- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2000

In his thoughtful, well-received foreign policy speech, presidential candidate and Texas Gov. George W. Bush appeared to be making an important distinction too often overlooked by U.S. policy-makers as well as the American public. That distinction is the difference between "national interests" and "national security." Many things are in the national interest of the United States, among them freer trade, respect for human and civil rights, environmental protection, and especially liberty, democracy and capitalism. As a result, the United States should actively support these goals by all means short of force and with due consideration and respect for the inevitable conflicts among them in particular cases.

But there is a reason why the United States went to war in 1917 only when our ships were sunk by German submarines and in 1941 only when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Military force should be used to protect and defend the national security of the United States or as part of an international effort with which we agree, and for no other reason or military force will be devalued, as it has been recently, as a strategic element in the implementation of foreign policy goals.

From the earliest days of the republic, both the national interest and the national security of the United States have been defined to cover the entire Western Hemisphere, not just the United States. This was based not just on obvious geographic considerations (which still apply, although with lessened force), but also and strongly on the idea that the Americas are different. Despite frequent and sometimes tragic violations, hypocrisy and backsliding, the countries of the Americas were founded in liberty and dedicated to the principle that all men are created equal. Atrocities in the hemisphere since independence have been counted in the hundreds and thousands, not in the millions and tens of millions. International wars have become almost totally obsolete and civil wars rare. Totalitarian ideologies have never taken root (with the exception of Cuba under Castro). Fascism, Nazism and communism were not invented here. No one flees from the New World to the Old; millions have fled and continue to flee in the opposite direction.

In his speech, Mr. Bush made reference to Latin America, but only in passing: "He [the next president] should promote a fully democratic Western Hemisphere, bound together by free trade." He apparently intends to present a full hemispheric program in a speech next year dedicated entirely to U.S. relations with the region. None of the other candidates, in their references to foreign policy, has done so to date.

Granted that recent attention has, as usual, been pre-empted by immediate crises in various obscure corners of the world, such as Kosovo, Chechnya and East Timor (all prime examples of the difference between national interests and national security). Granted also that there are many reasons for satisfaction with the development of Latin American relations with the United States. Democracy and freer markets have swept Latin America during the past decade and more, resulting in a period characterized by macro-economic recovery, greatly increased investment in plant and technology, vastly greater trade flows and great progress in the formation of integrative mechanisms such as, but not limited to, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Mercosur.

However, while it is still possible to remain optimistic about long-term trends, more recent events point increasingly toward ever-greater challenges to the countries themselves as well as to inter-hemispheric relations. Serious flaws have become evident within the democratic institutions of several countries, leading to actual or potential threats to democracy in Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Haiti, among others. Social problems, corruption and criminality are increasingly apparent. Voters often seem disillusioned by the rigors of liberalization/austerity measures, disparagingly referred to as "neo-liberalism" or the "the Washington consensus." The lack of fast-track trade negotiating authority in the United States has stalled progress toward a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and within Mercosur deteriorating relations among the members have become worrisome.

Thus, circumstances have emerged that require careful analysis and policy response in such areas as strengthening of inter-American institutions, rethinking the drug certification process, NAFTA parity for the countries of the Caribbean and Central America, and financial/monetary coordination to try to prevent repeats of the crises of 1994-95 in Mexico and 1999 in Brazil. Threats to democracy, already mentioned, now require the addition of a serious politico-security component to integrative efforts heretofore focused almost exclusively on economic relations. Recently, some attention has been paid to the truly disastrous situation in Colombia, with guerrillas, paramilitary forces and drug traffickers all challenging the legitimacy and authority of the state. But care most be taken not to look upon that case as isolated and worthy only of a tactical response, which seems to be the present tendency.

In a recent speech, "American and the Dawn of a New Century," Walter McDougall, professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, lists the requirements for a vigorous U.S. entry into the 21st century. Along with such items as a strong economy, a robust military with technological superiority, firm presidential leadership and others, Mr. McDougall makes the following addition to a familiar list of geographic priorities (the wording is interesting):

"Finally and this may surprise you the U.S. must wield the asset of strong Pan-American institutions … because the most predictable and direct challenges [to U.S. security] are liable to stem from the invasion of the U.S. by illegal immigrants and drugs on our southern tier, or by the prospect of civil strife tearing Colombia, Mexico, and the lands in between, to shreds."

He might also have noted the enormous benefits that would accrue to the United States and its competitive position worldwide from a stable, dynamic Latin America linked into a comprehensive hemispheric trade area. We must put inter-American affairs once again at the center, not the periphery, of our foreign policy concerns.



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