Saturday, December 03, 2011

Monroe Doctrine Redux

Because I was traveling for Thanksgiving I missed the CNN/AEI foreign policy debate. I didn't want to spend the a chunk of my vacation time watching the rerun so I had to rely on foreign policy bloggers, like Dan Drezner. Apparently, the questioning was less than desirable. Nevertheless, judging from this recap Latin America — or at least Mexico — received several mentions. Amid the criticisms of Chavez and "militant socialists" rising to power, and concerns about Middle East terrorists operating in the Western Hemisphere, it was Rick Perry's mention of a 21st Century Monroe Doctrine that caught my attention. The Monroe Doctrine states:
The occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers....
We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.

In the early 20th century, Teddy Roosevelt added the "Roosevelt Corollary," which asserts the right of the United States to intervene in the internal affairs of Latin American countries that are engaged in "flagrant and chronic wrongdoing." The Monroe Doctrine served US interests during the 19th century and during the Cold War, but does the US need to re-assert the Monroe Doctrine in 2011? If the US does need a 21st century Monroe Doctrine, should it include the Roosevelt Corollary?

First, I will address some of Governor Perry's concerns. He mentions that outside countries are starting to exert greater influence in Latin America. His primary piece of evidence is that Iran has a large embassy in Venezuela. Frankly, a country placing an embassy in the Western Hemisphere is not a national security threat. Governor Perry — as well as Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum — also expressed concern about Hezbollah and Hamas operating in Latin America. Politifact graded this claim as "mostly false." Lastly, Gov. Perry and his opponents mentioned Mexican drug organizations and the need to secure the US-Mexico border.

In essence, the majority of the GOP candidates agree that our primary risks in the Western Hemisphere are Iran, terrorists, and drug traffickers. Although Gov. Perry does not say so explicitly, in order to address these threats a 21st century Monroe Doctrine would likely have to include a modified Roosevelt Corollary which would allow the US to intervene in countries deemed a threat.

I disagree that the US needs to re-establish the Monroe Doctrine. First, Iran does not have a threatening military presence in the Western Hemisphere. As mentioned, the mere existence of Iranian embassies is not a threat to US national security. Apart from Iran, no other foreign country is pursuing military interests in the region. Russia did participate in military training exercises with Venezuela in 2008, but it does not maintain any military bases in the hemisphere. China is increasing its commercial ties with Latin America, but this could actually benefit the US by raising living standards and encouraging economic growth, thus making the region a more attractive market for US goods while reducing the incentive to emigrate to the United States.

Second, the over-stated threats of terrorist organizations operating in Latin America and transnational criminal organizations which operate throughout Latin America fall outside the original Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary. In order for the US to directly address these issues, it would have to modify the Roosevelt Corollary to allow the US to intervene in countries where NGOs are involved in "flagrant wrongdoing."

If the US were to follow Gov. Perry's advice and create a 21st century Monroe Doctrine, it would greatly harm our relationships in the Western Hemisphere. Latin America has grown tremendously over the last 200 years. Brazil, Mexico, and Chile are all experiencing strong economic growth: Brazil and Mexico are both included in a new group of emerging markets called the TIMBIs. Reasserting the Monroe Doctrine with a modified Roosevelt Corollary would be deemed a threat to sovereignty in the region and would likely bolster the appeal of Chavez's brand of anti-Americanism. Latin America has grown up, and US policies towards the region should recognize this reality. As Bloggings By Boz argues, this is one aspect of foreign policy where nearly all of the GOP candidates clearly disagree with President Obama; unfortunately for them, however, the President's policy of "equal partnership" is the right way to approach hemispheric affairs. Yet, just because Pres. Obama's rhetoric towards the region strikes the right tone it does not mean that our operational policies in Latin America align with our ideals. The real debate should not be the nature of our relationship with our neighbors; rather, we should be discussing how to make our desire for "equal partnership" and friendship a reality.

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