Manifest destiny: A story of American interventionism
MANIFEST Destiny, a phrase coined in 1845, by the American settlers, is the idea that the United States is destined—by God, to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American Continent.
It was introduced by an influential columnist, a strong advocate of Jacksonian democracy, John L. O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan wrote an article in 1839 that, while not using the term “manifest destiny”, did predict a “divine destiny” for the United States based upon values such as equality, rights of conscience, and personal enfranchisement “to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man”.
The advocates of this divine destiny supported and propagated the territorial expansion of United States towards west during early and middle decades of 19th Century.
During this expansion, America reached the Pacific coast from the Atlantic Coast. The history mostly overlooks the plight this expansion brought to the native Red Indian Americans.
They were tortured, dragged out of their lands and marginalized within their own homeland. The brutality of first instance of American expansionism was conveniently dragged under the rug of this divinity.
The divinity of racial white supremacism, propagated under the guise of industrial and political progressiveness.
Monroe Doctrine of 1823, brainchild of President James Monroe, settled the fact that the United States wouldn’t allow any intervention in the western hemisphere by the Europeans.
Although publicized as cordial, this doctrine later implicitly created the hegemony of United States herself in the American Continent.
Monroe Doctrine when coupled with the idea of “Manifest Destiny” initiated continentalism. The US expanded its footsteps both towards north and south.
After the Civil war became a history and United States acquired great progress and industrial development, the manifest destiny revived by the end of 19th Century. It was then put into effect beyond the mainland U.S.A. by intervening in Cuba in 1898. The U.S-Spanish war forced the Spain out of Cuba and eventually from whole Latin America.
Beyond this event, United States had its strong foothold in Latin America, which is present till date. Manifest destiny of United States to spread democracy and capitalism across Latin America continued throughout the 20th Century.
President Woodrow Wilson continued this policy of interventionism in the Americas and beyond, and attempted to redefine America’s “mission” on a wider, worldwide scale.
Wilson led the United States into World War-I with the argument that “The world must be made safe for democracy.”
The democracy conceived by United States under the divinity of its superiority. The legacy of Manifest Destiny’s interventionism continued into the manifestation of American Imperialism after WW-II.
It was reignited through the promulgation of Truman’s Doctrine and evinced itself throughout the Cold War. After reaching its pinnacle, it saw first setback during Vietnam War. American imperialism reverted by the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Regarded as one of the most significant failures of the American foreign policy, the Vietnam War but couldn’t halt the divine destiny of the United States.
A more positive-sounding phrase devised by scholars at the end of the 20th Century is “nation-building” and State Department official Karin Von Hippel notes that the US has “been involved in nation-building and promoting democracy since the middle of the 19th Century.
American interventionism continued post-Cold War across the world. After the demise of the Soviet Union and America’s birth as the sole superpower of the world, the belief of divinity amplified.
America increased its role as the caretaker of the whole world. It spread its military and political presence across all the continents without any resistance.
United States entered the 21st Century with more refreshed and more deeply ingrained beliefs of political and economic expansionism. But after 9/11 attacks, U.S unleashed its superiority in the most belligerent way.
It launched an attack on Afghanistan in Oct, 2001 and put its foot on ground in December 2001 to topple the incumbent Taliban government.
Taliban, once proxies of American interventionism, now were ousted by America itself. It later launched an attack on Iraq, too in 2003.
America was now fighting two wars simultaneously far from home, in an attempt to engrave its divine role in establishing democracy in both countries.
Wars continued and the United States became more deeply involved, agitated and exhausted over the years.
On 31 August 2021, the United States pulled out its last soldier from Afghanistan after a twenty years long war. Taliban had taken over the control of whole Afghanistan including Kabul almost three weeks back.
And the chaos that followed till 31st August entered into history as one of the most humiliating setback for United States. The chaos saw Americans in humiliation, defeat and utter oblivion.
The superpower and champion of nation-building came under sheer attack over its failure across the world. It has put an irreparable dent on its unchallengeable eminence.
But the chaos in Afghanistan also chronicled America’s Manifest Destiny, apprehended and canvassed.
Will the United States change its divine beliefs or will the misfortunes continue? The current decade will decide.
—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Lahore.