I had an email exchange with Russell Bither-Terry, who for a class was looking for links to two articles by Jeane Kirkpatrick, an ultra conservative foreign policy architect of the Reagan administration. [Note: this is not to implicate Russell in the content of my post! He works on hunger issues and you can read his own blog here]
These articles (published in the conservative Commentary magazine) are famous for their highly influential outline of how the U.S. should deal with Latin America, and explicitly argued that dictatorships were fine as long as they were pro-U.S. They are critical works for understanding Reagan-era policies (indeed, no matter which side you come down on).
Rereading them, I was struck by how amazingly (and depressingly) similar they are to the current arguments about how Honduras is a massive security issue. Take Kirkpatrick's "U.S. Security and Latin America," published in 1981 just as (not coincidentally) Reagan was taking office.
Here is the first paragraph, and just substitute "Hugo Chávez" for the Soviets:
While American attention in the past year has been focused on other matters, developments of great potential importance in Central America and the Caribbean have passed almost unnoticed. The deterioration of the U.S. position in the hemisphere has already created serious vulnerabilities where none previously existed, and threatens now to confront this country with the unprecedented need to defend itself against a ring of Soviet bases on and around our southern and eastern borders.
In other words, what happens in Central America could destroy us all. Therefore any talk about democracy must go out the window because it's all a ruse for our enemies.
American policies have not only proved incapable of dealing with the problems of Soviet/Cuban expansion in the area, they have positively contributed to them and to the alienation of major nations, the growth of neutralism, the destabilization of friendly governments, the spread of Cuban influence, and the decline of U.S. power in the region.
U.S. policy, it was assumed, should be based on an understanding of “changed realities” and guided by an enlightened confidence that what was good for the world was good for the United States. Power was to be used to advance moral goals, not strategic or economic ones. Thus sanctions could be employed to punish human-rights violations, but not to aid American business; power could be used “to the full extent permitted by law” to prevent terrorist actions against Cuba, but not to protect U.S. corporations against expropriation. Nor was power to be a factor in designing or implementing economic aid or trade programs except where these were intended to promote human rights, disarmament, and nuclear non-proliferation.
Barack Obama is being excoriated from the right for even talking about "democracy" or other such disgusting moral goals instead of protecting strategic interests in Honduras.
Anastasio Somoza's Nicaragua had the bad luck to become the second demonstration area for the “fresh start” in Latin America. Just because the regime had been so close and so loyal to the U.S., its elimination would, in exactly the same fashion as the Panama Canal Treaties, dramatize the passing of the old era of “hegemony” in Central America and the arrival of anew era of equity and justice.
Poor Somoza! Poor Micheletti! They're the good guys, for Pete's sake. All that human rights abuse is a Communist plot.
And she ends with the idea that there is no point in trying to do much, because Latin Americans are screwed up anyway. No one says that now, but they're thinking it.
It requires thinking more realistically about the politics of Latin America, about the alternatives to existing governments, and about the amounts and kinds of aid and time that would be required to improve the lives and expand the liberties of the people of the area. The choices are frequently unattractive.
So don't bother with democracy, morality, or human rights. They won't happen anyway, so let's do what's best for us. Which is also good for "them," you know. Or at least good enough.