Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dealing With Double Standards

Steve Ellner and Teri Mattson have a piece in Jacobin making what I would consider the uncontroversial point that the Trump administration has a double standard with Venezuela vs. Honduras. Honduras is run by a deeply corrupt elite tied to drug trafficking and that's pretty much OK for the United States.

Double standards are worth pointing out to the general public, and in fact it is even more useful if you explain that they are a permanent fixture of U.S. foreign policy globally. The U.S. does not forcefully push for human rights in Saudi Arabia, and happily trades with China while blocking Cuba. The authors argue that "Under Trump, these inconsistencies and gaps between rhetoric and practice have widened." I disagree--Reagan lavished praise on genocidal maniacs and Trump's open support for the Saudis just follows a long tradition.

However, pointing them out is the easy part. It is much harder to draw a policy conclusion from them, which analysts rarely, if ever, do. If we accept there is double standard, then we should make a policy recommendation to remedy it. In the Venezuela-Honduras case, here are the options:

1. Do nothing in Venezuela as we do nothing in Honduras

2. Attack Honduras as vigorously as we do Venezuela

3. Something in the middle, with muted criticism and use of multilateral approaches

This exercise is particularly useful because it seems to me that most critics of double standards would prefer that the U.S. treat corrupt allies forcefully. But to avoid a double standard, that would require doing the same with other corrupt countries.

Some of this comes down to perception. They argue the following:

Even if one accepts as accurate the denunciations against the government of President Nicolas Maduro put forward by most of its critics, Venezuela doesn’t reach Honduras’s level of unethical and undemocratic behavior.
This is not obviously true. But setting that aside, the authors do not follow up with a discussion of what should happen in Honduras and Venezuela to get rid of the double standard. That, I think, is where the meaty debate would be.


shah8 2:37 AM  

Not having read the article, my feeling is that Venezuela is not Cuba (and not Honduras), and embargoing Venezuela has real costs that is weighing on the entire continent, making the indefinite extension of "sanctions" untenable in the medium and long run.

I also think that concern for double standards is quite besides the point in international policymaking.

Greg Weeks 10:06 AM  

OK, but the double standards issue is important if a country claims its foreign policy is based on certain bedrock principles, as the U.S. does. In other words, if you're going to have double standards, just own it.

shah8 2:41 AM  

Countries that own their double standards tends to suffer.

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