|Cato Policy Analysis No. 58||August 15, 1985|
by Ted Galen Carpenter
Ted Galen Carpenter is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute.
It is a central dilemma of contemporary American foreign policy that the world's leading capitalist democracy must confront an environment in which a majority of nations are neither capitalist nor democratic. U.S. leaders have rarely exhibited ingenuity or grace in handling this delicate and often frustrating situation.
The current turmoil in Central America is illustrative of a larger problem. American officials assert that this vital region is under assault from doctrinaire communist revolutionaries trained, funded, and controlled by the Soviet Union. Danger to the well-being of the United States is immediate and serious, administration spokesmen argue, and it is imperative that the Marxist-Leninist tide be prevented from engulfing Central America. Accomplishing this objective requires a confrontational posture toward the communist beachhead (Nicaragua) combined with massive support for all "friendly" regimes, ranging from democratic Costa Rica to autocratic Guatemala. Washington's Central American policy displays in microcosm most of the faulty assumptions underlying America's approach to the entire Third World.
The current strategy of the United States betrays a virtual siege mentality. It was not always thus. Throughout the nineteenth century U.S. policymakers exuded confidence that the rest of the world would emulate America's political and economic system, seeing the United States as a "beacon on the hill" guiding humanity to a better future. As late as the 1940s, most Americans and their political representatives still believed that democracy would triumph as a universal system. The prospective breakup of the European colonial empires throughout Asia and Africa was generally viewed as an opportunity, not a calamity. Scores of new nations would emerge from that process, and Americans were confident that most would choose the path of democracy and free enterprise, thus isolating the Soviet Union and its coterie of Marxist-Leninist dictatorships in Eastern Europe.
The actual results were acutely disappointing. No wave of new democracies occurred in this "Third World"; instead, decolonization produced a plethora of dictatorships, some of which appeared distressingly friendly to Moscow. This development was especially disturbing to Washington since it took place at a time when America's cold war confrontation with the USSR was at its most virulent. The nature and magnitude of that struggle caused American leaders to view the Third World primarily as another arena in the conflict. Consequently, the proliferation of left-wing revolutionary movements and governments seemed to undermine America's own security and well-being.
Cold War Factors
Washington's response to this adversity has been a particularly simplistic and unfortunate one. American leaders increasingly regarded any anticommunist regime, however repressive and undemocratic it might be at home, as an "ally," a "force for stability," and even a "friend." At the same time, they viewed leftist governments--even those elected under democratic procedures--as little more than Soviet surrogates, or at least targets of opportunity for communist machinations.
A portent of this mind-set among U.S. policymakers surfaced during the earliest stages of the cold war. President Harry Truman's enunciation of the so-called Truman Doctrine in 1947 proclaimed the willingness of the United States to assist friendly governments resisting not only external aggression but also "armed minorities" in their own midst. It was an ominous passage, for the United States was arrogating the right to intervene in the internal affairs of other nations to help preserve regimes deemed friendly to American interests. Although Washington had engaged in such conduct throughout Central America and the Caribbean for several decades, those incidents were a geographical aberration in what was otherwise a noninterventionist foreign policy. The Truman Doctrine raised the specter that America's meddlesome paternalism in one region might now be applied on a global basis.
Although President Truman stressed that the status quo was not "sacred," his doctrine soon made the United States a patron of repressive, reactionary regimes around the world. It was a measure of how far that trend had developed by 1961 that President John F. Kennedy could proclaim in his inaugural address America's determination to 'support any friend, oppose any foe" in the battle against world communism. Today, leading foreign policy spokesmen such as Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, and Jeane Kirkpatrick express a fondness for "friendly" authoritarian regimes that would have seemed incomprehensible to most Americans only a few decades ago.
A false realism as well as moral insensitivity characterizes American policy toward Third World dictatorships. There is a disturbing tendency to view such regimes in caricature, regarding right-wing governments as valuable friends whose repressive excesses must be ignored or excused, while perceiving leftist insurgent movements and governments as mortal threats to America's national interest, justifying a posture of unrelenting hostility. For example, the Reagan administration pursues a confrontational policy toward the Marxist government of Nicaragua, terminating all aid programs, imposing a trade embargo, and supporting rebel guerrillas. At the same time, Washington lavishes economic and military aid upon equally repressive "allies" in South Korea, the Philippines, Zaire, and elsewhere.
The consequences of this simplistic and morally inconsistent strategy are highly unfortunate. America finds itself involved far too often in futile or mutually destructive confrontations with left-wing regimes. Even worse is the evolution of a cozy relationship between Washington and a host of right-wing authoritarian governments. A pervasive perception of the United States as the sponsor and protector of such dictatorships has undermined America's credibility as a spokesman for democracy, caused Third World peoples to equate both capitalism and democracy with U.S. hegemony, and established a milieu for rabidly anti-American revolutions. It is an approach that creates a massive reservoir of ill will and, in the long run, weakens rather than strengthens America's national security.
Washington's policy toward Third World dictatorships is seriously flawed in several respects. One fundamental defect is the tendency to view largely internal struggles exclusively through the prism of America's ongoing cold war with the Soviet Union. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was an early practitioner of this parochial viewpoint during the 1950s when he insisted that the emerging nations of Asia and Africa "choose sides" in that conflict. Nonalignment or neutralism Dulles viewed as moral cowardice or tacit support for the USSR. Such an attitude only antagonized nonaligned leaders who were concerned primarily with charting a postcolonial political and economic course for their new nations and cared little about an acrimonious competition between two alien superpowers. The chilly relationship between India, the Third World's leading democracy, and the United States throughout this period was due in large part to Washington's hostility toward Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's policy of nonalignment.
American policymakers have learned few lessons from Dulles's errors in the subsequent quarter-century. During the 1960s, Washington still saw internal political conflicts in nations as diverse as Vietnam and the Dominican Republic exclusively as skirmishes in the larger cold war. A decade after the victory of one faction in the complex tribal, linguistic, and economic struggle in Angola, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger describes that war as part of "an unprecedented Soviet geopolitical offensive" on a global scale. Kissinger's former boss, Gerald Ford, likewise interprets the episode purely as a struggle between "pro-Communist" and "pro-West" forces. Former U.N. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick views such countries as Mozambique and Nicaragua not as nations in their own right, but as components of the Soviet empire. Similarly, President Reagan's bipartisan commission on Central America describes the multifaceted conflicts of that troubled region as part of a Soviet-Cuban "geo-strategic challenge" to the United States.
This failure to understand the complexities and ambiguities of Third World power rivalries has impelled the United States to adopt misguided and counterproductive strategies. One manifestation is an uncritical willingness to embrace repressive regimes if they possess sufficient anticommunist credentials.
At times this tendency has proven more than a trifle embarrassing. During a toast to the shah of Iran on New Year's Eve 1977, President Jimmy Carter lavished praise on that autocratic monarch: "Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership, and to the respect and admiration and love which your people give to you." Apparently concluding that America's vocal enthusiasm for the shah and his policies during the previous quarter-century did not link the United States sufficiently to his fate, the president emphasized: "We have no other nation on earth who [sic] is closer to us in planning for our mutual military security."
Barely a year later the shah's regime lay in ruins, soon to be replaced by a virulently anti-American government. President Carter's assumption that the shah was loved by the Iranian people was a classic case of wishful thinking. CIA operatives in the field warned their superiors that the American perception was a delusion, but those reports were ignored because they did not reflect established policy. Blind to reality, the administration identified itself and American security interests with a regime that was already careening toward oblivion.
One might think that American leaders would have gained some humility from the wreckage of Iranian policy and at least learned to curb vocal expressions of support for right-wing autocrats. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Less than four years after Carter's gaffe, Vice President George Bush fawned over Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos: "We stand with you sir. . . . We love your adherence to democratic principle [sic] and to the democratic processes. And we will not leave you in isolation."
It is a considerable understatement to suggest that the burgeoning Philippine opposition (which contains many legitimate democrats, such as Salvador Laurel and Butz Aquino) did not appreciate effusive praise for the man who suspended the national constitution, declared martial law, governed by decree, and imprisoned political opponents to perpetuate his own power. From the standpoint of long-term American interests (not to mention common decency and historical accuracy), Vice President Bush should have considered how a successor Philippine government might perceive his enthusiasm for Marcos. Instead of acting prudently, the Reagan administration seems determined to antagonize the opposition forces. During his second presidential campaign debate with Walter Mondale, President Reagan not only defended this nation's intimate relationship with the current Manila regime but also implied that the only alternative to Marcos was a communist takeover--a gross distortion of reality.
Ill-considered hyperbole with respect to right-wing autocratic governments places the United States in an awkward, even hypocritical posture. Equally unfortunate is the extensive and at times highly visible material assistance that Washington gives such regimes. For more than three decades, the United States helped train and equip the military force that the Somoza family used to dominate Nicaragua and systematically loot that nation. Similarly, the American government provided lavish military hardware to the shah of Iran as well as "security" and "counter insurgency" training to SAVAK, the monarch's infamous secret police. Throughout the same period Washington gave similar assistance to a succession of Brazilian military governments, a parade of Guatemalan dictatorships, the junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, and several other repressive governments. Most recently, the United States gave the Marcos regime economic and military aid totaling more than $227 million, plus millions more in payments for the military installations at Clark Field and Subic Bay. Despite ample signs of that government's increasingly shaky tenure, the Reagan administration ask Congress to increase aid by nearly 20 percent. Congress exhibited little enthusiasm for that approach, approving instead a significantly smaller sum and attaching various "human rights" restrictions.
Warm public endorsements of autocratic regimes combined with substantial (at times lavish) material support produce an explosive mixture that repeatedly damages American prestige and credibility. Many of those governments retain only the most precarious hold on power, lacking significant popular support and depending heavily upon the use of terror to intimidate opponents. When repressive tactics no longer prove sufficient, the dictatorships can collapse with dramatic suddenness--as in Iran. American patronage thus causes the United States to become closely identified with hated governments and their policies. The domestic populations see those regimes as little more than American clients--extensions of U.S. power. Consequently, they do not view the ouster of a repressive autocrat as merely an internal political change, but as the eradication of American domination.
Moreover, there is a virtual reflex action to repudiate everything American--including capitalist economics and Western-style democracy. The United States unwittingly contributes to that process. By portraying corrupt, autocratic rulers as symbols of the "free world,' we risk having long-suffering populations take us at our word. They do not see capitalism and democracy as those systems operate in the West, enabling people to achieve prosperity and individual freedom. Instead, Third World people identify free enterprise and democratic values with the corruption and repression they have endured. Historian Walter LaFeber describes how that reasoning has worked in Central America: "U.S. citizens see [capitalist democracy] as having given them the highest standard of living and the most open society in the world. Many Central Americans have increasingly associated capitalism with a brutal oligarchy-military complex that has been supported by U.S. policies--and armies."
An attitude eventually emerges that if Ferdinand Marcos, Augusto Pinochet, or Chun Doo Hwan represents democratic capitalism, then any alternative, even communism, might be preferable. It is a dangerous delusion, and Washington justifiably urges Third World populations to recognize Marxism as a lethal snare. But the suspicion engendered by America's myopic foreign policy inclines them to reject such warnings as self-serving propaganda.
The explosion of emotional, often hysterical, anti-Americanism in Iran cannot be understood apart from the context of Washington's massive and highly visible sponsorship of the shah during the preceding quarter-century. The same relationship exists in Nicaragua, where a more sedate, but still pervasive, anti-Americanism is directly attributable to America's long-standing connection with the detested Somoza family. Other caldrons are now boiling in Zaire, Guatemala, South Korea, and the Philippines. Ramon Mitra, an opposition member of the Philippine National Assembly, underscores the danger inherent in America's sponsorship of repressive regimes, warning that once Marcos is overthrown, "this will become one of the most bitter, anti-American countries in this part of the world." As a recipe for breeding antagonism and ill will, it would be difficult to surpass existing U.S. foreign policy.
Hostility to the Left
The flip side of Washington's promiscuous enthusiasm for right-wing autocrats is an equally pervasive hostility toward leftist Third World regimes and insurgent movements. There have been occasional exceptions to this rule throughout the cold war era. For example, the United States developed a cordial relationship with communist Yugoslavia after Premier Josef Tito broke with the Soviet Union in 1948. A similar process occurred during the early 1970s, when the Nixon administration engineered a rapprochement with China, ending more than two decades of frigid hostility. These achievements are instructive and should have demonstrated to American policymakers that it is possible for the United States to coexist with Marxist regimes. But that lesson has not been learned, and such incidents of enlightenment stand as graphic exceptions to an other- wise dreary record.
More typical of America's posture is the ongoing feud with the Cuban government of Fidel Castro, now in its 27th year. The campaign to oust Castro or, failing that, to make him a hemispheric pariah, was shortsighted, futile, and counterproductive from the outset. It served only to give him a largely undeserved status as a principled, courageous revolutionary and to drive his government into Moscow's willing embrace. Soviet defector Arkady Shevchenko recalls a 1960 conversation with Nikita Khrushchev in which the latter viewed America's hostility toward Cuba with undisguised glee. Describing U.S. efforts to "drive Castro to the wall" instead of establishing normal relations as "stupid," Khrushchev concluded: "Castro will have to gravitate to us like an iron filing to a magnet." It was an accurate prediction.
Apparently having learned little from the Cuban experience, the Reagan administration seems determined to make the same errors with the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Washington's attempts to isolate the Managua regime diplomatically, the imposition of economic sanctions, the "covert" funding of the contra guerrillas, and the use of apocalyptic rhetoric to describe the internal struggle for power in that country all seem like an eerie case of deja vu. President Reagan's depiction of the contras as "the moral equal" of America's own founding fathers constitutes ample evidence that U.S. policymakers have not learned to view Third World power struggles with even modest sophistication. One need not romanticize the Sandinista regime, excuse its suppression of political dissent, or rationalize its acts of brutality (e.g., the treatment of the Miskito Indians), as the American political left is prone to do, to advocate a more restrained and detached policy. Administration leaders fear that Nicaragua will become a Soviet satellite in Central America; Washington's current belligerent course virtually guarantees that outcome. As in the case of Cuba nearly three decades ago, the United States is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The American government's hostility toward left-wing regimes in the Third World has even extended to democratic governments with a leftist slant. An early victim of this antipathy was Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Evidence now clearly shows extensive CIA involvement (including planning and funding) in the 1953 royalist coup that enabled the shah to establish himself as an absolute monarch. Mossadegh's "crime" was not that he was communist, but that he depended on communist elements for some of his support and advocated policies inimical to powerful Anglo-American economic interests. A year later, the left-leaning reformist government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala suffered the same fate. This time American complicity in the overthrow of a democratically elected government was even more blatant. The U.S. ambassador to Guatemala reportedly boasted that he had brought the counterrevolution to a successful conclusion barely "forty-five minutes behind schedule." Even President Reagan's bipartisan commission on Central America concedes U.S. assistance in the coup, and Washington's role has been amply documented elsewhere.
Buoyed by such successes, the United States helped oust Patrice Lumumba, the first elected prime minister of the Congo (now Zaire), in 1960. Like Mossadegh and Arbenz, Lumumba had committed the unpardonable sin of soliciting communist support. There is also some evidence of American complicity in the 1973 military coup that toppled the government of Chilean president Salvador Allende. We do know that the Nixon administration sought to thwart Allende's election in 1970, discussed a coup with disgruntled elements of the military immediately following that election, and ordered steps to isolate and destabilize the new government economically. No less a figure than Henry Kissinger, then serving as national security adviser, concedes that the United States authorized covert payments of more than $8.8 million to opponents of the Allende government during the three years preceding the coup. Given the relatively modest size of the Chilean economy and population, an infusion of $8.8 million certainly created a considerable political impact, but Kissinger and Nixon both blame Allende's downfall entirely on internal factors. The Marxist president's pursuit of disastrous economic programs together with his systematic attempts to undercut the conservative middle class and harass political opponents undoubtedly galvanized the opposition, weakening his already precarious political position. Nevertheless, it would be naive to accept at face value the Nixon administration's protestations of innocence regarding the coup, especially in light of Kissinger's ominous assertion that Allende was 'not merely an economic nuisance or a political critic but a geopolitical challenge."
It is reprehensible for a government that preaches the virtues of noninterference in the internal affairs of other nations to have amassed such a record of interference. The level of shame mounts when American meddling undermines a sister democracy and helps install a repressive autocracy. Yet in Iran, Guatemala, Zaire, and Chile that was precisely what happened. Post-Mossadegh Iran endured the shah's corrupt authoritarianism for 25 years before desperately embracing the fanaticism of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Guatemala after Arbenz has witnessed a dreary succession of military dictatorships, each one rivaling its predecessor in brutality. The ouster of Patrice Lumumba facilitated the rise to power of Mobutu Sese Seko (nee Joseph Mobutu) in Zaire. Mobutu's regime is regarded as one of the most corrupt and repressive on any continent.
Perhaps Chile is the saddest case of all. Although deified by Western liberals, Salvador Allende had his unsavory qualities. His enthusiasm for Marxist economic bromides pushed his nation to the brink of disaster. He also exhibited a nasty authoritarian streak of his own, including an intolerance of political critics. Nevertheless, his actions remained (although sometimes just barely) within constitutional bounds. Moreover, he was the last in an unbroken series of democratically elected rulers stretching back more than four decades--an impressive record in Latin America. The Pinochet dictatorship that replaced Allende nearly 12 years ago is conspicuous for its brutal and systematic violation of individual liberties. Yet Henry Kissinger can assert that the "change in government in Chile was on balance favorable--even from the point of view of human rights." Such a view reflects either willful blindness or an astounding cynicism.
Those individuals who justify America's existing policy toward the Third World cite strategic, economic, and ideological considerations. On the strategic level, they argue that the United States must prevent geographically important regions from falling under the sway of regimes subservient to the Soviet Union. Otherwise, a shift in the balance of global military power could jeopardize American security interests, perhaps even imperil the nation's continued existence. Economically, the United States must maintain access to vital supplies of raw materials and keep markets open for American products and investments. It is not possible, this argument holds, for an economy based upon free enterprise to endure if the world is dominated by state-run Marxist systems. Finally, beyond questions of strategic and economic self-interest, the United States must thwart communist expansionism in the Third World to ensure that America and its democratic allies do not become islands in a global sea of hostile, totalitarian dictatorships.
All these arguments possess a certain facile appeal, but they hold up only if one accepts some very dubious conceptions of America's strategic, economic, and ideological interests. Moreover, proponents have often employed these arguments as transparent rationalizations for questionable foreign policy initiatives.
The notion that the United States must assist and defend right-wing regimes while opposing leftist insurgencies or governments for its own strategic self-interest depends on several important subsidiary assumptions. Those who justify America's Third World policy on this basis generally define "strategic interests" in a most expansive manner. In its crudest form, this approach regards Third World states as little more than bases or forward staging areas for American military power. Reagan administration officials defend continued support of the Marcos dictatorship, for example, because otherwise the United States might lose its installations at Clark Field and Subic Bay, complicating the defense of other Far Eastern allies.
A more subtle argument is to portray a particular regime as a "keystone" or "force for stability" in a particular region. This thesis featured prominently in Washington's support for the shah of Iran with respect to the Persian Gulf, Mobutu Sese Seko with respect to Central Africa, and a succession of Brazilian military governments with respect to South America. Such a rationale is convincing only if one assumes that the United States truly possesses "vital" strategic interests in regions as diverse as Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, Central Africa, and South America, and that successor regimes in regional "key- stone" nations would be hostile to those interests.
One can and should question whether the United States actually has strategic interests, vital or otherwise, in areas thousands of miles removed from its own shores. Moreover, Washington's current approach assumes that the presence of authoritarian Third World allies somehow enhances America's own security. It is a curious belief. How a plethora of small, often militarily insignificant nations, governed by unpopular and unstable regimes, could augment U.S. strength in a showdown with the Soviet Union is a mystery. One could make a more plausible argument that attempts to prop up tottering allies weaken America's security. These efforts drain U.S. financial resources and stretch defense forces dangerously thin. Worst of all is the risk that a crumbling Third World ally could become an arena for ill-advised American military adventures. As we saw in Vietnam, the entrance to such quagmires is easier to find than the exit.
The inordinate fear of successor governments is equally dubious, for it assumes that such regimes would inevitably be left-wing and subservient to Moscow. Neither assumption is necessarily warranted. The ouster of a right-wing autocracy does not lead ineluctably to a radical leftist government. Vigorous democracies succeeded rightist dictatorships in Portugal and Greece, and there is a reasonable possibility of a similar occurrence in the Philippines once Marcos passes from the scene. Moreover, even in cases where a staunchly leftist government does emerge, subservience to Moscow cannot be assumed. Such pessimism may have had some validity in the bipolar ideological environment of the late 1940s and early 1950s, but given the diffusion of power away from both Moscow and Washington in the past 30 years, it is now dangerously obsolete. When China and the USSR are mortal adversaries, Yugoslavia charts a consistently independent course, and such a country as Rumania--in Moscow's own geopolitical "backyard"--dares exhibit maverick tendencies on selected foreign policy issues, the assumption that a Marxist Third World state will be merely a Soviet stooge is clearly unwarranted.
There is no doubt that the Soviet Union exploits local crises to further its own foreign policy objectives and that the Kremlin often supports, equips, and funds radical insurgencies. But there is a vast difference between assisting a revolutionary movement and controlling it. The mere fact that leftist forces accept Soviet money and military hardware does not mean that once in power they would tamely submit to dictation from Moscow. Yet this distinction has escaped two generations of American foreign policy officials. They habitually equate support with control--regarding any acceptance of Soviet aid as a 'mark of Cain" justifying unrelenting U.S. hostility.
Otherwise sophisticated foreign policy spokesmen spin elaborate theories about the supposed strategic dangers posed to the United States if "friendly" autocratic regimes fall. At times this attitude verges on paranoia. The report of President Reagan's bipartisan commission on Central America, for example, concludes that a proliferation of Marxist governments in Central America would threaten U.S. shipping lanes in the Caribbean, interdicting vital supply lines in the event of a Middle East or European war. How the nations of Central America could accomplish such a feat against the world's foremost military power the commission sages do not say. As it is doubtful that the Central American states could muster more than minuscule naval and air power contingents of their own, the only plausible theory is that they would allow their homelands to be used as bases for Soviet strikeforces. Such action would make sense only if the regimes all had suicide complexes, since U.S. retaliation would be inevitable, swift, and devastating. Yet commission members brazenly cite such a strategic "threat" as an imperative reason for the United States to defend Central American autocracies against "destabilizing" insurgencies.
The Economic Dimension
The economic thesis for current U.S. foreign policy is no more persuasive than the strategic rationale. Assumptions that rightist governments serve as pliant instruments of American economic objectives or that left-wing regimes become commercial adversaries cannot be sustained as a general rule. It is true that countries ruled by right-wing autocrats tend to be friendlier arenas for U.S. investment, but the price in bureaucratic restrictions and "commissions" (i.e., bribes) to key officials is often very high. Moreover, governments of whatever ideological stripe usually operate according to principles of economic self-interest, which may or may not correspond to American desires.
Washington received a rude awakening on that score in the 1970s, when its closest Middle East allies--Iran and Saudi Arabia--helped engineer OPEC's massive oil price hikes. Neither U.S. client was willing to forgo financial gain out of any sense of gratitude for political and military support. Much the same situation occurred in 1980, when the Carter administration invoked a grain embargo against the Soviet Union for the latter's invasion of Afghanistan. The United States encouraged, even pressured, its allies to cooperate in that boycott. Nevertheless, the Argentine military junta, a regime that the United States had routinely counted upon to stem the tide of leftist insurgency in Latin America, promptly seized the opportunity to boost its grain sales to the USSR.
Just as right-wing regimes exhibit a stubborn independence on economic matters, revolutionary leftist governments are not inherent commercial enemies. When the United States has allowed trade with leftist countries to occur, that trade has usually flourished. The lucrative oil and mineral commerce with the Marxist government of Angola is a case in point. Similarly, once the emotional feud with mainland China ceased in the 1970s, commercial and investment opportunities for the United States also began to emerge. Although a Marxist state dominating the global market in some vital commodity might conceivably attempt to blackmail the United States, that danger is both remote and theoretical. Indeed, as several scholars have shown, the entire notion of the democratic West's "resource dependency" is overblown.
Economic realities exert a powerful influence that often transcends purely political considerations. Most Third World governments, whether right-wing or left-wing, benefit from extensive commercial ties with the industrialized West, particularly the United States. America is often the principal market for their exports and is a vital source of developmental capital. Revolutionary rhetoric, even when sincerely believed, cannot change that fundamental equation. It is no coincidence that Third World governments have rarely instituted economic boycotts; most embargoes originate as a deliberate U.S. policy to punish perceived political misdeeds.
As in the case of political and military bellicosity, a confrontational approach to commerce is unproductive. The Reagan administration's trade embargo against Nicaragua is designed ostensibly to deflect the Sandinista government from a pro- Soviet course. It will likely produce the opposite effect. External pressures strengthen doctrinaire elements, like Interior Minister Tomas Borge, who want to chart an uncompromising Marxist-Leninist course. Under the pretext of national unity, Borge and his cohorts can now promote greater economic regimentation and equate even mild dissent with treason. Trade sanctions also injure Nicaragua's fragile private sector, already under siege from collectivist forces in the government. Worst of all, America's withdrawal as a trading partner offers the Soviet bloc a superb opportunity to fill that void, thus integrating Nicaragua into a global socialist system.
Rather than adopting economic sanctions as a device for political intimidation, the United States should relish the prospect of promoting commercial connections to the greatest extent possible. Nothing would more readily provide evidence to left-wing leaders that a system based on private property and incentives is vastly superior to the lumbering inefficiencies of Marxist central planning. On those rare occasions when the United States has pursued a conciliatory rather than a truculent and confrontational approach, the results have been gratifying. The Marxist regime in Mozambique, for instance, first looked to the Soviet bloc for economic as well as ideological guidance, only to confront arrogant Russian imperialism and a recipe for economic disaster. The disillusioned leadership now has begun to turn away from the USSR and open its country to Western trade and investment, a process that is likely to accelerate in the coming years.
The most misguided justification for America's attachment to right-wing Third World states lies in the realm of politics and ideology. Proponents assume an underlying ideological affinity between authoritarian systems and Western democracies. They insist that while rightist regimes may be repressive, such governments are natural U.S. allies in the struggle against world communism. Conversely, revolutionary leftist movements are "totalitarian" in origin and constitute accretions to the power of that global menace.
No one has advanced this thesis more passionately and at greater length than former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick. While conceding that "traditional" autocracies sometimes engage in practices that offend American "sensibilities," Kirkpatrick clearly finds those regimes more palatable than their leftist adversaries. She asserts that "traditional authoritarian governments are less repressive than revolutionary autocracies," are "more susceptible to liberalization," and are "more compatible with U.S. interests." That being the case, American aid to keep such friendly regimes in power is not only justified but becomes something akin to a moral imperative.
Kirkpatrick's thesis is flawed in several respects. Her assertion that rightist autocracies are less repressive than their left-wing counterparts is only partially valid. If one selects an extreme example, like the murderous Pol Pot government of Cambodia in the mid- and late 1970s, even the worst rightist regimes compare favorably. Moreover, Marxist dictatorships do tend to be more systematic in eradicating all competing power centers, thus rendering it more difficult for a political opposition to coalesce. In other words, "totalitarian" regimes are usually more efficient in institutionalizing their repression. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to observe that several former and current U.S. allies in the Third World have amassed appalling human rights records. Their brutality may be less efficient, but in many cases it is scarcely less severe.
Even if one concedes that the repression practiced by leftist dictatorships is more pervasive and severe than that of right-wing dictatorships, a more fundamental issue still exists-- American complicity. The United States has neither the power nor the requisite moral mandate to eradicate injustice and oppression in the world. At the same time, as the most powerful and visible symbol of democracy, America does have an obligation not to become a participant in acts of repression and brutality. Our sponsorship of right-wing autocracies violates that crucial responsibility. Assisting dictatorial regimes makes the U.S. government (and by extension the public that elects it) an accomplice in the suppression of other peoples' liberty. In a profound way, such complicity constitutes a stain on our democratic heritage.
Kirkpatrick's contention that traditional autocracies are more susceptible to liberalization likewise misses a fundamental point. She asserts that autocratic regimes sometimes "evolve" into more democratic forms, whereas no analogous case exists with respect to revolutionary socialist governments. Yet her own examples--Spain, Greece, and Brazil--do not involve evolutionary transformations, but rather the restoration of democratic systems that right-wing elements had destroyed. History demonstrates that while communist revolutionaries oust competing repressive systems, rightist insurgents habitually overthrow democratically elected governments. There is only one instance of a successful communist uprising against an established democracy: the takeover of Czechoslovakia in March 1948. Conversely, right-wing coups and revolutions have erased numerous democratic regimes. Spain (1936), Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964), Greece (1967), the Philippines (1972), Chile (1973), and Argentina (1976) represent only the most prominent examples. It may be more difficult to eradicate leftist (especially totalitarian) systems than it is to replace rightist regimes, but right-wing autocratic movements pose the more lethal threat to functioning democracies. No fact more effectively demolishes the naive notion of an underlying affinity between democracies and rightist dictatorships. The two systems are not allies; they are inherent adversaries.
Those who embrace Kirkpatrick's thesis accuse American liberals, with some justification, of applying a "double standard" toward Third World dictatorships. Liberals have indeed exhibited selective morality on a score of occasions. Some who condemned the repressive policies of U.S. allies in Southeast Asia during the late 1960s and early 1970s remained strangely silent when Hanoi created a flood of refugees and violated the sovereignty of neighboring nations. Today, it is fashionable for liberals to advocate sanctions against South Africa and Chile while supporting expanded contacts with Cuba and the Soviet Union, nations with equally abysmal human rights records. Many leftists conveniently ignore atrocities committed by revolutionary socialist regimes, even when, as in the case of Pol Pot, those acts reach genocidal proportions.
But Kirkpatrick and her cohorts also employ an obnoxious double standard. For example, the Reagan administration denounced the November elections in Nicaragua as a "farce" because of restrictions the Sandinistas placed on their opponents. Yet administration officials praised the balloting in South Korea three months later as an important and positive step toward full democracy, even though opposition parties labored under onerous restraints comparable to those in Nicaragua. We have already seen examples of Washington's enthusiasm for Marcos-style "democracy" in the Philippines.
An even more blatant application of a double standard is the attitude of American conservatives toward the practices of right-wing autocrats. While excoriating Marxist dictators, Jeane Kirkpatrick fairly gushes with enthusiasm for the likes of Somoza and the shah. Those leaders were "positively friendly" to the United States. They sent their sons to be educated at American universities and voted with America at the UN, and their embassies were active in Washington social life! Perhaps Kirkpatrick believes that such behavior should have impressed the inmates languishing in the political prisons of Managua and Teheran. What she finds inconvenient to recognize-- a point equally true of Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, and George Shultz--is that the autocratic "friends" who seem so charming during periodic Washington visits are the same individuals who routinely order the imprisonment, torture, or murder of political opponents at home. Only a pervasive double standard allows American conservatives to condemn Marxist repression while acting as apologists for the brutal excesses of right-wing "allies."
Jimmy Carter and Human Rights
Unfortunately, indiscriminate support for "traditional" autocrats combined with pervasive hostility toward Marxist regimes has been a staple of American policy in the Third World for the past 35 years. The most notable deviation from this dreary record occurred during Jimmy Carter's administration. President Carter's approach to Third World affairs began with an apparent sophistication that had eluded his predecessors entirely. In May 1977 Carter stated: "Being confident of our future, we are now free of that inordinate fear of communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in that fear." He made it clear that human rights considerations would play a significant role in determining whether U.S. military and economic aid would flow to other nations.
It seemed a gratifying departure from previous policy, but the Carter approach contained two fundamental flaws, both of which contributed to its ultimate failure. In his memoirs, the former president unwittingly underscored one weakness himself: "I was determined to combine support for our more authoritarian allies and friends with the promotion of human rights within their countries." This conception produced a constant "balancing act" between perceived American security interests and human rights considerations. As one scholar of the period has observed, Carter's foreign policy became "whipsawed" between those conflicting objectives. By 1980 "the president's human rights policies had been hopelessly compromised by exceptions made for security reasons."
Moreover, Carter defined human rights in such an expansive manner as to include issues of education, nutrition, housing, and so on. Thus armed, the administration assumed a right to meddle in the internal affairs of numerous nations, provoking resentment on all sides. The results were predictable. President Carter's seemingly noble objectives degenerated into a hypocritical hodgepodge that left America's policy toward the Third World in near chaos.
The fundamental weakness of the Carter approach was its attempt to graft concern about human rights to an existing interventionist foreign policy rather than reassessing the underlying elements of that policy. Administration leaders should have viewed human rights considerations as a rationale for reducing the level of American political and military involvement in the Third World. But to adopt such a course would have meant evaluating whether the preservation of various right-wing autocracies was actually vital to American security, indeed, whether important American interests were involved at all in regions remote from our own homeland. Neither the president nor his subordinates were willing or able to make such a drastic reassessment. Consequently, the human rights issue became a vehicle for more rather than less intervention.
An Alternative: Benign Detachment
This central defect in the Carter administration's foreign policy should serve as a cautionary reminder regarding efforts to structure a more equitable and coherent approach to Third World affairs. A new policy must eschew inconsistent moral posturing as well as amoral geopolitics. The most constructive alternative would stress "benign detachment" toward all Third World dictatorships, whatever their ideological orientation.
The concept of benign detachment is grounded in the indisputable reality that, for the foreseeable future, the United States will confront a Third World environment in which a majority of nations are undemocratic. It would unquestionably prove easier to function in a community of capitalist democracies, but we do not have that luxury. Democracy and capitalism may emerge as powerful doctrines throughout the Third World, but such a transformation would be long-term, reflecting indigenous historical experiences. We certainly cannot hasten that process by abandoning our own ideals and embracing reactionary autocrats. In the interim, the United States must learn to coexist with a variety of dictatorships. Benign detachment represents the most productive and least intrusive method of achieving that objective.
This approach would reject the simplistic categorization of right-wing regimes as friends and Marxist governments as enemies. It would require redefining America s national interests in a more circumspect manner. No longer should Washington conclude that the survival of a reactionary dictatorship, no matter how repressive, corrupt, and unstable it might be, somehow enhances the security of the United States. A policy of benign detachment would likewise repudiate the notion that there is an underlying kinship between rightist autocracies and Western democracies. Right-wing dictatorships are just as alien to our values as their left-wing counterparts.
America's primary objective should be a more restrained and even-handed policy toward repressive Third World regimes. Cordial diplomatic and economic relations should be encouraged with all governments that are willing to reciprocate, be they democratic, authoritarian, royalist, or Marxist. This would require normalizing diplomatic and commercial relations with such states as Cuba, Nicaragua, and Vietnam while curtailing aid to so-called allies.
Conservatives invariably protest that this position is a manifestation of a liberal double standard. It is not. In fact, conservatives ignore the actual effects such policies have had in the past. Take the case of mainland China. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Washington's attempts to isolate the People's Republic of China only caused that nation to turn inward and fester, producing a particularly oppressive and regimented system. Since the United States abandoned its misguided strategy in the early 1970s, China has become a far more open and progressive nation. Deng Xiaoping and his followers now eagerly welcome Western trade and investment, particularly in the field of high technology. Equally important are the changes sweeping the domestic economy. Chinese officials are dismantling crucial elements of Marxist central planning, decentralizing production, creating incentives, and even legalizing certain forms of private property. All those developments should be gratifying to Americans who believe in the virtues of a market economy. Moreover, the first, albeit hesitant, signs of political liberalization in China are beginning to emerge. Prominent Chinese spokesmen even assert publicly that Karl Marx was not infallible and that many of his ideas are irrelevant in the modern era--sentiments that would have merited the death sentence only a few years ago.
While the U.S. initiative in establishing cordial political and economic relations with China cannot account entirely for this movement toward liberalization, there is no question that it helps facilitate progressive trends. Conservatives who advocate isolating Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, and other Marxist states would do well to ponder that point. Liberals who endorse economic sanctions against South Africa should consider whether their suggested strategy is not counterproductive as well.
Encouraging diplomatic and commercial relations with all nations is a beneficial strategy, but aid programs and security training are another matter entirely. Economist Peter T. Bauer has shown how foreign aid inherently undermines the values of capitalism and democracy throughout the Third World. Developmental funds promote distressingly little economic progress and help entrench corrupt political elites. "Since official wealth transfers go to governments and not to the people at large, they promote the disastrous politicization of life in the Third World," Bauer observes. Moreover, aid "increases the power, resources and patronage of governments compared to the rest of society and therefore their power over it."
The tragic results of military assistance and security training are even more apparent. Both help repressive regimes maintain authority through acts of terrorism directed against ideological opponents and the public. Incentives for essential reforms and liberalization are diminished because the governments believe that U.S. material aid and political support will prove sufficient to perpetuate their power. Even worse, military aid implicates the United States in the atrocities those governments commit, thus creating extensive and potentially disastrous entanglements.
An even-handed policy should avoid involvement in Third World quarrels not directly pertinent to America's own security requirements, however crucial they might seem to the immediate participants. The United States has no holy writ to destabilize the governments of Cuba or Nicaragua because it finds them repugnant, nor to preserve autocratic systems in South Korea or Zaire because it considers them congenial. By the same token, America has not been anointed to overthrow the Pinochet regime in Chile or reform the South African government, even though zealous liberals might think such actions would promote human progress.
A policy of benign detachment is not isolationist--at least insofar as that term is used to describe a xenophobic, "storm shelter" approach to world affairs. Quite the contrary, it adopts a tolerant and optimistic outlook, seeing Third World states not merely as pawns in America's cold war with the Soviet Union, but as unique and diverse entities. Extensive economic relations are not merely acceptable, they are essential to enhancing the ultimate appeal of capitalism and democracy. There is even room for American mediation efforts to help resolve internecine or regional conflicts, provided that all parties to a dispute desire such assistance and our role harbors no danger of political or military entanglements. The United States need not practice a surly isolation. America can be an active participant in Third World affairs, but the nature of such interaction must be limited, consistent, and nonintrusive.
A policy of benign detachment would bring numerous benefits to the United States. No longer would America be perceived as the patron of repressive, decaying dictatorships, or as the principal obstacle to indigenous change in the Third World. Our current policy tragically identifies the United States and-- even worse--its capitalist democratic system with the most reactionary elements around the globe. This foolish posture enables the Soviet Union to pose as the champion of both democracy and Third World nationalism. It is time that America recaptured that moral high ground. If the United States allowed the people of Third World nations to work out their own destinies instead of trying to enlist them as unwilling combatants in the cold war, Russia's hypocritical, grasping imperialism would soon stand exposed. Moscow, not Washington, might well become the principal target of nationalistic wrath throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Moreover, the inherent inequities and inefficiencies of Marxist economics would soon become evident to all but the most rabid ideologues.
Equally important, a conciliatory noninterventionist posture toward the Third World would reduce the risk of U.S. military involvement in complex quarrels generally not relevant to American security. Savings in terms of both dollars and lives could be enormous. Our current policy threatens to foment a plethora of "brush fire" conflicts with all the attendant expense, bitterness, and divisiveness that characterized the Vietnam war.
Finally, and not the least important, reducing our Third World commitments would put an end to the hypocrisy that has pervaded U.S. relations with countries in the Third World. It is debilitating for a society that honors democracy and fundamental human rights to embrace regimes that scorn both values. A nation that believes in human liberty has no need for, and should not want, "friends" who routinely practice the worst forms of repression. A policy of detachment would restore a badly needed sense of honor and consistency to American foreign policy.
 In his farewell address, President Andrew Jackson expressed the prevailing sentiments of his countrymen when he said that Providence had selected the American people to be "the guardians of freedom to preserve it for the benefit of the human race." See James D. Richardson, ed., Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. 3 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896), p. 308.
 Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1947 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1963), pp. 178-79.
 For examples of such sentiments see Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Upheaval (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1982), especially pp. 409-13, 667-74, 676; Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Caveat: Realism, Reagan and Foreign Policy (New York: Macmillan, 1984), pp. 30, 90, 96, 126, 268-70, 275, 278, 298; and Jeane Kirkpatrick, Dictatorships and Double Standards (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), especially pp. 23-25, 32-33, 44, 49-51, 65-67, 70-71, 80, 86, 133-134. An even more blatant apologia can be found in Richard Nixon, No More Vietnams (New York: Arbor House, 1985), pp. 13, 20-21, 218-19, 225.
 A concise analysis of such thinking is provided in Melvyn P. Leffler, "From the Truman Doctrine to the Carter Doctrine: Lessons and Dilemmas of the Cold War," Diplomatic History (Fall 1983): 245-66.
 An excellent discussion of that process can be found in Jonathan Kwitny, Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendlv World (New York: Congdon and Weed, 1984), pp. 48, 106-8, 264-68, 389-90, 394.
 Kissinger, p. 28.
 Gerald R. Ford, A Time to Heal (New York: Berkley Books, 1980), p. 334.
 Kirkpatrick, p. 123; see also her speech before the Dallas Council on World Affairs, April 12, 1985, quoted in Mark Miller, "Kirkpatrick urges support for U.S. aid to contras," Dallas Morning News, April 13, 1985.
 The Report of the President's National Bipartisan Commission on Central America (New York: Macmillan, 1984), p. 14. For additional expressions of the same thesis, see pp. 16, 102-3, 105, 109-12.
 Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Jimmy Carter, 1977 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1978), pp. 2221-22.
 Jesse Leaf, "Iran: A Blind Spot in U.S. Intelligence," Washington Post, January 18, 1979; Barry Rubin, Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 201.
 Department of State, Department of State Bulletin 81, no. 2053 (August 1981): 30.
 "A Tie Goes to the Gipper," Time, October 29, 1984, pp. 24-25.
 Greg Jones, "Anti-U.S. sentiment grows in Philippines," Dallas Morning News, April 4, 1985; "House approves two-year $25.4 billion foreign aid bill," Dallas Morning News, August 1, 1985. A Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff report, prepared by Carl Ford and Frederick Brown following lengthy visits to the Philippines, warned of the increasingly precarious position of the Marcos government. Even officials within the State Department and Defense Department reportedly urged that the United States begin to "distance itself" from Marcos. "Downsiders vs. Optimists," Newsweek, October 22, 1984, p. 51.
 Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984), p. 14; Kwitny, pp. 5-6, 105-8, 203-4, 302-6, 389-90, 394.
 Greg Jones, "Communists reported gaining in Philippines," Dallas Morning News, March 13, 1985. A concise discussion of the growing turmoil in the Philippines and its potential consequences for the United States is found in Robert A. Manning, "The Philippines in Crisis," Foreign Affairs (Winter 1984-85): 392-410.
 Arkady N. Shevchenko, Breaking with Moscow (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), p. 105.
 Gerald M. Boyd, "Reagan Terms Nicaragua Rebels 'Moral Equal' of Founding Fathers," New York Times, March 2, 1985.
 Kwitny, pp. 164-77; Richard and Gladys Harkness, "The Mysterious Doings of the CIA," Saturday Evening Post, November 6, 1954, pp. 34-35; Rubin, pp. 77-90.
 Quoted in Richard H. Immerman, The CIA in Guatemala (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982), p. 141.
 Commission on Central America Report, p. 25. Accounts of the CIA operation include Immerman, passim; LaFeber, pp. 119-25; Blanche Wiesen Cook, The Declassified Eisenhower (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981), pp. 218-19, 233-89; Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of America's Coup in Guatemala (New York: Doubleday, 1982), passim.
 Madeleine G. Kalb, The Congo Cables (New York: Macmillan, 1982), pp. 50-55, 63-67, 77-83, 89-104, 129-39, 144-52, 157-79, 184-96; Kwitny, pp. 52-70.
 Henry A. Kissinger, White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1979), pp. 673-77, 681.
 Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, pp. 382, 395, 403.
 Ibid., p. 376.
 Even President Reagan's commission on Central America conceded that after the ouster of Arbenz, Guatemalan politics became especially "divisive, violent and polarized." Commission on Central America Report, p. 25. See also John A. Booth, "A Guatemalan Nightmare: Levels of Political Violence," Journal of Interamerican Studies (May 1980): especially 199-200, 218-20.
 Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, p. 411.
 See the comments of Richard L. Armitage, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. "The Carrot and the Stick," Newsweek, March 25, 1985, p. 66.
 For examples, see Commission on Central America Report, pp. 31-32, 103-9; Haig, pp. 26-27, 32, 122-23, 125, 129, 135; Department of State, Communist Interference in El Salvador: Documents Demonstrating Communist Support of El Salvador Insurgency (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1981), passim.
 Commission on Central America Report, pp. 109-11.
 "Argentina's Silent Partner," New York Times, March 26, 1980; Edward Schumacher, "Argentina and Soviet Are No Longer Just Business Partners," New York Times, July 12, 1981.
 Terence Smith, "Companies Resisting U.S. Foreign Policy," New York Times, June 27, 1981; Kwitny, pp. 149-50; James Brooke, "Inside the East Bloc's African Outpost,' New York Times, January 13, 1985.
 See, for example, Michael Shafer, "Mineral Myths," Foreign Policy (Summer 1982): 154-71.
 For a discussion of this point, see Kwitny, pp. 18, 75-76, 149-50.
 Anthony Lewis, "Mozambique Seeks Western Investment," New York Times, February 5, 1983; "Mozambique Dismisses 3 Cabinet Ministers," New York Times, June 17, 1984; Jeff Trimble, "Mozambique's Marxists Turn to the Left," U.S. News and World Report, February 25, 1985, pp. 37-38.
 Kirkpatrick, pp. 44, 49.
 "U.S. official calls vote in Nicaragua a 'farce, "' Dallas Morning News, November 6, 1984; "A Challenge for President Chun, Time, February 25, 1985, p. 37.
 Kirkpatrick, p. 25.
 Public Papers of the Presidents: Jimmy Carter, 1977, p.
 Jimmy Carter, Keeping Faith (New York: Bantam Books, 1982), p. 143.
 Walter LaFeber, "From Confusion to Cold War: The Memoirs of the Carter Administration," Diplomatic History (Winter 1984): 6; See also the views of former secretary of state Cyrus Vance on the need to "balance" security and human rights concerns. Cyrus Vance, Hard Choices: Critical Years in America's Foreign Policy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), pp. 32-33, 127-28, 516.
 Carter, p. 144.
 See, for example, Kirkpatrick, pp. 41-42, 46-47, 69; and Gerald Ford, p. xvii. Implicit in their arguments is the notion that U.S. taxpayers are obligated to continue funding right-wing dictators in the manner to which they have become accustomed.
 "China repudiates orthodox Marxism as obsolete theories," Dallas Morning News, December 8, 1984. On Chinese economic reforms see George C. Wang, ed. and trans., Economic Reform in the PRC (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1982), passim; and A. Doak Barnett, China's Economy in Global Perspective (Washing- ton: Brookings Institution, 1981), especially pp. 34-37, 45-55, 86-98, 506-39.
 Peter T. Bauer, Equality, the Third World and Economic Delusion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), pp. 103-4.
© 1985 The Cato Institute
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