Friday, July 4, 2008

Post No. 24: What Constitutes American Interests Abroad?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

For years, all of us have heard discussions about protecting American interests abroad. We spend a significant amount of our tax dollars in foreign aid, and in connection with various military operations. Earlier this week, we learned that we are supplying North Korea with fuel oil as part of an agreement in connection with its relinquishment of certain aspects of its nuclear program. It also appears that we have been providing North Korea with food for some time now.

We obviously had some concerns about its potential use of nuclear power, and the possible sale of nuclear weapons or enriched plutonium to others. However, have you ever really taken the time to think about what constitutes American interests? Can those interests be generically described as anything that keeps America strong and safe, and perpetuates our position as the dominant superpower? What limits exist, if any, on the exercise of our power in terms of our involvement with other countries?

This is not the kind of stuff about which the average citizen speaks during the course of an ordinary week. However, this analysis is being conducted on a more frequent basis by the common person in light of the state of international terrorism, and some of our recent ventures. Despite the cries of many, it has never been quite clear to me that we have been motivated by oil alone, although a plausible argument to that effect might be advanced. During the first Gulf War, over 82% of the American public supported our response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Did the American public feel that it was primarily about oil, or was it about a bully taking advantage of an ally of the United States?

Author Michael Scheuer appeared on a number of media outlets during the past week to promote his book. Scheuer served in the Central Intelligence Agency for over twenty years. He was the Chief of the Osama bin Laden unit from 1996 until 1999, and he also served as a special advisor to the unit for a three year period following 9/11. Last weekend, he appeared on C-Span2 Book TV ( to discuss his most recent work, Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq (

During his discussion, Scheuer suggested that the current Administration, and its supporters, have characterized or framed the underlying motivation of radical Islamic extremists, our rather amorphous enemy, as trying to destroy our “Western way of life.” Having studied the messages communicated by this element over many years, particularly Osama bin Laden, Scheuer disputes this theory. He suggests that the real underlying motivation is that they find American intrusion into their society, and presence in their lands, as offensive, and they simply want us out. He claims that they could care less about our music, and freedom, and our ability to wear short skirts in a free society. (He further suggests that if we were to ratchet up the use of force, and actually function like a superpower, we would be better off.)

Be that as it may, what was most intriguing about Scheuer’s discussion was his analysis of whether the United States really has any significant interests in various locations. In a number of instances, he noted that if one removed oil from the picture, the United States would not have any interests worth the sacrifice of the lives of our soldiers. This naturally led us to consider whether there are other interests of the United States, other than those energy or economically related, which we might justifiably seek to protect abroad. In this regard, we pose the following questions:

1. Are there interests that the United States has in Haiti, Zimbabwe, and Darfur?

2. What are those interests?

3. Should the United States do anything more than what it is currently doing in those regions of the world?

4. If so, would you support sending U.S. troops, whether unilaterally, or in conjunction with other nations, to any of those countries to assist the people in addressing their issues?

5. Do you think that the United States should continue to support Israel, and if so, for how long without some progress on the peace front?

We’d be interested in your thoughts. After all, this is your country, and you have an interest in what it does, where it goes, and how it spends your tax dollars. Don’t you?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense


  1. I can’t go through your list of questions because I’m having trouble just getting past the basic premise which you quote as Michael Scheuer’s theory or opinion.

    Yes, there’s an investment in ‘their and our own’ resources. Yes, it’s also a means of creating bridges to allies that we may need. And yes, we screw up big time and over-stay our welcome frequently. But it’s difficult to buy that if there is no viable commodity such as oil that the U.S. gets out of it, we wouldn’t bother supporting countries under oppression.

    What did Scheuer give as a reason for 9/11 and killing thousands of Americans?
    Was it Osama’s way of saying, “Hey-we’re sure indifferent to the U.S. and their way of life.”

    It is my understanding the Scheuer left the CIA because they requested he stop publishing his 'personal opinions’ while employed as a agent of our country.


  2. A book discussion on the history of US foreign policy just started on C-Span2 Book TV:


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