How is American foreign policy made and implemented?

It is a popular illusion that the United States is the leading democratic nation in the world and that its policies are a true reflection of public preferences. The truth, in fact, is quite the opposite. To begin with, let us consider the electoral system in the country. For many years now the voter turnout has not exceeded the sixty percent mark, which means that close to half of its citizens do not participate in the electoral process. The main reason for this is the general lack of confidence in the democratic institutions in the country, which are perceived as agencies of power and privilege.

A study of the Presidential candidates and Congressmen gives away an important truth, namely that the political leaders of the country emerge from an elite socio-economic background. As a result, their loyalties are firmly rooted to their friends in corporate America, thereby neglecting the general public. For example, former President George W. Bush has close links to major oil companies in America. Vice President Dick Cheney was formerly the CEO of Halliburton Corporation. It is no surprise then that invading oil-rich Iraq was a key objective of their eight year reign. After the decision to invade Iraq was formally announced, the stock prices of oil and energy companies, including Halliburton shot up. The Bush Administration proceeded with the war despite vociferous public outcry against the invasion, both within and outside the United States. Such trends are far from democratic ideals and goes on to reinforce the words of caution given by former President Dwight Eisenhower, who famously remarked in his farewell speech that much of the policy initiatives in America are made within the framework of the Military-Industrial complex. Consequently, the foreign policy initiatives serve the vested business interests rather than the general public.

Some of the liberal intellectuals in the world have pointed to the United States’ high-handed foreign policy measures in the last half century. These include Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Robert Fisk, etc. They correctly point out that the United States governments tend to adopt double standards in several cases. For example, the US government did not intervene during the East Timor genocide because the perpetrators of the crime was Indonesia – a strong strategic ally. The same is true with respect to Saudi Arabia. Despite the availability of copious evidence to prove the Kingdom’s poor human rights standards, Washington continues to maintain cordial relations with its ruling elite because of entrenched business interests. At the same time, the political leaders in Washington don’t hesitate to condemn human rights violations in Iran, China or North Korea. There is a lot of hypocrisy here, which is rightly criticized by public intellectuals across the world.

The recent Wall Street crash that started the prevailing conditions of economic recession is also due to the failure of democracy in America. The policy makers and public representatives made more and more concessions to transnational corporations, especially banks and financial institutions that an unsustainable economic bubble was created. It was only a matter of time before the bubble burst, causing mayhem in the broader economy. The crisis has also left many citizens jobless, without access to basic healthcare and social welfare. The seeds for the crisis might have been sown by such agencies as the Federal Reserve and its former Chairman Alan Greenspan, but its repercussions were felt across the globe, making America culpable for its espousal of unfettered, unregulated capitalist practices.

In summary, it could be said that the state of democracy in the United States is far from ideal. In the domain of foreign policy, it is the interests of corporate America that gets priority over public opinion. Unless this flawed template of devising foreign policies gets changed radically, the future prospects of democracy in the United States does indeed look very bleak.