism has coincided with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In Iraq over two million people were displaced by the U.S. intervention and thousands were killed. The wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, have left over 7,000 U.S. and NATO troops dead, tens of thousands wounded and hundreds of thousands injured both physically and psychologically.
Have these wars made the U.S. stronger? I would argue quite to the contrary. The wars have delayed any serious attention being devoted to the most pressing issues of the day: the rebuilding of the cities, the decline of the education systems, the burgeoning unemployment and underemployment rates, the escalation of poverty, the alienation of the youth, the ongoing problems of race relations, the degradation of the environment and the widening gap between the cities and the suburbs and the rural areas and the urban centers.
These are perspectives on the history of the U.S. and the political system. It will of course be up to the current generation to not only grapple with these questions but to also work toward their resolution.
What we have discussed here today can no longer be ignored. The future of the U.S. and the world is dependent upon the solving of these problems.