US foreign policy

Writing Security US foreign policyIn Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity I set out my major statement about international politics and how we understand its intellectual and political fields. Put simply, this book demonstrates how interpretations of danger have worked, and continue to work, to establish the identity of the United States. This means foreign policy, far from being an expression of a given society, constitutes state identity through the interpretation of danger posed by others. This goes beyond the idea that there are domestic sources to foreign policy, however. Working within the more general problematic of identity/difference, foreign policy, as the policy of making things foreign, helps establish the boundaries of inside/outside, domestic/foreign, civilized/barbaric etc.

In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 I wrote Time is Broken which used the approach of Writing Security to think through how could conceive of and respond to such an event. Shortly afterwards I participated in an American seminar which asked participants to rethink US strategy in the light of earlier presidential doctrines. Writing from a Wilsonian perspective, I argued for a position of humility rather than hubris, which was the exact opposite of the Bush administration’s modus operandi. I am not sure whether this previously unpublished paper encapsulates my current thinking, but it is an interesting exercise, especially given Barack Obama’s election, in imagining how much more progressive official US policy could become.

One thing that is crucial in re-imagining US policy is appreciating the clash between its global desires and its national resources. Back in 1999 I wrote a book chapter called Contradictions of a Lone Superpower which fore-grounded the fact that the United States is in something of a strategic grey zone, caught between the universalism of its political appeals and the particularism of its limited capabilities. Despite appearances to the contrary, I think the invasion of Iraq supports this conclusion, demonstrating the limits of military power generally, and the military power of the US especially. It is one thing to march over a degraded opponent in twenty-one days; quite another to remake the country your then occupy in your own image.

In 2005 I extended elements of Writing Security in The Biopolitics of Security: Oil, Empire and the Sports Utility Vehicle. Challenging the economistic assumptions about the role of oil in US foreign policy, I argued that by supplementing notions of geopolitics with biopolitics, and investigating a cultural site like the SUV, we could come to a different understanding about the drivers (sic) of US foreign policy that could also refigure points for critical intervention and response. Given that it is the central role of mobility in American society that grants oil its social value, questions of climate change, energy efficiency and security have to grapple with a complex cultural formation in order to succeed.

Finally, with colleagues from Durham, I co-authored Performing Security, a paper that analysed the way the imagined geography of the Bush Administration’s war on terror has been enacted, and published in 2008 a commentary on RETORT’s Afflicted Powers – Beyond Image and Reality: Critique and Resistance in the Age of Spectacle – that emphasised the need for the patient labour of Michel Foucault’s critical ethos.