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The United States has been involved in a number of overseas interventions throughout its history.

Before the Cold War

Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders after capturing San Juan Hill

The First and Second Barbary Wars of the early 19th century were the first wars waged by the United States outside its boundaries after the War of Independence. Directed against the Barbary States of North Africa, it was fought to end piracy against American-flagged ships in the Mediterranean.[1]

The founding of Liberia was privately sponsored by American groups, primarily the American Colonization Society, but the country enjoyed the support and unofficial cooperation of the United States government.[2]

Matthew Perry negotiated a treaty opening Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.[3] The U.S. advanced the Open Door Policy that guaranteed equal economic access to China and support of Chinese territorial and administrative integrity.[4] The USA has also acquired small islands in the Pacific, mostly to be used as coaling stations.[citation needed]

From 1846 to 1848, Mexico and the United States warred over Texas, California and what today is the American Southwest but was then part of Mexico. During this war, US. troops invaded and occupied parts of Mexico, including Veracruz and Mexico City. The early decades of the 20th century saw a number of interventions in Latin America by the U.S. government often justified under the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.[5] President William Howard Taft viewed "Dollar Diplomacy" as a way for American corporations to benefit while assisting in the national security goal of preventing European powers from filling any possible financial or power vacuum.[6]

  • 1901:The Platt Amendment, amended a treaty between the US and Cuba after the Spanish-American war virtually made Cuba a U.S. protectorate. The amendment outlined conditions for the U.S. to intervene in Cuban affairs and permitted the United States to lease or buy lands for the purpose of the establishing naval bases, including Guantánamo Bay.[7]
  • 1903: U.S. backed independence of Panama from Colombia in order to build the Panama Canal; Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty[8]
  • 1905: U.S. occupation of the (former Spanish colony) Dominican Republic[9]
  • 1904: When European governments began to use force to pressure Latin American countries to repay their debts Theodore Roosevelt announced his "Corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine, stating that the United States would intervene in the Western Hemisphere should Latin American governments prove incapable or unstable.[10]
  • 1906-1909 U.S. governed Cuba under Governor Charles Magoon.[11]
  • 1909: U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua depose President José Santos Zelaya.[12]
  • 1914 to 1917: Mexico conflict and Pancho Villa Expedition, U.S. troops entering northern portion of Mexico.[13]
  • 1915 to 1934: United States occupation of Haiti[14]
  • 1923 to 1928 (Nicaragua) Marines occupied main cities, Their purpose was to provide stabilization to the government. There was a period of a few months between 1925 and 1926 when the Marines left but were back for the same reason.[citation needed]
  • United States intervention in Chile

The US intervened in Europe during World War I. US troops intervened in the Russian Civil War against the Red Army with the Polar Bear Expedition. The US intervened in Europe and Japan, as well as the territories occupied by the Axis powers, during World War II.

Cold War

The US helped form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 to resist communist expansion. The United States supported resistance movements and dissidents in the communist regimes of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. One example is the counterespionage operations following the discovery of the Farewell Dossier which some argue contributed to the fall of the Soviet regime.[15][16] After Joseph Stalin instituted the Berlin Blockade,[17] the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries began the massive "Berlin airlift", supplying West Berlin with up to 4,700 tons of daily necessities.[18] US Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen created "Operation Vittles", which supplied candy to German children.[19] In May 1949, Stalin backed down and lifted the blockade.[20][21] The US spent billions rebuilding Europe and aiding global development through programs such as the Marshall Plan. From 1950 to 1953, US and UN forces fought communist Chinese and North Korean troops in the Korean War, which saw South Korea successfully defended from invasion. US troops remain in South Korea to deter further conflict, as the war has not officially ended. President Harry Truman was unable to roll back the North Korean government due to Chinese intervention, but the goal of containment was achieved.

During the Cold War, the US frequently used the CIA for covert operations against left-wing movements around the world, starting under President Dwight Eisenhower. In 1953, the CIA helped Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran remove the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh (although supporters of US policy claimed that Mossadegh had ended democracy through a rigged referendum).[22] In 1954, the CIA armed anti-communist rebels that helped overthrow the Jacobo Árbenz government in Guatemala. Although Árbenz was elected without a secret ballot, received arms from the Soviet bloc,[23] and killed hundreds of his political opponents;[24] Guatemala subsequently plunged into a civil war that cost scores of thousands of lives and ended all democratic expression for decades.[25][26][27] The CIA armed an indigenous insurgency in order to oppose the invasion of Tibet by Chinese forces and the subsequent control of Tibet by China,[28] and sponsored a failed revolt against Indonesian President Sukarno in 1958.[29] As part of the Eisenhower Doctrine, the US also sent troops to Lebanon in Operation Blue Bat. Covert operations continued under President John F. Kennedy and his successors. In 1959, the CIA attempted to depose Cuban dictator Fidel Castro through the Bay of Pigs Invasion. In 1960, the CIA planned a coup against the government of Iraq headed by dictator Abd al-Karim Qasim. According to the Church Committee, the plan was to send Qasim a poisoned handkerchief, "which, while not likely to result in total disablement, would be certain to prevent the target from pursuing his usual activities for a minimum of three months." During the course of the Committee's investigation, the CIA stated that the handkerchief was "in fact never received (if, indeed, sent)." It added that the colonel: "Suffered a terminal illness before a firing squad in Baghdad (an event we had nothing to do with) after our handkerchief proposal was considered".[30] The CIA (with Cuban exiles and South African mercenaries) fought Maoist "Simbas" and Afro-Cuban rebels (led by Che Guevara) during the Congo Crisis. The CIA also considered assassinating Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba with poisoned toothpaste (although this plan was aborted).[31][32][33] In 1961, the CIA supported the overthrow of Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic.[34] After a period of instability, US troops invaded the Dominican Republic in Operation Power Pack, initially to evacuate US citizens on the island and ultimately to broker a cease-fire in the civil war.

From 1965 to 1973, US troops fought at the request of the governments of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the Vietnam War against the military of North Vietnam and against Viet Cong, Pathet Lao, and Khmer Rouge insurgents. President Lyndon Johnson escalated US involvement following the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. North Vietnam invaded Laos in 1959, and used 30,000 men to build invasion routes through Laos and Cambodia.[35] North Vietnam sent 10,000 troops to attack the south in 1964, and this figure increased to 100,000 in 1965.[36] By early 1965, 7,559 South Vietnamese hamlets had been destroyed by the Viet Cong.[37] The CIA organized Hmong tribes to fight against the Pathet Lao, and used Air America to "drop 46 million pounds of foodstuffs....transport tens of thousands of troops, conduct a highly successful photoreconnaissance program, and engage in numerous clandestine missions using night-vision glasses and state-of-the-art electronic equipment."[38] After sponsoring a coup against Ngô Đình Diệm, the CIA was asked "to coax a genuine South Vietnamese government into being" by managing development and running the Phoenix Program that killed thousands of insurgents.[39] North Vietnamese forces attempted to overrun Cambodia in 1970,[40] to which the US and South Vietnam responded with a limited incursion.[41][42][43] The US bombing of Cambodia, called Operation Menu, proved controversial. Although David Chandler argued that the bombing "had the effect the Americans wanted--it broke the communist encirclement of Phnom Penh,"[44] others have claimed it boosted recruitment for the Khmer Rouge.[45] North Vietnam violated the Paris Peace Accords after the US withdrew, and all of Indochina had fallen to communist governments by late 1975.

In 1970 and at the request of President Richard Nixon, the CIA planned a "constitutional coup" to prevent the election of Marxist leader Salvador Allende in Chile, while secretly encouraging Chilean generals to act against him.[46] The CIA changed its approach after the murder of Chilean general René Schneider,[47] offering aid to democratic protestors and other Chilean dissidents.[46] Allende was accused of supporting armed groups, torturing detainees, conducting illegal arrests, and muzzling the press;[48] historian Mark Falcoff therefore credits the CIA with preserving democratic opposition to Allende and preventing the "consolidation" of his supposed "totalitarian project".[46] However, Peter Kornbluh asserts that the CIA destabilized Chile and helped create the conditions for the 1973 Chilean coup d'état, which led to years of dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet.[49] In 1973, Nixon authorized Operation Nickel Grass, an overt strategic airlift to deliver weapons and supplies to Israel during the Yom Kippur War, after the Soviet Union began sending arms to Syria and Egypt. From 1972-5, the CIA armed Kurdish rebels fighting the Ba'athist government of Iraq.

Months after the Saur Revolution brought a communist regime to power in Afghanistan, the US began offering limited financial aid to Afghan dissidents through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, although the Carter administration rejected Pakistani requests to provide arms.[50] After the Iranian Revolution, the United States sought rapprochement with the Afghan government—a prospect that the USSR found unacceptable due to the weakening Soviet leverage over the regime.[51] The Soviets invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979 to depose Hafizullah Amin, and subsequently installed a puppet regime. Disgusted by the collapse of detente, President Jimmy Carter began covertly arming Afghan mujahideen in a program called Operation Cyclone. This program was greatly expanded under President Ronald Reagan as part of the Reagan Doctrine. As part of this doctrine, the CIA also supported the UNITA movement in Angola,[52] the Solidarity movement in Poland,[53] the Contra revolt in Nicaragua, and the Khmer People's National Liberation Front in Cambodia.[54][55] US and UN forces later supervised free elections in Cambodia.[56] Under Reagan, the US sent troops to Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War as part of a peace-keeping mission. The US withdrew after 241 servicemen were killed in the Beirut barracks bombing. In Operation Earnest Will, US warships escorted reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers to protect them from Iranian attacks during the Iran–Iraq War. The United States Navy launched Operation Praying Mantis in retaliation for the Iranian mining of the Persian Gulf during the war and the subsequent damage to an American warship. The attack helped pressure Iran to agree to a ceasefire with Iraq later that summer, ending the eight-year war.[57] Under Carter and Reagan, the CIA repeatedly intervened to prevent right-wing coups in El Salvador and the US frequently threatened aid suspensions to curtail government atrocities in the Salvadoran Civil War. As a result, the death squads made plans to kill the US Ambassador.[58] In 1983, after an internal power struggle ended with the deposition and murder of revolutionary Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, the US invaded Grenada in Operation Urgent Fury and held free elections. In 1986, the US bombed Libya in response to Libyan involvement in international terrorism. President George H. W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama (Operation Just Cause) in 1989 and deposed dictator Manuel Noriega.[59]

After the Cold War

The US intervened in Kuwait after a series of failed diplomatic negotiations, led a coalition to remove the Iraqi invader forces, in what became known as the Gulf War. On 26 February 1991, the coalition succeeded in driving out the Iraqi forces. As they retreated, Iraqi forces carried out a scorched earth policy by setting oil wells on fire. During the Iraqi occupation, about 1,000 Kuwaiti civilians were killed and more than 300,000 residents fled the country.

Oil fires in Kuwait in 1990, which were a result of the scorched earth policy of Iraqi military forces retreating from Kuwait.

In the 1990s, the US intervened in Somalia as part of UNOSOM I, a United Nations humanitarian relief operation.[60] The mission saved hundreds of thousands of lives.[61] During the Battle of Mogadishu, two U.S. helicopters were shot down by rocket-propelled grenade attacks to their tail rotors, trapping soldiers behind enemy lines. This resulted in an urban battle that killed 18 American soldiers, wounded 73 others, and one was taken prisoner. There were many more Somali casualties. Some of the American bodies were dragged through the streets – a spectacle broadcast on television news programs. In response, U.S. forces were withdrawn from Somalia and later conflicts were approached with fewer soldiers on the ground.

Under President Bill Clinton, the US participated in Operation Uphold Democracy, a UN mission to reinstate the elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, after a military coup.[62] In 1995, Clinton ordered US and NATO aircraft to attack Bosnian Serb targets to halt attacks on UN safe zones and to pressure them into a peace accord. Clinton deployed U.S. peacekeepers to Bosnia in late 1995, to uphold the subsequent Dayton Agreement. In response to the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed a dozen Americans and hundreds of Africans, Clinton ordered cruise missile strikes on terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. First was a Sudanese Pharmaceutical company suspected of assisting Osama Bin Laden in making chemical weapons. The second was Bin Laden's terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.[63] To stop the ethnic cleansing and genocide[64][65] of Albanians by nationalist Serbians in the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's province of Kosovo, Clinton authorized the use of American troops in a NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, named Operation Allied Force. The CIA was involved in the failed 1996 coup attempt against Saddam Hussein. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, under President George W. Bush, the US and NATO intervened to depose the Taliban government in the Afghan war. In 2003, the US and a multi-national coalition invaded Iraq to depose Saddam. Afghanistan remains under military occupation, while the Iraq war officially ended on December 15, 2011. The US has launched drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen against suspected terrorist targets. The US has used large amounts of aid and counter-insurgency training to enhance stability and reduce violence in war-ravaged Colombia, in what has been called "the most successful nation-building exercise by the United States in this century".[66]

In 2011, the US intervened, by providing air power, in the 2011 Libyan civil war. There was also speculation in The Washington Post that President Barack Obama issued a covert action finding in March 2011 that authorized the CIA to carry out a clandestine effort to provide arms and support to the Libyan opposition.[67] Muammar Gaddafi was ultimately overthrown.

See also

  • History of United States continental expansion
  • Historic regions of the United States
  • Manifest Destiny
  • American Exceptionalism
  • New Imperialism and the emerging empires.
  • United States involvement in regime change


  1. Barbary Wars
  2. Flint, John E. The Cambridge History of Africa: from c.1790 to c.1870 Cambridge University Press (1976) pg 184-199
  3. .
  4. Open Door policy (United States-China [1899, 1900]) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  5. Roosevelt Corollary and the Monroe Doctrine
  6. Dollar Diplomacy
  7. Our Documents - Platt Amendment (1903)
  8. Panama declares independence — This Day in History — 11/3/1903
  9. American President: American President
  10. Our Documents - Theodore Roosevelt's Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (1905)
  12. "Nicaragua timeline". BBC News. 9 November 2011. 
  13. Veterans Museum & Memorial Center, In Memoriam, United States Interventions in Mexico, 1914 - 1917
  14. U.S. Invasion and Occupation of Haiti, 1915-34
  15. "CIA slipped bugs to Soviets". Washington Post. NBC. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  16. "The Farewell Dossier". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  17. Gaddis 2005, p. 33
  18. Nash, Gary B. "The Next Steps: The Marshall Plan, NATO, and NSC-68." The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. P 828.
  19. Miller 2000, p. 26
  20. Gaddis 2005, p. 34
  21. Miller 2000, pp. 180–81
  22. "New York Times Special Report: The C.I.A. in Iran". The New York Times. 
  23. Piero Gleijeses, Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954 (Princeton University Press, 1991), pp84, 147, 145, 155, 181-2.
  24. Antecedentes Inmediatos (1944-1961): El derrocamiento de Arbenz y la intervención militar de 1954,” in Comisión para el Esclaracimiento Histórico (CEH), Guatemala: Memoria Del Silencio (Guatemala, 1999), Capítulo primero.
  25. Briggs, Billy (2 February 2007). "Billy Briggs on the atrocities of Guatemala's civil war". The Guardian. London. 
  26. "Timeline: Guatemala". BBC News. 9 November 2011. 
  27. CDI: The Center for Defense Information, The Defense Monitor, "The World At War: January 1, 1998".
  28. Conboy, Kenneth and Morrison, James, The CIA's Secret War in Tibet (2002).
  29. Roadnight, Andrew (2002). United States Policy towards Indonesia in the Truman and Eisenhower Years. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-79315-3. 
  30. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (20 November 1975). "Alleged Assassination Plots involving Foreign Leaders". p. 181. 
  31. Senate Church Committee on Lumumba
  32. M. Crawford Young. "Post-Independence Politics in the Congo". JSTOR 2934325. 
  33. Gott 2004 p. 219.
  34. Blanton, William (editor), ed (8 May 1973). "Memorandum for the Executive Secretary, CIA Management Committee. Subject: Potentially Embarrassing Agency Activities". 
  35. The Economist, February 26, 1983.
  36. Washington Post, April 23, 1985.
  37. Readers Digest, "The Blood-Red Hands of Ho Chi Minh", November 1968.
  38. Leary, William M. "CIA Air Operations in Laos, 1955-1974." CIA. June 27, 2008.
  39. Powers, The Man who kept the Secrets (1979) at 198-201, 203, 204-206, 209-212.
  40. Dmitry Mosyakov, “The Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese Communists: A History of Their Relations as Told in the Soviet Archives,” in Susan E. Cook, ed., Genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda (Yale Genocide Studies Program Monograph Series No. 1, 2004), p54ff. "In April–May 1970, many North Vietnamese forces entered Cambodia in response to the call for help addressed to Vietnam not by Pol Pot, but by his deputy Nuon Chea. Nguyen Co Thach recalls: "Nuon Chea has asked for help and we have liberated five provinces of Cambodia in ten days.""
  41. The Economist, February 26, 1983.
  42. Washington Post, April 23, 1985.
  43. Rodman, Peter, Returning to Cambodia, Brookings Institute, August 23, 2007.
  44. Chandler, David 2000, Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot, Revised Edition, Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books, pp. 96-7.
  45. Shawcross, William (1979). Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. University of Michigan. ISBN 0-671-23070-0. 
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 Falcoff, Mark, Kissinger and Chile, Commentary, 2003.
  47. Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders (1975), Church Committee, pages 246–247 and 250–254.
  48. "Declaration on the Breakdown of Chile's Democracy," Resolution of the Chamber of Deputies, Chile, August 22, 1973. See also The Wall Street Journal's "What Really Happened in Chile":
  49. Kornbluh, Peter (2003). The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. New York: The New Press. ISBN 1-56584-936-1. 
  50. From the Shadows, by Bob Gates, Pg. 146. Google Books. Retrieved July 28, 2011. 
  51. Rubin, Michael, "Who is Responsible for the Taliban?", Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 6, No. 1 (March 2002).
  52. Uni?Nacional para a Independ?ia Total de Angola
  53. MacEachin, Douglas J. "US Intelligence and the Polish Crisis 1980-1981." CIA. June 28, 2008.
  54. "Cambodia at a Crossroads", by Michael Johns, The World and I magazine, February 1988
  55. Far Eastern Economic Review, December 22, 1988, details the extensive fighting between the U.S.-backed forces and the Khmer Rouge.
  56. United Nations Security Council Resolution 745.- | / | S-RES-745(1992) }} {{#strreplace: - | / | S-RES-745(1992) }} 28 February 1992. Retrieved 2008-04-09.
  57. Peniston, Bradley (2006). No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-661-5. , p. 217.
  58. Washington Post, February 24, July 13, 1980 (Carter); New York Times, November 20, 26, December 12, 1983 (Reagan); New York Times, June 24, 1984, Washington Post, June 27, 1984 (Ambassador)
  59. "Noriega extradited to France". CNN. 26 April 2010. 
  60. United Nations Operation In Somalia I - (Unosom I)
  61. The United States Army in Somalia 1992-1994
  62. John R. Ballard, Upholding democracy: the United States military campaign in Haiti, 1994–1997 (1998)
  63. Pike, John. "BGM-109 Tomahawk – Smart Weapons". Retrieved August 17, 2011. 
  64. Cohen, William (April 7, 1999). "Secretary Cohen's Press Conference at NATO Headquarters". Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  65. Clinton, Bill (June 25, 1999). "Press Conference by the President". Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  66. Boot, Max; Richard Bennet (December 14, 2009). "The Colombian Miracle". 
  67. Jaffe, Greg (March 30, 2011). "In Libya, CIA is gathering intelligence on rebels". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 19, 2011. 

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