U.S. Overseas Policies Patterned after U.S. Indian Policy
Since the Spanish-U.S. War and the U.S.-Filipino War (1898-early 1900s), Washington has followed a policy of constantly expanding involvement overseas, beginning with military bases or installations in Hawaii, the Philippines, Samoa, Guam, Wake, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, and the Virgin Islands. Subsequently, other bases were acquired in Okinawa, Japan, Korea, Germany, Spain, and Britain, with "floating bases" in almost all oceans by means of submarines, carriers, and battleships.
More recently, U.S. personnel are operating in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, and other countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Pakistan.
This vast expansion of U.S. military and diplomatic activity is related also to numerous treaties which Washington has entered into. By means of treaties and bases and the use of CIA and other personnel overseas, the U.S. has greatly expanded its authority over greater and greater areas of the globe.
Let us see how this process relates to the policies which Washington developed as part of its conquest of much of North America between 1783 and the early 1900s.
Between 1776 and 1783 the United States of (North) America was a weak confederation of thirteen states. Although armies of the Continental Congress won some victories over American indigenous republics and confederations, the end of the war with Britain (1783) found the bulk of the territory ceded by the latter actually in the possession of completely independent American republics (so-called "Indian tribes").
What began, then, in the l780s was a case of imperial expansion using time-honored techniques including diplomatic intrigue, trade and commerce, drugs (alcohol), treaty-making, the placing of military assets in key places, "divide and conquer" strategies, the placement of armed settlers in strategic although contested areas, using outright military force, seeking to obtain over-all military superiority both in terms of manpower and weaponry and, finally, in the creation of wagon-roads and in the control of navigable rivers and lakes.
The first military adventures of the USA were, on the whole, dismal failures, but in the meantime armed settlers were encouraged to pour into contested Kentucky, parts of northeast Tennessee, sections of southern Alabama, et cetera, providing forward military units (armed militia) and a white male population anxious to be rewarded with land rights after military service.
The northern and southern Native American republics were partially separated by this means.
The attitude of the expansionist USA can be easily illustrated. For instance, the USA claimed to have purchased a huge "Louisiana" from France in 1803, whereas in actual fact Native republics owned virtually all of the region and the rest belonged to Spain, not to France. But the USA pretended that it had acquired a legal writ of suzerainty, in spite of the actual possessors of the soil.
The high-handed nature of US behavior is seen in the planning of the Lewis and Clark expedition as an illegal crossing into territory to which the US had not a single claim. Even when it was launched, in 1803, it was passing into territory belonging to Native nations, but the behavior of the members was always that of persons traveling in THEIR OWN country!
This arrogance can also be seen in the behavior of many expeditions of later years, such as the fur-hunting journey of Jedidiah Smith, an illegal interloper into California. Smith and his companions invaded territory claimed by Mexico and by indigenous nations, with no thought whatsoever of the fact that they possessed no right to kill game and trap in a land not their own! They were poachers!
One can tell stories of hundreds of similar cases, as in the many invasions of Florida made before and during the US-Seminole-"Negro Indian" War of the 1840s. What is significant about all of the above is the audacity, arrogance, and assertions of "rightness" (manifest destiny, divine providence etc.) demonstrated by both US government and by many Anglo-American white citizens.
This arrogance, I will argue, is precisely the same as that which we see today on the part of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, as well as many in Congress. What I am referring to is a belief in the absolute right of the USA to have of North America and the rest of America as well (or least to control and penetrate all of it) and even to hijack the very name of the hemisphere (America) for their own territory!
After the victory over Spain in 1898 many in Washington began to assert a destiny to control the globe, and that is what Bush and Company are embarked on, judging by their high-handed actions. But to return to my main theme, I will argue that the techniques used will duplicate past US policy towards Native Nations and that, in effect, the objective of modern US policy is precisely to turn most other countries into "Indian tribes."
It begins with commercial and cultural penetration, as with the flooding in of goods, replacing local farmers, artisans, etc. This proceeds to military alliances, treaties, bases, spying, surveillance (from space now), electronic eavesdropping, armed intervention as the USA determines, CIA financing of pro-US parties (corrupt leaders), and, eventually, space-based missile systems aimed everywhere Washington wants to shoot.
Treaties negotiated by the USA do not seem to mean much. Not only have all of the Native American treaties been broken, but many international agreements are ignored whenever it pleases Washington. It would be well for European and other states to carefully review US policy towards Native nations. It could prove enlightening!
© 2002 Professor Jack D. Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is a historian, social critic, and poet, covering issues of international and inter-ethnic relations for 45 years. He is the author of Red Blood, Africans and Native Americans, Apache, Navaho and Spaniard and other books. He is professor emeritus of Native American Studies, University of California, Davis. He can be contacted at his web site.
This article was originally published in News From Indian Country late June 2002 issue.