Most of us have experienced a relationship or two that went south. Whether it’s because you liked the person so much you didn’t see that they were insane, or because you’re the insane one, it’s okay. It happens. Actually, if you’re insane, that’s probably not okay. Please seek help immediately.
If you put aside the legal jargon and occasional bomb threat, international relationships aren’t too different from interpersonal relationships. Unmet expectations, fear of commitment, trust issues, grey areas–try as they might, even governments can’t avoid these. So it’s not too surprising that the US has ended up with a few disgruntled exes. In most of these cases, I wouldn’t say the US was TOTALLY to blame; rarely is it only one party’s fault. Usually it’s just that things could have been handled a little better. Unless you’re one of my exes, in which case, it was definitely your fault.
But seriously, I think that foreign policy becomes more understandable when you look at it like normal human relationships, romantic or otherwise. Here’s a brief look at the US’s history with some other notable world powers.
(Disclaimer: Countries are giant, complex masses of people who often do not agree. When I say a country did/wanted to do something, I’m referring to it as a single entity for convenience. For instance, the US government didn’t send aid to France during the French Revolution, but a significant group led by Thomas Jefferson had wanted to do so.)
Britain (The One Who’s Older)
Whether it’s 3 years or 13 years or 30 years, there are perks to dating someone older. They have a better idea of what they want, they can bring out the more mature side in you, and they aren’t as concerned about keeping up with social trends (Let’s be honest, that’s like half of the experience of being a young person, and it’s exhausting. I still don’t understand dabbing. Someone please explain dabbing to me).
That was the initial relationship between England and America. We all know the story: settlers in North America received charters from the crown, were kind of forgotten about, and eventually revolted because of what they viewed as unfair treatment (taxes, to be specific). In fact, English people who actually lived in England paid way more in taxes than the colonists did, but that wasn’t really the issue. England had never really paid a lot of attention to the colonies, because it had other things to attend to in Europe. It wasn’t until the late 1700s that King George decided to crack down financially. By that time, the colonies already had a long history of self-government and democracy, so they chafed under the restriction. Basically, they didn’t like being micromanaged.
It’s like a person who is so busy with their job/life that you’re sort of an afterthought, but turns around and acts like they’re in charge because they’re the “grown up” and have maybe paid for some of your stuff. I’m sorry, so I owe you my livelihood because you like to buy me salads? That really didn’t fly with the colonists. Breaking free from its controlling, overbearing partner wasn’t easy, and but we did it. America shocked everyone when it won the Revolutionary War.
Although US did its best to re-establish a civil relationship with the Britain, the latter’s ego had been majorly bruised. Not only was the loss an embarrassing failure on behalf of the British army, it resulted in a call for government reform in Britain by its highly displeased citizens. They remained trading partners despite a lot of bitterness and a condescending “Good luck finding someone like me” vibe. Today, we’re allies, but it took time to get there. The British didn’t really let go until the Americans defeated them in War of 1812 and proved their ability to defend themselves as a cohesive nation.
France (The Invested Romantic)
Ah, the romance of a tortured soul. So passionate; so in touch with their emotions. These kind of people don’t put a stopper in their feelings, and when they like you, they like you a LOT. They’re often the artistic types. But as a sensitive person myself, I can tell you that I am a beacon to open and closeted sensitives alike. When people find out you’ll listen to them, they tend to want to tell you, like, everything. Then they want to send you a lot of Bon Iver songs (That might just be my experience, though).
At the beginning, France felt that kindred-spirit connection with the United States. When the colonies claimed independence, the French supported them. They wanted revenge for the land they lost to England in the French-Indian War 10 years earlier, but mostly it was because France just freaking hated England. They were both rising powers and there was some major competition between them to be the most powerful country. Unfortunately for France, England was winning that competition. Helping the fledgling United States achieve independence would be the ultimate way to stick it to the English.
The US grew to serve as a sort of muse for its ally. French society was divided sharply between the socio-economic classes–either you were practically destitute or you had enough money to swim in a pool full of coins à la Scrooge McDuck. When its people saw the amazing feat pulled off by America, they were inspired to take on their own monarch. Thomas Jefferson was ambassador to France during the American Revolution; in 1789 he helped the Marquis de Lafayette author the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which was essentially France’s Declaration of Independence from the despotic King Louis XVI and his hated wife, Kirsten Dunst.
France asked the US for support in dethroning the king. The French had given everything they could to the colonies to help them win independence, much like an emotionally invested partner who opens up to you and listens to your problems. When it came time for the US to commit, it backpedaled. It used the age-old “Well, I mean we never actually SAID we were that serious” excuse. Although the new country had signed a treaty with France to defend French territories in North America, they hadn’t promised anything else. What’s more, that treaty had been between America and the King of France, not this new government. George Washington sent out the Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793, which was the 18th-century equivalent of breaking it off over text. Actually, that’s generous. It was more like telling someone you can’t make it to your date, and then posting a video of you and your friends at a bar on your Snap knowing they’ll see it. Ugh, millennials.
So we kind of left France when they needed us the most. To be fair, the country was a mess, and The United States was so new it couldn’t afford to be dragged into its war. It was unclear through the anarchic haze who would actually be leading the French people.
But still…pretty brutal.
Iran (The “Crazy” One)
There are two sides to every story. Even if we don’t try to be biased, any event is going to be retold with some personal “flair.” Additionally, there’s usually some incentive to bend the truth. We all do it sometimes–no one wants to be the bad guy. Unfortunately we tend to protect our own brand at the expense of the other parties involved. All too often we take the easy way out: “Yeah, he/she’s crazy.” Well, maybe what they did would more understandable if you admit what you did to make them respond that way. Did you just stop contacting them? Maybe that’s why they sent you so many text messages over a few days. Did you lead them on? Perhaps that’s why they thought you were together and freaked out when they saw your making out with someone else. My point is, what if there’s more to the story?
Iran is very much the misunderstood ex. Today, it’s seen as nation of insane religious zealots who spend every waking moment planning the downfall of the United States as punishment for its unwillingness to accept Allah. As you’ve probably guessed, it’s a little more complicated than that.
In the late 19th century, Iran was like a pretty, young, rich girl–everyone wanted a piece. It was the perfect location from which Western powers could influence the entire region. Not only that, it was packed with oil reserves. Its ineffectual government, headed by the weakened Qajar family, made it easily manipulated into doing what other countries wanted it to do. Iran wanted badly to prove its autonomy, but it was too unstable and undeveloped at the time to stand up for itself.
Iran was essentially under British and Soviet control after the Russian Revolution. In 1920, the USSR tried to seize Tehran, the capital and last stronghold of the Iranian government. The British put General Reza Khan in charge of preventing the Soviets from invading the capital, and he succeeded. He forced the Qajar family out and became Reza Shah, or King Reza. While despotic in many ways, he led a highly effective campaign to modernize Iran. He also wanted to make Iran an independent lady that wouldn’t need to answer to anyone else.
Unfortunately, when Reza refused to expel Germans living in Iran during World War II, the UK and USSR deposed him. They replaced him with his 23-year-old son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He was little more than a puppet for the Allies. He continued the modernization of Iran but shrank at the prospect of standing up to anyone. He also had a lot of sports cars and mistresses. What I mean to say is, he was kind of a douche.
You’re probably wondering where the US figures into all of this. Well, the Shah was facing a lot of pressure from his people about outside forces in Iran, so he appointed Mohammad Mossadegh as Prime Minister of Iran. Mossadegh had big plans, specifically about the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry. That meant kicking out foreign interests, like the British, who held stock in Iranian oil. Unsurprisingly, the British were not fans of such plans. The UK recruited the US to take down Mossadegh in 1953. To be fair, the UK did kind of manipulate the US into doing it by saying that Mossadegh harbored Communist tendencies. But couldn’t they have, I don’t know, verified that with some light research beforehand? I mean, it was totally inaccurate. Mossadegh was strongly in favor of a democratic Iranian government.
Anyway, Iranians did not forget the US’s part in the downfall of Mossadegh. America had thwarted what many believed would have been the beginning of true independence for their nation. The Shah continued his close relationship with America, but his people began to resent the West more and more. They felt (not unreasonably) that their culture was being hegemonized, or overwritten, by that of America. Even their religion was being repressed, as it was considered to be a threat to modernization. It’s a bit like having an overbearing partner who expects you to abandon your identity for them in the name of your relationship. The Shah’s regime was also known for its brutal torture of dissidents, which was…not fun.
After a few decades, Iran got tired of being under the US’s thumb. The working class, intelligentsia, and clergy got together and booted the Shah during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. It was Iran’s “I’m a rebel! I’m breaking free! Suck it!” moment. Unfortunately, when the well-educated saw that the movement was taking on a strong religious bent, most fled Iran. The people left in charge? Radical Muslim leaders. Enter Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first supreme leader of the new Iranian theocracy.
Then some other things happened (e.g., Iranian mobs taking hostages at the American embassy, Bush calling Iran the “Axis of Evil”). But that’s a story for another time, as this is just a little background on how we got there in the first place. So, yes, “Death to America” is crazy and not so good. But now you have a better idea why those people are running Iran, and what part America played in that.
The USSR (The Competitor)
This last one is a bit of a doozy, as it’s one of the US’s most significant affairs. Here, it’s not so much about the actual relationship as it is about the aftermath. When you break up with someone, you have a few choices depending on how the relationship ended. (A), you can stay friends or at least stay friendly; (B), you can cut them out of your life entirely (also called the “Ariana Method.” Patent pending); (C), you/they can pine for them/you and silently hold on to the hope that the two of you will get together again; or (D), you can have a nebulous, contentious, love-hate power struggle where you are constantly trying to prove who is doing better without the other.
If you have experienced the last scenario, then you have a fundamental understanding of the US-USSR relationship (as well as the Stevie Nicks-Lindsay Buckingham relationship). You know you shouldn’t be together, and that you bring out the worst in each other, but neither of you can let go. Why? It may be that you still have feelings for them, but it’s more that you can’t bear to let them out of your sight lest they become happy and successful without you. That sadness over your failed connection can morph into a sort of bitter competition where you try to knock each other down because you’re hurt. Take note that this type of relationship is different than the one like we had with Iran, because you see this person as your equal.
The US and USSR had problems from the very beginning. The US refused to even recognize the USSR as a legitimate nation until 1933, ELEVEN years after the establishment of the Soviet government (COLD war is right. Damn). During WWII, the USSR entered a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, freaking out the Allies. It was only when Hitler broke the pact and invaded Poland that the Soviets grudgingly joined the US in its fight against the Third Reich. Like two proud, independent people, they didn’t want to need each other, but they did. The Soviets were a crucial force in securing the Eastern front of the war and defeating Germany. It wasn’t exactly a lovefest, but it was a time where the two nations put aside their differences and even sort-of-kind-of-maybe-a-little acknowledged the other’s good qualities.
When the war ended, so did the era of relative good feelings between the countries. They were simultaneously too similar and too different to work together well. Both emerged from the war more powerful, and more set on their mission to convert the world to their form of government. Each saw the other as out to get them–which wasn’t entirely wrong, since their goals were diametrically opposed. In general, though, there was an underlying resentment stemming from each country’s desire to be the “winner.” Like any form of competition, it drives each participant to push themselves and do their best. In some ways it was a boon for the scientific community, because so much funding went into research. Who knows when we would have landed on the moon if our need to beat the commies hadn’t placed a proverbial flame under our butts.
But the downsides were undeniably greater than the benefits, especially for everyone else. Think of the whole world as a giant circle of friends. There are cliques and different levels of closeness. Some members are best friends, some are just along for the ride because they know one person, and some can barely tolerate the other. Also like any friend group, there are disagreements. Throw in a romantic aspect, and things can get pretty ugly. You know when two of your friends get into a huge beef and suck everyone else into their drama by making them pick sides? That was the Cold War. Either you were a friend, or you were the enemy. There was no “neutral.”
Not only that, but these friends were used as battlegrounds, literally. Take Vietnam, for example. Or Korea. Or Afghanistan. Or Cuba. The Cold War was full of what’s called “proxy wars,” or when two actors fight each other indirectly through two other actors. The Americans would support a country in its battle against a Soviet ally, and vice versa. Or they would just invade the country and fight there themselves, but supposedly in the name of their ally. If you’re the child of a bitter divorce, or just the friend of two super manipulative, passive-aggressive people, you probably understand this tactic well.
The Cold War ended when the USSR dissolved in 1989, because it’s pretty difficult to be at war with a country that no longer exists. The 14 countries that had been forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union now had their independence, and all that was left of our former nemesis was Russia. I guess you could consider Russia the “new and improved” USSR, like someone who reinvents him or herself by trying to be nicer. The US agreed to start a more cooperative relationship with the new country, but just like in real life, you don’t earn back trust that easily. We will probably never have a partnership with the Kremlin like we do with other allies–there’s just too much past hurt.
Foreign policy is complicated, but I hope that this made it a little more understandable. If not, I hope that you were able to learn from the mistakes of our country so you can avoid them in your own relationships. And you didn’t get even that…well, I hope you enjoyed the memes.