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Decades after the end of the Cold War, the United States Department of State has struggled to find concrete principles for its foreign policy. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, there still exists stark differences and debates on idealism versus realism and unilateralism versus multilateralism. However, post-Cold War presidents have demonstrated an urge to protect the United States interests at home and abroad. They have campaigned vigorously, at home and abroad, in order to drum up support for the ‘war against terror.’ In particular, George Bush (Junior) has not only invited other countries to join the United States in combating attacks instigated by Muslim jihadists, but has also committed the army in a long-term war strategy. The country has employed a range of foreign policy options which range from counterterrorism strategies, diplomatic relations, covert actions, military force, and protective security measures. This paper examines the extent as to which the United States’ experience in the Cold War has affected foreign policy since 2001.
The use of force in its foreign operations in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was almost inevitable. Unlike former military attacks, such as the Vietnam War, the United States has strategically commandeered its forces, with an exit plan already in place. This anti-terrorism campaign, which was carried out in conjunction with several other countries such as the United Kingdom, has been so far highly successful. The Taliban were swiftly subdued and the Al Qaeda network fragmented. However, just like the Vietnam War, the United States exit strategy has been faced with multiple hurdles.
The United States has also favored the use of economic sanctions against states that have been identified as hard line supporters of international terrorism. In addition, it has pledged financial, economic and military support to those nations that are at a high probability of a take-over by international terrorists. Through certain acts, such as the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the government has frozen assets belonging to suspected supporters and organizations of the Al Qaeda network. These measures are similar to the Marshall Plan in the Cold War which offered economic assistance to specific countries so as to stave off communism. However, unlike in the Cold War era where economic sanctions or offers were solely used, attacks have forced the United States to actively take over countries perceived as terrorist threats.
A similar strategy to the Truman Doctrine, which proposed the firm but long-term containment of the Soviet power so as to expose the weaknesses of communism during the Cold War, has been adopted by the United States foreign relations; which involves the implementation of protective and preventative measures that subdue all possible attacks. This has mainly been left to highly specialized organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who perform clandestine or covert operations in foreign countries which pose a possible terrorist threat. Although most of these intelligence activities are passive, they at times extend to transporting wanted criminals, who then face trial in the United States. For this to be successful, it has not only necessitated an amendment and enforcement of Article 51 of the United Nations charter but also the co-operation of host countries.
Finally, the United States has resulted to diplomacy in several cases. Unlike the half-hearted attempts exemplified in the Cold War, such as the Cuban missile crisis and the arms control negotiations, the United States has instituted concrete diplomatic measures that have resolved various farces with terrorist groups in the Middle East. Although this has normally been interwoven with other measures, such as military intervention, it has achieved relative success. However, this is normally hindered by lack of proper communication channels with a terrorist group. Notably, the United States has ratified major international anti-terrorism laws. This has allowed the country to extradite terrorists for prosecution, such as those who hijack aircrafts and sea vessels.