[News] Losing Latin America - What Will the Obama Doctrine Be Like?

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Tue Jun 10 11:14:54 EDT 2008

Losing Latin America
What Will the Obama Doctrine Be Like?


June 10, 2008 By Greg Grandin
Source: <http://www.tomdipatch.com>TomDispatch

Google "neglect," "Washington," and "Latin 
America," and you will be led to thousands of 
hand-wringing calls from politicians and pundits 
for Washington to "pay more attention" to the 
region. True, Richard Nixon once said that 
"people don't give one shit" about the place. And 
his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger 
quipped that Latin America is a "dagger pointed 
at the heart of Antarctica." But Kissinger also 
made that same joke about Chile, Argentina, and 
New Zealand -- and, of the three countries, only 
the latter didn't suffer widespread political 
murder as a result of his policies, a high price 
to pay for such a reportedly inconsequential place.

Latin America, in fact, has been indispensable in 
the evolution of U.S. diplomacy. The region is 
often referred to as America's "backyard," but a 
better metaphor might be Washington's "strategic 
reserve," the place where ascendant 
foreign-policy coalitions regroup and redraw the 
outlines of U.S. power, following moments of global crisis.

When the Great Depression had the U.S. on the 
ropes, for example, it was in Latin America that 
New Deal diplomats worked out the foundations of 
liberal multilateralism, a diplomatic framework 
that Washington would put into place with much 
success elsewhere after World War II.

In the 1980s, the first generation of neocons 
turned to Latin America to play out their 
"rollback" fantasies -- not just against 
Communism, but against a tottering 
multilateralist foreign-policy. It was largely in 
a Central America roiled by left-wing 
insurgencies that the New Right first worked out 
the foundational principles of what, after 9/11, 
came to be known as the Bush Doctrine: the right 
to wage war unilaterally in highly moralistic terms.

We are once again at a historic crossroads. An 
ebbing of U.S. power -- this time caused, in 
part, by military overreach -- faces a mobilized 
Latin America; and, on the eve of regime change 
at home, with George W. Bush's neoconservative 
coalition in ruins after eight years of 
disastrous rule, would-be foreign policy makers are once again looking south.

Goodbye to All That

"The era of the United States as the dominant 
influence in Latin America is over," says the 
Council on Foreign Relations, in a new 
filled with sober policy suggestions for ways the 
U.S. can recoup its waning influence in a region 
it has long claimed as its own.

Latin America is now mostly 
by left or center-left governments that differ in 
policy and style -- from the populism of Hugo 
Chávez in Venezuela to the reformism of Luiz 
Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil and Michelle 
Bachelet in Chile. Yet all share a common goal: 
asserting greater autonomy from the United States.

Latin Americans are now courting investment from 
China, opening markets in Europe, dissenting from 
Bush's War on Terror, stalling the Free Trade 
Agreement of the Americas, and sidelining the 
International Monetary Fund which, over the last 
couple of decades, has served as a stalking horse 
for Wall Street and the Treasury Department.

And they are electing presidents like Ecuador's 
Rafael Correa, who recently announced that his 
government would not renew the soon-to-expire 
lease on Manta Air Field, the most prominent U.S. 
military base in South America. Correa had 
previously suggested that, if Ecuador could set 
up its own base in Florida, he would consider 
extending the lease. When Washington balked, he 
offered Manta to a Chinese concession, suggesting 
that the airfield be turned into 
gateway to Latin America."

In the past, such cheek would have been taken as 
a clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine, 
proclaimed in 1823 by President James Monroe, who 
declared that Washington would not permit Europe 
to recolonize any part of the Americas. In 1904, 
Theodore Roosevelt updated the doctrine to 
justify a series of Caribbean invasions and 
occupations. And Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and 
Ronald Reagan invoked it to validate Cold War 
CIA-orchestrated coups and other covert operations.

But things have changed. "Latin America is not 
Washington's to lose," the Council on Foreign 
Relations report says, "nor is it Washington's to 
save." The Monroe Doctrine, it declares, is "obsolete."

Good news for Latin America, one would think. But 
the last time someone from the Council on Foreign 
Relations, which since its founding in 1921 has 
represented mainstream foreign-policy opinion, 
declared the Monroe Doctrine defunct, the result was genocide.

Enter the Liberal Establishment

That would be Sol 
who, in 1975, as chair of the Commission on 
United States-Latin American Relations, said that 
the Monroe Doctrine was "inappropriate and 
irrelevant to the changed realities and trends of the future."

The little-remembered Linowitz Commission was 
made up of respected scholars and businessmen 
from what was then called the "liberal 
establishment." It was but one part of a broader 
attempt by America's foreign-policy elite to 
respond to the cascading crises of the 1970s -- 
defeat in Vietnam, rising third-world 
nationalism, Asian and European competition, 
skyrocketing energy prices, a falling dollar, the 
Watergate scandal, and domestic dissent. 
Confronted with a precipitous collapse of 
America's global legitimacy, the Council on 
Foreign Relations, along with other mainline 
think tanks like the Brookings Institute and the 
newly formed Trilateral Commission, offered a 
series of proposals that might help the U.S. 
stabilize its authority, while allowing for "a 
smooth and peaceful evolution of the global system."

There was widespread consensus among the 
intellectuals and corporate leaders affiliated 
with these institutions that the kind of 
anticommunist zeal that had marched the U.S. into 
the disaster in Vietnam needed to be tamped down, 
and that "new forms of common management" between 
Washington, Europe, and Japan had to be worked 
out. Advocates for a calmer world order came from 
the same corporate bloc that underwrote the 
Democratic Party and the Rockefeller-wing of the Republican Party.

They hoped that a normalization of global 
politics would halt, if not reverse, the erosion 
of the U.S. economic position. Military 
de-escalation would free up public revenue for 
productive investment, while containing 
inflationary pressures (which scared the bond 
managers of multinational banks). Improved 
relations with the Communist bloc would open the 
USSR, Eastern Europe, and China to trade and 
investment. There was also general agreement that 
Washington should stop viewing Third World 
socialism through the prism of the Cold War conflict with the Soviet Union.

At that moment throughout Latin America, leftists 
and nationalists were -- as they are now -- 
demanding a more equitable distribution of global 
wealth. Lest radicalization spread, the 
Trilateral Commission's executive director 
Zbignew Brzezinski, soon to be President Jimmy 
Carter's national security advisor, argued that 
it would be "wise for the United States to make 
an explicit move to abandon the Monroe Doctrine." 
The Linowitz Commission agreed and offered a 
series of recommendations to that effect -- 
including the 
of the Panama Canal to Panama and a decrease in 
U.S. military aid to the region -- that would 
largely define Carter's Latin American policy.

Exit the Liberal Establishment

Of course, it was not corporate liberalism but 
rather a resurgent and revanchist militarism from 
the Right that turned out to offer the most 
cohesive and, for a time, successful solution to the crises of the 1970s.

Uniting a gathering coalition of old-school 
law-and-order anticommunists, first generation 
neoconservatives, and newly empowered 
evangelicals, the New Right organized an ever 
metastasizing set of committees, foundations, 
institutes, and magazines that focused on 
specific issues -- the SALT II nuclear 
disarmament negotiations, the Panama Canal 
Treaty, and the proposed MX missile system, as 
well as U.S. policy in Cuba, South Africa, 
Rhodesia, Israel, Taiwan, Afghanistan, and 
Central America. All of them were broadly 
committed to avenging defeat in Vietnam (and the 
"stab in the back" by the liberal media and the 
public at home). They were also intent on 
restoring righteous purpose to American diplomacy.

As had corporate liberals, so, now, 
neoconservative intellectuals looked to Latin 
America to hone their ideas. President Ronald 
Reagan's ambassador to the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick, 
for instance, focused mainly on Latin America in 
laying out the foundational principles of modern 
neoconservative thought. She was particularly 
hard on Linowitz, who, she said, represented the 
"disinterested internationalist spirit" of 
"appeasement" -- a word 
with us again. His report, she insisted, meant 
"abandoning the strategic perspective which has 
shaped U.S. policy from the Monroe Doctrine down 
to the eve of the Carter administration, at the 
center of which was a conception of the national 
interest and a belief in the moral legitimacy of its defense."

At first, Brookings, the Council on Foreign 
Affairs, and the Trilateral Commission, as well 
as the Business Roundtable, founded in 1972 by 
the crème de la CEO crème, opposed the push to 
remilitarize American society; but, by the late 
1970s, it was clear that "normalization" had 
failed to solve the global economic crisis. 
Europe and Japan were not cooperating in 
stabilizing the dollar, and the economies of 
Eastern Europe, the USSR, and China were too 
anemic to absorb sufficient amounts of U.S. 
capital or serve as profitable trading partners. 
Throughout the 1970s, financial houses like the 
Rockefellers' Chase Manhattan Bank had become 
engorged with petrodollars deposited by Saudi 
Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, and other oil-exporting 
nations. They needed to do something with all 
that money, yet the U.S. economy remained 
sluggish, and much of the Third World off limits.

So, after Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential 
victory, mainstream policymakers and 
intellectuals, many of them self-described 
liberals, increasingly came to back the Reagan 
Revolution's domestic and foreign agenda: gutting 
the welfare state, ramping up defense spending, 
opening up the Third World to U.S. capital, and jumpstarting the Cold War.

A decade after the Linowitz Commission proclaimed 
the Monroe Doctrine no longer viable, Ronald 
Reagan invoked it to justify his administration's 
patronage of murderous anti-communists in 
Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. A few 
years after Jimmy Carter announced that the U.S. 
had broken "free of that inordinate fear of 
communism," Reagan quoted John F. Kennedy saying, 
"Communist domination in this hemisphere can never be negotiated."

Reagan's illegal patronage of the Contras -- 
those murderers he hailed as the "moral 
equivalent of America's founding fathers" and 
deployed to destabilize Nicaragua's Sandinista 
government -- and his administration's funding of 
death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala brought 
together, for the first time, the New Right's two 
main constituencies. Neoconservatives provided 
Reagan's revival of the imperial presidency with 
legal and intellectual justification, while the 
religious Right backed up the new militarism with grassroots energy.

This partnership was first built -- just as it 
has more recently been continued in Iraq -- on a 
mountain of mutilated corpses: 40,000 Nicaraguans 
and 70,000 El Salvadorans killed by U.S. allies; 
200,000 Guatemalans, many of them Mayan peasants, 
victimized in a scorched-earth campaign the UN 
to be genocidal.

The End of the Neocon Holiday from History

The recent Council on Foreign Relations report on 
Latin America, arriving as it does in another 
moment of imperial decline, seems once again to 
signal a new emerging consensus, one similar in 
tone to that of the post-Vietnam 1970s. In every 
dimension other than military, Newsweek editor 
Fareed Zacharia argues in his new book, The 
Post-American World, "the distribution of power 
is shifting, moving away from American 
dominance." (Never mind that, just five years 
ago, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, he was 
insisting on the exact opposite -- that we now 
lived in a "unipolar world" where America's 
position was, and would be, "unprecedented.")

To borrow a 
from their own lexicon, the neocons' "holiday 
from history" is over. The fiasco in Iraq, the 
fall in the value of the dollar, the rise of 
India and China as new industrial and commercial 
powerhouses, and of 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174929>Russia as 
an energy superpower, the failure to secure the 
Middle East, soaring oil and gas prices (as well 
as skyrocketing prices for other key raw 
materials and basic foodstuffs), and the 
consolidation of a prosperous Europe have all 
brought their dreams of global supremacy crashing down.

Barack Obama is obviously the candidate best 
positioned to walk the U.S. back from the edge of 
irrelevance. Though no one hoping for a job in 
his White House would put it in such defeatist 
terms, the historic task of the next president 
will not be to win this president's Global War on 
Terror, but to negotiate America's reentry into a community of nations.

Parag Khanna, an Obama advisor, recently 
that, by maximizing its cultural and 
technological advantage, the U.S. can, with a 
little luck, perhaps secure a position as third 
partner in a new tripartite global order in which 
Europe and Asia would have equal shares, a 
distinct echo of the trilateralist position of 
the 1970s. (Forget those Munich analogies, if the 
U.S. electorate were more historically literate, 
Republicans would get better mileage out of 
branding Obama not Neville Chamberlain, but 
Spain's Fernando VII or Britain's Clement Richard 
Attlee, each of whom presided over his country's imperial decline.)

So it has to be asked: If Obama wins in November 
and tries to implement a more rational, less 
ideologically incandescent deployment of American 
power -- perhaps using Latin America as a staging 
ground for a new policy -- would it once again 
provoke the kind of nationalist backlash that 
purged Rockefellerism from the Republican Party, 
swept Jimmy Carter out of the White House, and 
armed the death squads in Central America?

Certainly, there are already plenty of feverish 
conservative think tanks, from the Hudson 
Institute to the Heritage Foundation, that would 
double down on Bush's crusades as a way out of 
the current mess. But in the 1970s, the New Right 
was in ascendance; today, it is visibly 
decomposing. Then, it could lay responsibility 
for the deep and prolonged crisis that gripped 
the United States at the feet of the 
"establishment," while offering solutions -- an 
arms build-up, a renewed push into the Third 
World, and free-market fundamentalism -- that 
drew much of that establishment into its orbit.

Today, the Right wholly owns the current crisis, 
along with its most immediate cause, the Iraq 
War. Even if John McCain were able to squeak out 
a win in November, he would be the functional 
equivalent not of Reagan, who embodied a movement 
on the march, but of Jimmy Carter, trying 
desperately to hold a fraying coalition together.

The Right's decay as an intellectual force is 
nowhere more evident than in the fits it throws 
in the face of the Left's -- or China's -- 
advances in Latin America. The self-confidant 
vitality with which Jeane Kirkpatrick used Latin 
America to skewer the Carter administration has 
been replaced with the tinny, desperate shrill of 
despair. "Who lost Latin America?" 
the Center for Security Policy's Frank Gaffney -- 
of pretty much everyone he meets. The region, he 
is now a "magnet for Islamist terrorists and a 
breeding ground for hostile political 
movements... The key leader is Chávez, the 
billionaire dictator of Venezuela who has 
declared a Latino jihad against the United States."

Scare-Quote Diplomacy

But just because the Right is unlikely to unfurl 
its banner over Latin America again soon doesn't 
mean that U.S. hemispheric diplomacy will be 
demilitarized. After all, it was Bill Clinton, 
not George W. Bush, who, at the behest of 
Lockheed Martin in 1997, reversed a Carter 
administration ban (based on Linowitz report 
recommendations) on the sale of high-tech 
weaponry to Latin America. That, in turn, kicked 
off a reckless and wasteful Southern Cone arms 
race. And it was Clinton, not Bush, who 
dramatically increased military aid to the 
murderous Colombian government and to corporate 
mercenaries like Blackwater and Dyncorp, further 
escalating the misguided U.S. "war on drugs" in Latin America.

In fact, a quick comparison between the Linowitz 
report and the new Council on Foreign Relations 
study on Latin America provides a sobering way of 
measuring just how far right the "liberal 
establishment" has shifted over the last three 
decades. The Council does admirably advise 
Washington to normalize relations with Cuba and 
engage with Venezuela, while downplaying the 
possibility of "Islamic terrorists" using the 
area as a staging ground -- a 
fantasy of the neocons. (Douglas Feith, former 
Pentagon undersecretary, 
<http://www.newsweek.com/id/54775>suggested that, 
after 9/11, the U.S. hold off invading 
Afghanistan and instead bomb Paraguay, which has 
a large Shi'ite community, just to "surprise" the Sunni al-Qaeda.)

Yet, where the Linowitz report provoked the ire 
of the likes of Jeane Kirkpatrick by writing that 
the U.S. should not try to "define the limits of 
ideological diversity for other nations" and that 
Latin Americans "can and will assess for 
themselves the merits and disadvantages of the 
Cuban approach," the Council is much less 
open-minded. It insists on presenting Venezuela 
as a problem the U.S. needs to address -- even 
though the government in Caracas is recognized as 
legitimate by all and is considered an ally, even 
a close one, by most Latin American countries. 
Latin Americans may "know what is best for 
themselves," as the new report concedes, yet 
Washington still knows better, and so should back 
"social justice" issues as a means to win 
Venezuelans and other Latin Americans away from Chávez.

That the Council report regularly places "social 
justice" between scare quotes suggests that the 
phrase is used more as a marketing ploy -- kind 
of like "New Coke" -- than to signal that U.S. 
banks and corporations are willing to make 
substantive concessions to Latin American 
nationalists. Seven decades ago, Franklin 
Roosevelt supported the right of Latin American 
countries to nationalize U.S. interests, 
including Standard Oil holdings in Bolivia and 
Mexico, saying it was time for others in the 
hemisphere to get their "fair share." Three 
decades ago, the Linowitz Commission recommended 
the establishment of a "code of conduct" defining 
the responsibilities of foreign corporations in 
the region and recognizing the right of 
governments to nationalize industries and resources.

The Council, in contrast, sneers at Chávez's far 
milder efforts to create joint ventures with oil 
multinationals, while offering nothing but pablum 
in its place. Its centerpiece recommendation -- 
aimed at cultivating Brazil as a potential anchor 
of a post-Bush, post-Chávez hemispheric order -- 
urges the abolition of subsidies and tariffs 
protecting U.S. agro-industry in order to advance 
a "Biofuel Partnership" with Brazil's own 
behemoth agricultural sector. This would be an 
pushing large, mechanized plantations ever deeper 
into the 
basin, while doing nothing to generate decent 
jobs or distribute wealth more fairly.

Dominated by representatives from the finance 
sector of the U.S. economy, the Council 
recommends little beyond continuing the failed 
corporate "free trade" policies of the last 
twenty years -- and, in this case, those scare 
quotes are justified because what they're 
advocating is about as free as corporate "social justice" is just.

An Obama Doctrine?

So far, Barack Obama promises little better. A 
few weeks ago, he traveled to Miami and 
a major address on Latin America to the Cuban 
American National Foundation. It was hardly an 
auspicious venue for a speech that promised to 
"engage the people of the region with the respect owed to a partner."

Surely, the priorities for humane engagement 
would have been different had he been addressing 
not wealthy right-wing Cuban exiles but an 
audience, say, of the kinds of Latino migrants in 
Los Angeles who have revitalized the U.S. labor 
movement, or of Central American families in 
Postville, Iowa, where immigration and Justice 
Department authorities recently staged a massive 
<http://www.alternet.org/rights/85934/>raid on a 
meatpacking plant, arresting as many as 700 
undocumented workers. Obama did call for 
comprehensive immigration reform and promised to 
fulfill Franklin Roosevelt's 68 year-old Four 
Freedoms agenda, including the social-democratic 
"freedom from want." Yet he spent much of his 
speech throwing red meat to his Cuban audience.

Ignoring the not-exactly-radical advice of the 
Council on Foreign Relations, the candidate 
pledged to maintain the embargo on Cuba. And then 
he went further. Sounding a bit like Frank 
Gaffney, he all but accused the Bush 
administration of "losing Latin America" and 
allowing China, Europe, and "demagogues like Hugo 
Chávez" to step "into the vacuum." He even raised 
the specter of Iranian influence in the region, 
pointing out that "just the other day Tehran and 
Caracas launched a joint bank with their windfall oil profits."

Whatever one's opinion on Hugo Chávez, any 
diplomacy that claims to take Latin American 
opinion seriously has to acknowledge one thing: 
Most of the region's leaders not only don't see 
him as a "problem," but have joined him on major 
economic and political initiatives like the Bank 
of the South, an alternative to the International 
Monetary Fund and the Union of South American 
Nations, modeled on the European Union, 
just two weeks ago. And any U.S. president who is 
sincere in wanting to help Latin Americans 
liberate themselves from "want" will have to work 
with the Latin American left -- in all its varieties.

But more ominous than Obama's posturing on 
Venezuela is his position on Colombia. Critics 
have long pointed out that the billions of 
dollars in military aid provided to the Colombian 
security forces to defeat the FARC insurgency and 
curtail cocaine production would discourage a 
negotiated end to the civil war in that country 
and potentially provoke its escalation into 
neighboring Andean lands. That's exactly what 
happened last March, when Colombia's president 
Alvaro Uribe ordered the bombing of a rebel camp 
located in Ecuador 
with U.S. logistical support supplied from Manta 
Air Force Base, which gives you an idea of why 
Correa wants to give it to China). To justify the 
raid, Uribe explicitly invoked the Bush 
Doctrine's right of preemptive, unilateral 
action. In response, Ecuador and Venezuela began 
to mobilize troops along their border with 
Colombia, bringing the region to the precipice of war.

Most interestingly, in that conflict, an 
overwhelming majority of Latin American and 
Caribbean countries sided with Venezuela and 
Ecuador, categorically condemning the Colombian 
raid and reaffirming the sovereignty of 
individual nations recognized by Franklin 
Roosevelt long ago. Not Obama, however. He 
essentially endorsed the Bush administration's 
drive to transform Colombia's relations with its 
Andean neighbors into the one Israel has with 
most of the Middle East. In his Miami speech, he 
swore that he would "support Colombia's right to 
strike terrorists who seek safe-havens across its borders."

Equally troublesome has been Obama's endorsement 
of the controversial Merida Initiative, which 
human rights groups like Amnesty International 
as an application of the "Colombian solution" to 
Mexico and Central America, providing their 
militaries and police with a massive infusion of 
money to combat drugs and gangs. Crime is indeed 
a serious problem in these countries, and 
deserves considered attention. It's chilling, 
however, to have Colombia -- where death-squads 
now have infiltrated every level of government, 
and where union and other political activists are 
executed on a regular basis -- held up as a model 
for other parts of Latin America.

Obama, however, not only supports the initiative, 
but wants to expand it beyond Mexico and Central 
America. "We must press further south as well," he said in Miami.

It seems that once again that, as in the 1970s, 
reports of the death of the Monroe Doctrine are greatly exaggerated.

Greg Grandin teaches history at New York 
University. He is the author of 
Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and 
the Rise of the New Imperialism and 
Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War.

[This article first appeared on 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/>Tomdispatch.com, a 
weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a 
steady flow of alternate sources, news, and 
opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in 
publishing, co-founder of 
American Empire Project, author of 
End of Victory Culture (University of 
Massachusetts Press), thoroughly updated in a 
newly issued edition covering Iraq, and editor 
and contributor to the first best of Tomdispatch 
World According to Tomdispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso).]

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