InFrequently Asked Question: If the U.S. acts only on imperial self-interest, why does it frequently give aid to poor countries?
A: What money the U.S. gives is a pittance compared to the devastation wrought by its aggressive wars and economic policies (such as extortive IMF practices, heavy-handed "free trade" agreements, and sanctions). It's like burning down someone's house, giving them a ham sandwich, and then going on the news to talk about how great you are for giving a ham sandwich to some poor bastard who just lost his house for reasons no one quite understands but which are vaguely his own stupid fault.
More straightforwardly, the U.S. gives aid because the PR benefits are worth it. Aid is part of the world do-gooder narrative that keeps people like you, and often them, in the dark.
IFAQ: What about the Marshall Plan?
A: Among other reasons, Europe was leaning towards socialism at the time. U.S. leaders feared (in their own words) that a socialist Europe would ally itself with the Soviet Union. U.S. aid undercut homesprung European socialist movements, by design. How was the post-Marshall Plan U.S. economy? Pretty good, yes?
IFAQ: What about Iraq? Why did the U.S. spend precious lives and resources to help those people?
A: Iraqis did not ask for U.S. invasion. Iraqis did not ask for the U.S. to support Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. Iraqis did not ask to have their country destroyed or to have their authoritarian government replaced by a more-pliable-to-U.S.-demands authoritarian government.
The notion that democracy (or anti-tyranny) drives U.S. foreign policy has no empirical support. The U.S. supports some dictators and overthrows others. The U.S. supports some democracies and overthrows others.
IFAQ: But surely the U.S. has good reasons?
A: The reasons seem good to them, yes. Like Walter White and Dexter Morgan, they act on good intentions. With regard to state actors, the self-perceived and reported goodness or badness of intentions, at this point, reveals nothing of scientific value.
The thesis that anti-tyranny drives U.S. foreign policy, on the other hand, relies, at least, on a correlation between regimes' level of tyranny and U.S. support of or opposition to them. There is such a correlation, but not the one you think. More on this in a bit.
The thesis that U.S. policy is driven by imperial interests (most importantly resource control) predicts that the U.S. will support regimes that advance its interests and oppose those that don't. This thesis holds true all the way down and explains every major aspect of U.S. foreign policy since the country's founding.
And because local populations tend to oppose foreign powers profiting from local resources at their expense, and possibly other reasons, governments that cooperate with the U.S. tend to be more authoritarian. The current regime in Saudi Arabia, for example, combines one of the worst human rights records in the world (worse than Iran), massive oil reserves, strong local opposition to the U.S., and full U.S. support. So, getting back to the above, there is a positive correlation between U.S. regime support and tyranny.
IFAQ: How about World War II? At least that was a good, just war, right?
A: Well, clearly, Hitler. Yes, a bad guy. But the idea that the U.S. joined WWII because it opposed aggressive war, in principle, or the killing of innocent civilians, in principle, is easily disproven, among many other examples, by the U.S. assault on the civilians of Southeast Asia that was led by the same people who brought the U.S. into WWII.
IFAQ: Do you mean the Vietnam war? That was to fight communism, right?
A: The notion that the U.S. slaughtered millions of civilians in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in order to help them, or their survivors, to live better lives, is fundamentally incoherent.
As is the notion that the U.S. carpet, then atomic, bombed Japanese civilians because Japan was an imperialist menace. It's true that Japanese imperialism was a scourge on the people of Southeast Asia. Presumably, then, the U.S. bombed Japan to get that country to stop oppressing the people of Southeast Asia. Because they cared deeply about the people of Southeast Asia. Who they proceeded to kill by the millions.
IFAQ: OK, you win for now, but there's little chance I'm going to let this information actually stop me from believing what I believed at the start of this conversation. Your arguments are merely a splinter that my brain will repel and recover from in due time.
A: That's the most likely result, yes. My mental health deserves scrutiny.
IFAQ: Oh, one more question. If you're right, why are you the only one who thinks this way?
A: I'm not. There's considerable consensus on much of the above among people who study these matters seriously. I may have gotten some minor details wrong or left something out. Please let me know. But the basic framework is the most accurate and explanatorily powerful available by a long shot.
Or if you mean, "why do most people think like me?," you're in a decent position to answer that. I tried to find your reasons and it turned out they didn't hold up. I could have the same conversation with any high-ranking U.S. official and their arguments will fare no better than yours. Why do you maintain beliefs you have no support for?