Education as a Tool of US Geopolitics
When considering the mechanisms by which US foreign policy is implemented in the context of education, it is necessary to immediately determine a working taxonomy.
Education, in this instance, is not only a system of colleges, institutes and universities where the American youth are prepared, but also government programs for international students, teaching and training of American citizens abroad, allocating grants through civil society, the mass spreading of American educational and research centers in other countries, and in addition, the inter-agency coordination of enforcement agencies. These are also constantly adapting to new conditions in parallel with the promotion of the values and interests that are considered fundamental to American culture and statehood. There is also popular culture, which is best represented by Hollywood cinematography.
In other words, education is meant to create an ideal image of the United States, both for domestic consumption and for the outside world, regardless of whether it should be used as an attractive or frightening asset.
These aspects are unified and interconnected within American policy as a whole, as exemplified by the official agenda which is available on the US State Department and the White House website.
Ideology in the US Educational System
At the center of US educational doctrine, in its manifestation, is exclusivity and the elitism of the American ideology both in a historical context and with respect to the current day. This is perfectly represented in Woodrow Wilson’s statement to the US Congress on April 2, 1917: “There are American principles, American policies. We should stand for no others. And they are also the principles and policies of forward looking men and women everywhere, of every modern nation, of every enlightened community”. i
Actually, at this moment the rationale for global intervention in the affairs of other countries was laid out, because, as Henry Kissinger aptly remarked, “The procedural aspect of the balance of power, its neutrality as to the moral merit of the contending parties was therefore immoral as well as dangerous. Not only was democracy the best form of governance; it was also the sole guarantee for permanent peace”.ii
In addition to exclusivity, there are several features in American ideology that penetrate the education system. This “superiority” of the US is founded on a position of historical morality (constitutional republic) and economic development (capitalism); an opposition to economic inferiority and moral decay of “totalitarian” and “collectivist” type of economic model; and on opposition in general to international law (or the UN) and laws that restrict the US, underscoring that promotion of American exceptionalism. It is also founded on Orientalism and Anglophilia, promotion of A5 + 1 as one “tribe” (England, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel); and fear of the Slavic, Middle Eastern and Asian nations (except the Japanese). “Anti-Russianism” (and previously anti-communism) and Islamophobia on civilizational grounds; the legitimization of American hegemony as a fighter against totalitarianism (communism, fascism) and Islamic radicalism; and the legality of the American military’s deployment in any part of the world for “national security” are further grounds upon which American ideology in education is founded and manifests itself.
In fact, education is a war of ideas. But at the same time, the enemy often does not realize that they are taking part in a confrontation. In addition, the formation of tools in the war of ideas has virtually no alternative, like in elementary or high school. One is given information that is presented as the only one correct version, and marks and tests are issued for the purpose of the student’s assimilation of this material.
What is a war of ideas? It is a clash of visions, concepts and images, and especially their interpretation. Physical violence in this case may be minimal, as the war of ideas is aimed at political, social, cultural or economic objectives, but either way, they have hostile intent or hostile actions. The war of ideas can take many forms, but it has been suggested that the war of ideas falls into four general categories: (a) intellectual debates, (b) ideological wars, (c) wars over religious dogma, and (d) advertising campaigns. All of these are essentially about power and influence just like wars over territory and material resources and their stakes can run quite highiii. Through these kinds of ideological wars, American society has passed on its history. Thus, this approach is quite close to Americans themselves.
In the middle of the 20th century, American intellectuals established the basics of conducing such wars in foreign policy through the notion of American exceptionalism, which was founded much earlier starting with the idea of the frontier and Anglican Protestantism. In the 19th century, however, it had acquired a pronounced political tinge.
US political scientist Robert Strausz-Hupe, known for his work in the secret project “M” created by Roosevelt in 1941, said that we are faced with the creation of the global enemy’s image, which is to be presented as a friend. The main methods of this propaganda include: (1) the selective use of enemy doctrine and propaganda statements as illustrations of secret intentionality; (2) attributions of coherence and design, following a pre-established blueprint for world conquest - the enemy’s foreign policy; (3) contradictory claims that the enemy’s beliefs are irrational and diabolical yet super-intelligent and calculated, and (4) a pervasive jeremiad tone about the need for the USA to wake up to the ‘real’ nature of the threat that faces it.iv
These techniques are applied in such a context in which they seem “natural,” as the imperatives of American foreign policy and national interests are flexible. If during the Cold War, enough justification was presented of the threat of communism, then after the collapse of the Soviet Union, George Bush Sr. began to redirect the focus to the threat of drug trafficking. After 9/11, it became a global war against terror, which is often used as a justification for enforcing Washington's interests.v
It should be noted that US officials have considered the so-called war against terror, launched in 2002, as a combination of efforts involving both physical and ideological elements, the last factor being more important, even having decisive importance, in comparison to the the first one. This emphasis suggests that the United States sees itself as a subject that wages the second type, of war of ideas, while physical strength, i.e. the military, plays a supporting role.
The importance of the war of ideas is reflected in a number of US national policies (security, internal affairs, defense, etc.) that are usually updated every four to five years.
The media plays an important role in these strategies, as they reproduce a virtual representation of reality. It is a symbiotic form of strategic interaction, a combination of soft and hard power, known as smart power. As a result, we have a dynamic framework and understanding of the scheme that forms both the physical, mental and psychological boundaries and limitations of groups, audiences, or communities, who are not necessarily aware of this structure’s effects.
Therefore, the virtual space of information (which various US agencies pay much attention to) builds a contextual framework or what may be called the main frame or the “master frame” through strategic deception. The aim is to reorientate the target audience or the critical masses through the conversion process in ways that create the dynamics of fragmented opposition and social movements in different countries in service of hegemonic political interests.vi
Earlier, the British military strategist Basil Henry Liddell Hart called this “indirect action”, and Hans Morgenthau described this phenomenon as “cultural imperialism.”
US Educational programs are most suitable for such a policy, and, more recently, in connection with the possibility of studying abroad or “learning from a distance”, they are vigorously promoted.
National Education Program
Firstly, let us take a close look at internal US politics.vii
First and foremost, the American establishment uses education to promote liberal ideology. The education system is presented as a part of the wider society which reinterprets ideological lessons, including their economic and social aspects.
In fact, US indoctrination begins at the preschool age in kindergarten, at the age of 3, 4 and 5 years old.
The system is based on 1) exceptions, which are numerous; 2) smooth processes, in which liberal individuals are created from a liberal society, as the inner core of the liberal ideology is located in the center of consciousness, not to mention the American social consciousness. All these factors are reflected in school curricula, standards, textbooks, teacher’s approaches, and are based on a “common sense” approach towards education and the general attitude towards schooling.
At the preschool and primary school age (6 to 12 years old), there are two main liberal methods practiced in education in the United States. Because US children have different teachers for each class, and often because during the transition from class to class the children are constantly changing, these methods are to some extent mixed.
The Coasts have long practiced the idea of the early postmodern leftist concepts of pedagogy and childhood, which praises in equal value any result of children's creativity and progress, or lack of results or progress. Therefore, in the end, all results are equal, and the approach is based on self-esteem.
The proponents of these ideas became known as the self-esteem movement. Straightforwardly, this trend finds its foundations in Nathaniel Brandon’s book, published in 1969, called the “Psychology of self-esteem”. By the 1980’s, Brandon’s ideas became the dominant trend in pedagogy in America, which is considered a fundamental of liberalism. The Californian State Assembly, for example, even created a target group for self-esteem in schools. Although the overall definition of success is antisocial in the liberal paradigm, it is ill suited to the basic human needs on an emotional, psychological, social or spiritual level. Therefore, it is reinforced by the second method, modified by the need to maintain self-esteem in the “formative childhood years” as it lends psychological potential for success in work, career and life.
It should be noted that California has traditionally acted as one of the principal sites for US liberal experiments. The general education system, known as the K-12, was originally tested in this state. Health care reform, which received the name Obama-care, was also launched in California.
As we can see, the fashion for “self-esteem” in education recently become popular in many countries, which indicates the appearance of certain American pedagogical ideas in different societies.
The second method is an older liberal one more closely associated with Middle America, and focuses on work and discipline as the keys to success. The lower classes are more patriotic and are more tied to the localized concept of civic virtue. But, at the same time, emphasis is put on the individual as the primary element of “success”. The middle and upper classes are more individualistic and business-oriented, with a focus on success even if it comes at the expense of the general welfare of the general population (it is, in fact, antisocial). Such disregard for the rest of society is associated with the idea that the liberal paradigm is based on the reality of a zero-sum game in the economy.
In addition, the common imperative of the American education is anti-intellectualism. For older children and adolescents, the introduction of the liberal paradigm can be traced more clearly back to the ideological point of view based on specific works of some of the authors of classic modernism. These include, as a rule: Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau and Locke, and often Bentham and Mill. The English Epicureans are briefly taught in universities (aged 18-22 years old) along with the founders of the US Constitution. Marx and Nietzsche are presented as philosophers of continental Europe, very influential and important to read, but following an erroneous and incorrect “totalitarian” model of Europe (communism and fascism).
Thus, the minds of students are indoctrinated with a formula that asserts that continental Europe spawned totalitarian and dictatorial projects, while Britain and the United States are related to the ideas of liberalism and freedom.
Of course, for the continuity of staff who are working on the introduction of American ideas abroad, famous US universities are used. The Center for US diplomacy works through the Department of State.
A number of well-known political scientists are also professors at leading US educational institutions that work intensively on the implementation of this ideological matrix in the student’s mind.
Education and Foreign Policy
Meanwhile, since the 1960’s, the US experience has started to spread to other countries. In Europe, the first country that went through Americanization was Finland. The Finnish elementary school system (Peruskoulu, 1-9 classes) was taken over by the US model of social (i.e. disadvantaged) areas where the average American will not send their child to be educated. This system was introduced by Left Finnish politicians from the Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Worker’s Party and others (all these parties are anti-intellectual themselves and were against scholarly academic approaches). It is significant that the rating systems which praise the high quality of Finnish education as “the best in the world” are conducted by a US agency through the Finnish budget.
In general, cosmopolitan, progressive liberal ideology in education reinforces the following themes in foreign policy:
1) the uniformity of legal and moral rights around the world;
2) the uniformity of people’s needs;
3) the notion that the United States is fundamentally based on good ideas, but merely made many mistakes and injustices (the war against the Native Americans and Mexicans, slavery, Jim Crow laws, McCarthyism, imperialism -Vietnam, etc.);
4) the perception that the United States is a “process”,i.e., democracy is a process that understands its own past mistakes and is allowed to legally teach the rest of the world how to fix problems;
5) the idea that the United States, as a world power and taking into account the four first points, has the R2R doctrine, the “responsibility to protect” human rights or something else around the world using military force;
6) the supposed legality of US hegemony, since the US supposedly acts on behalf of “human rights” through the UN and the NGOs that also actively contribute to the creation of international laws according with the US’ interests.
The role of the US Department of State
The US State Department directly carried out a series of scientific and educational programs in the second half of the twentieth century.
In general, their aim is constantly training and preparing future, potentially loyal elites among young people in other countries. Some initiatives have two characteristics: American students go abroad, and young people from other countries come to the United States.
The most famous example of such is the Fulbright program, which was created on the initiative of Senator William Fulbright in 1946. Within its framework, eight thousand grants were allocated annually to Americans who travel abroad, as well as for foreign students arriving in the United States. This program operates in 160 countries. It is interesting to trace the geographic preference of the Fulbright program initiatives. In the 1990’s, it was aimed at the post-Soviet countries, but in recent years, the focus changed to the Middle East and Central Asia. Recently, the Arctic initiative was launched, which clearly shows the geopolitical context of the program.
Among the most prominent international initiatives of the State Department are the Alumni Program, Global Youth Issues, and EducationUSA, which started the initiative called "LGBTI CAMPUS LIFE". Working within its framework, it aimed at creating a “pool” of students from different countries in the world who identify themselves as homosexuals. The moderator of the program is the director of the LGBT Resource Center of George Washington University.
Here we can recall the ideas of Saul Alinsky in his book Rules for Radicalsviii, where he said that “ethics must be flexible.” Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton often quotes Alinsky as well as the current President Barack Obama, who for the first time said that one of the imperatives of US foreign policy is to protect rights of sexual minorities around the world.
Such programs and this one in particular are also widely known for all sorts of training of political activists which are held in the United States or on the territory of its allies. There are special meetings and seminars for cyber-dissidents, for example, whose activities are mainly directed at working on the Internet. As a rule, such training aims to prepare people for carrying out coups d’etat, also called “color revolutions”.
In addition to such “soft power,” security services and the military as a bloc are actively used in the educational module for its own purposes.
There were cases when Fulbright students and Peace Corp volunteers, US citizens, were requested by the US Embassy to spy and send acquired information back to the embassy.ix
In 2005, the Law on Intelligence provided $4 million for the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program, a pilot program known as PRISP. It was named after chairman of the Senate and member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Pat Roberts. The gist of this program consisted in preparing students for a career in the security services. Within two years, they were given scholarships of $50,000,and had to complete at least one summer internship at the CIA or any other agencyx. The program was conducted in secret. No one knew the names of students, and at least 100 young persons from various American universities have already been integrated into the intelligence agencies. Naturally, all newcomers were immersed in the corporate culture of the CIA, which is known for its suspicion and search for internal and external enemies.
The US Department of Defense, as well as other law enforcement agencies, actively work on a number of educational programs. This not only applies to continually improving such systems and methods, but also working with partners and on civil-military relations. In 2015, the main donor fund working with foreign governments, USAID, published a new memorandum that stated that non-governmental organizations must interact with Pentagon structures. This manifests itself in the militarization of American consciousness working through international relations. In general, US military culture can be described by the analogy that there are good sheep that must be protected from the bad wolves, and that someone must conduct this function. Special attention is paid by the military community to psychological operations and ideological conviction.
As regards US claims of being the world’s scientific center, the California Science Citation Index is a demonstrative example. Being published requires advancing its scientific ladder in most countries. In addition, there are several other indexes that have a distinct political nature, but are commonly used as objective statistics. Most of these indexes are close to the analytical centers of the USA as well as university centers. These include the global think tank index (University of Pennsylvania), the fragile and failed states index (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy magazine), and the nuclear security index (Nuclear Threat Initiative), etc.
Considering all of these components which together represent a comprehensive and networked conglomeration of various departments and agencies synthesized in the US’ national strategic culture, we can say that there is currently no government that is capable of effectively resisting American “soft power” projected through educational projects. However, the consolidation of the efforts of those countries that advocate a multipolar world order in this sphere is absolutely necessary.
i Wilson, Woodrow. Message to Congress, April 2,1917.
ii Kissinger, Henry. World Order, Penguin books, 2014, P. 149.
iii Antulio J. Echevarria II, Wars of Ideas and The War of Ideas. Strategic Studies Institute, June 2008
iv Andrew Crampton, Gearoid o Tuathail. Intellectuals, institutions and ideology: the case of Robert Strausz-Hupk and ‘American geopolitics’// Political Geography, Vol. 15,N o. 617, pp. 533-555, 1996
v See more: Savin L. New Means Waging War. How does America build the Empite? S.-Petersburg. 2016
vi Amr G.E. Sabet. Geopolitics of Deception: Media, Framing, and War by Other Means. ECSSR, 2014
viiI’m grateful to Joaquin Flores of Fort Russ for important observations concerning domestic education policy in U.S.
viii Saul Alinsky. Rules for Radicals. A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals. Random House, Inc., New York, 1971