From Kennedy’s Cold War to the War on Terror

US presence in Iraq is viewed by many as ushering in a new era in which the world’s only superpower feels unconstrained in resorting to military action to achieve its strategic goals. For the first time in more than half a century the term imperialism has regained common currency, and there is renewed interest in understanding the European scramble for colonies in the nineteenth century.

No doubt the period we are entering does in many ways mark a new historical phase. Global power relations are accommodating rapidly to new economic realities – the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the rise of China and India and the emergence of structural weaknesses in the US economy. Nevertheless, as George Bush recently reminded us, there are many continuities with the past half century of the American exercise of power.

The ideological underpinnings of America’s global power are very different today from what they were fifty years ago. During the Cold War, Washington could at least point to an enemy that controlled a huge state armed with nuclear weapons. Today one is asked to believe that life as we know it is threatened from a cave in Afghanistan, or by Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction that no one could find, or by a civil nuclear programme in Iran that could, one day perhaps, develop into a military programme.

It is clear after five years that the War on Terror does not provide an ideological justification for US foreign policy sufficient to convince even a large majority of Americans, let alone Europeans, and certainty not the inhabitants of most of the world’s surface. This does not, of course, mean that the United states will stop pursuing its global interests through military means, only that it may have to do so without winning the hearts and minds of those it became accustomed to signing up for its project during the Cold War.

by Gareth Jenkins, History Today, 2006


1. Many people regard US military action in Iraq as
A. the starting point of a scientific experiment
B. a sign of the country’s new status as a superpower
C. the beginning of a new era in the world’s political history.
D. all of the above.

2. Parallels are usually made between the American involvement in Iraq and
A. the collapse of the Soviet bloc.
B. the rise of China
C. the rise of India.
D. late nineteenth-century European colonial policies.

3. During the Cold War Era, the US had to deal with
A. Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
B. another superpower.
C. Afgani terrorists.
D. Iran’s nuclear programme.

4. If the American government continues its present military policy, it will
A. win universal support.
B. win the support of key European countries.
C. convince most US citizen to support it.
D. none of the above.

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