History of the Iraq War, Part I: American Miltary Background (1945-present)

The United States has been the dominant geopolitical power since 1945. A brief discussion of American foreign policy aims will provide context for the recent aggression in Iraq.

Background: American Economic and Military Hegemony

    The American people possessed approximately half of the world’s wealth after World War II. In addition, America was by far the largest creditor (White, 1999, p. 172). This economic power, coupled with insurmountable military advantages, gave America immense advantages. In order to dictate the postwar new world order, America instituted three programs. The Bretton Woods system and the Marshall Plan were set up to facilitate American economic dominance, while National Security Council directive 68 (NSC-68) provided a military blueprint. The capital flows facilitated by the economic regime and backed by state violence spurred the further integration of many countries and their people into a worldwide capitalist system (Wallerstein, 1996, pp. 13-14).

    At Bretton Woods, New Jersey, in 1944, the Allied powers convened an economic summit that gave rise to many of the institutions that would dominate the world’s financial systems. The IMF was created as an alliance, ostensibly to finance the reconstruction of Europe’s industrial economies. Also founded were the predecessors to the World Bank, an agency similar to the IMF, and the WTO, which dictates the legal terms of international trade. To the present, each of these organizations represents the interests of the most powerful countries that run them (Birdsall, 2003, p. 3).

    The Marshall Plan set up a triangular trading system (Rostow, 1997) similar to that of the former Atlantic slave trade. Excess American dollars flowed first to Western Europe (and Japan) in exchange for manufactured goods. Western European nations provided these dollars to their colonies or former colonies in exchange for the natural resources critical for Western Europe’s reconstruction. The colonies or former colonies, as economies more and more devoted to export foods and raw materials, sent dollars to American agribusinesses, whose subsidized foods were vital to colonial survival. Thus, manufactured goods accrued in America and Western European nations were able to reconstruct their industries, to the detriment of exploited countries at the periphery of the economic system.

    NSC-68 divided up the globe into regions that would be influenced in different ways by the American military (Layne & Schwarz, 1993, pp. 5-6). The Western Hemisphere, falling under American dominion since the 19th century, could be more extensively exploited. Africa and other former colonies were to serve as resource bases for reconstructing Western Europe and Japan. The Middle East’s vast energy resources were to be controlled unilaterally by America through the imposition and support of autocratic regimes. If necessary, American military force could be brought to bear on nations unwilling to participate in this system. The Soviet Union and its satellites, nuclear-armed and resistant to American domination, would be strangled by American military and economic warfare. The history of the past sixty years proves the staying power of these designs.


Birdsall, Nancy. 2003. “Why It Matters Who Runs the IMF and the World Bank. Working Paper Number 22.” Center for Global Development. http://ssrn.com/abstract=1109073.

Layne, Christopher and Benjamin Schwarz. Autumn, 1993. “American Hegemony: Without an Enemy.” Foreign Policy 92, pp. 5-23.

Rostow, Walt. May/June, 1997. “Marshall Plan Commemorative Section: Lessons of the Plan: Looking Forward to the Next Century.” Foreign Affairs.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1996. Historical Capitalism with Capitalist Civilization. Verso.

White, Donald W. 1999. The American Century. Yale University Press.

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