Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Herbert Hoover and the Good Neighbor Policy

Alan McPherson, "Herbert Hoover, Occupation Withdrawal, and the Good Neighbor Policy." Presidential Studies Quarterly 44, 4 (December 2014): 623-639.


Historians still associate the Good Neighbor Policy in Latin America almost exclusively with Franklin Roosevelt while admitting that Republican administrations before his set some precedents. This article argues more forcefully for recognizing the work of Herbert Hoover in establishing the major pillar of the policy—the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Latin America. More attuned than previous presidents to dissenting voices throughout the Americas, Hoover abandoned the rhetoric of paternalism toward Central America and the Caribbean and understood the moral and economic damage that occupation was doing to the United States. His diplomatic footprint was most visible in withdrawals from Nicaragua and Haiti.

As McPherson notes, this question isn't entirely new. What he adds is a focus on ending occupation, an idea that Hoover actively promoted and which therefore clearly predated Franklin Roosevelt.

So on the basis of listening to Latin Americans and articulating and implementing a rejection of U.S. occupation in line with the hemisphere's wishes, Hoover took more momentous steps than did FDR, and this against significant dawdling by the U.S. military and even the State Department.5 This tale of withdrawal from occupation offers a case in which a president, stirred by his own beliefs and his willingness to pay heed to foreign public opinion, wore down the rest of the executive branch and cleared the way for the next president's full normalization of inter-American relations.

Further, he argues that Hoover did not formalize his policy enough--he had quiet withdrawals but did not link them together in a broader public way (even though he did in fact use the term "good neighbor" a number of times).

He sympathized with the prominent isolationist wing of the Republican Party, but there was also simply the desire to end the backlash associated with the frequent sending of U.S. troops to Latin America by his predecessors. Although they sometimes claimed not to like intervention (except Theodore Roosevelt, who told everyone he loved it and he meant that) U.S. troops and ships were very active in the first third of the twentieth century. At least Hoover said he didn't like occupation and then actually pulled out. The sad commentary on U.S. policy is that he helped install new dictators, but still was the most favorable president to Latin America in a long time.


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