Critique's Zone

American Exceptionalism Is A Continuation of Colonial Mindset

As the sun set on the British empire, the lands it colonised gained independence. Along with it, several European colonial empires lost their sheen. Countries in Asia and Africa became sovereign nation-states.

It coincided with the end of the second world war. The economic instability wrought by the war made it difficult for the colonial empires to hold on to their colonies. By the 1950s, most of the European colonies had decolonised. The decline of Europe saw a shift of power to the Allied Powers – the United States of America and the Soviet Union. The USA became the new centre of Anglo-Saxon imperialism.

European Colonialism can trace its origin to the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. In the aftermath, Europe lost its territorial trade routes to Asia to the Ottoman Empire. So Europe began to look for an alternate trade route to Asia to import goods.

The quest for a new trade route saw Europe improve its maritime prowess. Patronised by the monarchies of Portugal and Spain, expeditionary voyages to find a trade route to India were commissioned. As a result, certain developments in the last decade of the 15th century shaped the course of history.

Post the discovery of America and the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus, the Portuguese wanted to hold on to the territories after the issuance of the papal bull Inter Caetera by Pope Alexander VI. To accommodate their interests, the monarchies of Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas. The treaty divided the globe between the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies.

The thick red lines show the demarcation of territory – Treaty of Tordesillas
Source: National Geographic Society

In the second chapter of his book – India, That is Bharat, J Sai Deepak has presented the Inter Caetera verbatim. An excerpt from the papal bull provides insight into the motives for the expeditionary voyages under the guise of trade.

Alexander, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to the illustrious sovereigns, our very dear son in Christ, Ferdinand, king, and our very dear daughter in Christ, Isabella, queen of Castille, Leon, Aragon, Sicily, and Granada, health and apostolic benediction. Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”

Pope Alexander VI, 1493 (Deepak, 2021)

Be it the Spanish conquistadors, the Portuguese, the British or the other European colonial powers – they first arrived on the shores of South America, Africa, India and South East Asia as traders. Over the years, they carried out the mandate of the Papal bull. They subjugated the local indigenous populations to civilise them by spreading the Gospel of Christianity. Any resistance was crushed brutally. The Goan Inquisition and the Spanish Inquisition are a reminder of that.

While civilising the natives, the colonial powers exploited the resources of the conquered territories. They built the infrastructure to export these resources back to their respective countries. In the current global geopolitical scenario, the United States of America uses the same modus operandi as an extension of its foreign policy.

The Idea of American Imperialism – Credit: Louis Dalrymple
Source: The Opinion – Medium

Post the second world war, as the ties between the Allied powers of the USA and the Soviet Union soured, they descended into a Cold War. The Truman doctrine established during this era continues to be the cornerstone of American foreign policy.

With it as the bedrock of their foreign policy, the United States of America indulged and aided in regime change operations. The regime change operations aim to ensure the nation remains in its sphere of influence. In extreme cases, it invades countries to liberate them and give them democracy. Unlike the European colonial powers, it spreads its message through freedom and human rights.

Post the second world war the USA positioned itself as a bulwark against authoritarian regimes. It established the rules-based world order with the geopolitical winners of the second world war at the top. The reality, though, is quite different. The USA has supported autocratic regimes and toppled democratically elected leaders to meet its national interests.

The US government deploys its agencies – the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and USAID alongside NGOs to create disinformation campaigns to sow the seeds of disaffection against the government. They support the protests that erupted following the disinformation campaign to install a leader compatible with their interests.

It was common in Central America – a region the USA considered its backyard. Recent news reports suggest that America toppled 41 governments in Central America from 1898-1994. It continues to do so.

The latest attempt was a coup in Venezuela. The domestic situation in the country provided a chance to carry out a coup and overthrow the government of Nicolas Maduro. It helped the US impose sanctions on its oil industry and promote US crude oil in the international market.

Former National Security Adviser of the USA, John Bolton, spoke on television about his role in planning coups in various countries. He admitted in his interview that the coup attempt in Venezuela was unsuccessful. Former CIA director James Woosley in a televised interview in 2018, admitted to US interference in the electoral practices of other nations.

The interference of Hillary Clinton in the Haitian election in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2010 is one such example. She threatened to cut off aid to the country if Michel Martelly was not allowed to become a candidate in the Presidential runoff election. In the end, she got her way. Haitians boycotted the polls; Martelly got elected as President.

While these events show how the United States exerts control over other nation-states, it dethrones elected governments to meet industrial needs. As the world adopted green energy, the automobile industry saw an increase in the manufacture of electric vehicles, smartphones, and computers. Tonnes of lithium are needed to manufacture components of these items. That is where Bolivia comes in.

Bolivia is home to a large reserve of the world’s lithium resources – estimated to be about 25-45 percent of the world’s reserves. Transnational companies based in the US, Canada and other geographies could not access this resource. The transitional companies were prohibited from doing so by the Bolivian constitution. Per their constitution, lithium could be extracted and processed by Bolivians.

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales. His government was overthrown by a coup orchestrated with US support. Credit: Agencia Boliviana de Informacion
Source: Peoples World

President Evo Morales refused access to transnational companies for mining the abundant resources in the country. Earlier in 2008, he curtailed the activities of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the country. The Chimore airport which functioned as the base of the DEA was later converted into a civilian airport. It resulted in the reduction of coca production, a substance used to make cocaine.

His identity of belonging to an indigenous tribe was a shift in Bolivian politics. It was the first time after independence that a person from the indigenous communities became President. The reluctance of Morales to allow extraction led to a bloody coup in November.

After the coup, the self-declared interim President of Bolivia, Jeanine Anez, appeared in the Congress with a Bible in her hand. In the Congress, she stated, “The Bible has returned to the government palace.” As she took control of the state, Morales had to flee the country to save his life. Morales termed the coup an act of revenge for losing access to the Bolivian lithium market to Chinese and German companies.

Tesla owner Elon Musk welcomed the coup in Bolivia. He was widely criticised on the internet for his comment. To which he tweeted back, “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

Elon Musk’s tweet on the Bolivia coup

This is a typical way America executed its foreign policy in countries that are not allied with it. It either carries out regime change operations or invades other countries. America invaded Iraq under the pretext that Saddam Hussein had built weapons of mass destruction. The real reason was getting hold of oil available in Iraq. A similar sequence of events played out in Libya to depose Muammar Gaddafi. NATO attacked Libya to protect its interests against the idea of Gaddafi creating a centralised African currency.

There is another way apart from regime change operations and invasions used by the US to exert control. The nation-states that formed as the colonisers left their country became sovereign. Now, they had heads of state and a form of governance to exercise certain powers. The United States, however, has laws with extra-territorial jurisdiction. They usurp the rights of other nations or hinder their right to exercise them.

These extra-territorial laws hinder the justice system, trade and foreign policies of other nations. A sovereign nation has the right to prosecute an individual under its justice system. The extra-territorial laws framed by the United States infringe on these rights of a nation-state and sometimes even go against the rules-based world order.

The CAATSA, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) are a few such laws passed by the United States. For example, a person involved allegedly accused of corruption in a jurisdiction is tried by the laws of that land. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act infringes on that. According to the law, any US citizen or any business incorporated in the US would be tried according to US law. It makes it hard to recover the proceeds of crime when the perpetrator of the crime is not tried in the courts under the jurisdiction.

A more significant problem arises with the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The act authorises the US President to regulate international commerce after declaring a national emergency during any unusual and extraordinary threat to the country. America used this act against Iraq in 2003 in its war to topple the government of Saddam Hussein. Despite hanging Saddam Hussein in 2006, the US and UK continued to impose sanctions that gave them control over Iraq’s oil reserves till 2010.

Even international organisations are not spared from this law. The act was used against the International Criminal Court in 2020-2021 for investigating the actions of US personnel in their war against terror in Afghanistan. The United States derives its global might from its military power and control over multinational forums derived from the United Nations. From this, they preach morality and rules-based order while they use it to meet their needs. For instance, the United States threatens international courts if they decide to proceed with the judicial process against American citizens. While it used the IEEPA against the International Criminal Court, it has a law stating it would attack the International Court for Justice for the same. So much for the international rules-based order!

This double standard espoused by the Americans has seen other countries and their citizens accuse the US of exhibiting imperial tendencies. The do-as-I-say approach to foreign policy exacerbates the issues of their allies. The unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran and Venezuela inflated India’s oil bills. The expansion of NATO despite its raison d’etre accomplished in 1991 saw a war in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed backfired on them. The acceptance of the do-as-I-say approach of the US foreign policy saw countries hindered from pursuing sovereign interests.

Consequentially, its NATO allies and South East Asian partners are called the satellite states of USA. To an extent they are right, their defence policy and foreign policy resemble that of the US. Making them look like vassals. And the US tries to exert such influence on its defence partners through non-state actors. Such behaviour from the US government and its diplomats has kept Harry Kissinger’s quote, “To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal” alive.


21st Century U.S. coups and attempted coups in Latin America by Stansfield Smith

Inter Caetera

India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution by J Sai Deepak.

After Bolivia, Elon Musk says capitalists can overthrow any government they want by Steve Sweeney

Evo Morales: ‘We lament the English were celebrating the sight of dead people’ by Matt Kennard

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