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Updated: 46 min 35 sec ago

Trump’s Latin America Policy: Send in the Troops

Thu, 07/19/2018 - 10:09am


During his first year in office, Donald Trump largely ignored Latin America (except, of course, in the context of the border wall with Mexico and undoing Barack Obama’s initiatives with Cuba).

Nevertheless, over the past several months, events in Venezuela have attracted the Trump administration’s attention. While the contours of Trump’s Latin American policy remain murky, the White House has pursued his predecessor’s policy of toppling Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.

President Trump recently intensified sanctions against the Venezuelan government to further destabilize its economy and regime. More alarmingly, according to recent reports, Trump also openly considered invading Venezuela to overthrow Maduro this past August.

First, the president openly called for an invasion with his staff and foreign leaders.

Despite his aides’ pleas to avoid raising it publicly, Trump discussed the issue again during a conversation with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and at a dinner with four Latin American leaders in September. He supposedly informed his audience that “My staff told me not to say this…” and proceeded to ask if they favored a U.S. invasion. (They did not.) Trump also raised the “military option” with reporters outside one of his golf courses.

Luckily for Venezuelans, Trump decided against launching a foolish and illegal invasion of Venezuela. It was a narrow miss on what could have been his worst idea to date.

A Bipartisan Tradition

Our previous experiences — including in Guatemala, South Vietnam, and Iraq — have produced regimes that proved disastrous for their citizens. U.S. regime change, whether overt or covert, has created police states that have repressed their citizens and produced tremendous suffering. Venezuela could have experienced a similarly chaotic and violent episode had Trump authorized an invasion, whether led by the U.S. or conducted with the support of Washington’s regional allies, such as Colombia.

Trump’s remarks are not surprising. The United States has repeatedly attempted to undermine Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, since 2002. Indeed, destabilizing Maduro has secured bipartisan approval in Washington.

In 2015, President Barack Obama classified Venezuela as an “extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” in an executive order. Obama justified the decision because of Maduro’s persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, and arbitrary arrests.

Maduro’s government has surely committed human rights abuses. But, so have many U.S. allies in the region, including Honduras — which produces many of the migrants the Trump administration has sought to prevent from entering the United States — without generating any calls for regime change in Washington.

Labeling Venezuela as a “security threat” borders on the sanctimonious at best, because none of these factors directly imperils the United States’ national security. And, moreover, justifying intervention in the name of democratic reform is also highly inappropriate when the government was democratically elected.

The mainstream media generally also supports regime change. Op-eds in a variety of media outlets, including the New York Times, have proposed supporting Venezuelans who want to overthrow Maduro. Former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega, declared in a Times op-ed that “a regime steeped in corruption and narco-trafficking…will never cede power voluntarily.”

There are good reasons to be very critical of Maduro, including the recent election’s numerous irregularities. But while the opposition boycotted the vote, it nonetheless enjoyed support from Washington. Anti-Maduro organizations have received considerable funds, approximately $14 million, from the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy.

Supporting opposition candidates in foreign elections through non-state actors such as NED is also a well-established tradition in U.S. foreign relations since World War II. Such blatant internal interference reinforces one of Maduro’s talking points: that his regime represents a bulwark against a U.S. empire that actively seeks to overthrow the Venezuelan government and install a new regime.

False Parallels

While Trump’s reasoning for invading Venezuela remains unknown, he invoked two previous U.S. interventions in Latin America: Grenada and Panama. Beyond the fact that such an invasion would be illegal, hypocritical given the Democrats condemnation of Russian actions in Crimea, and condemned in Latin America and elsewhere, there’s simply no reason to believe invading Venezuela would be as easy as Grenada or Panama.

In the case of Grenada, the U.S. military did not even possess adequate maps of the country it was about to invade, and a series of logistical and communication issues could have proved disastrous had Ronald Reagan decided to fight a well-armed adversary. The U.S. picked on Grenada precisely because it was so small and weak.

During Operation Just Cause in Panama, the U.S. quickly decapitated its former client, Manuel Noriega, by using a series of highly-coordinated night-time attacks and overwhelming force against a vastly outgunned and relatively unpopular opponent. Panama also housed a U.S. military command, Southern Command, and so had tens of thousands of U.S. troops already stationed in country, as well as senior officers intimately familiar with Panamanian security forces.

While the Panamanian intervention is largely forgotten, those who remember it mistakenly view it as a largely successful invasion that removed a tyrant and installed democracy. But Noriega had been a U.S. client until 1986. Just Cause destroyed the National Guard, removed Noriega, and installed the winners of the previous fraudulent election. True democracy only occurred after the end of the U.S. occupation and the turn-over of the Panama Canal in December 1999.

As Trump’s remarks demonstrate, proponents of military force still view limited invasions such as Grenada and Panama as solutions for whatever foreign policy “crisis” they raise. But the numerous advantages the U.S. military had in Panama and Grenada do not exist in Venezuela, so the likelihood of replicating those “successes” there is low.

If Trump and his foreign policy advisers meticulously scrutinized the past, an unlikely event, they might realize that military interventions largely yield negative long-term consequences. If the media reports about Venezuela are accurate, it is indeed an appalling situation. Nevertheless, outside military intervention rarely solves the complex issues underlying the grievances. Rather, if often fuels more instability and violence. There are simply no guarantees that toppling Maduro would help an already volatile situation.

The post Trump’s Latin America Policy: Send in the Troops appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Brian D’Haeseleer is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Given What the U.S. Has Done to the World, It Should Be Letting All Refugees In

Wed, 07/18/2018 - 2:25pm

Protesters march against the Muslim ban in Washington, DC. (Photo: Masha George / Washington, DC)

People across this country and around the world have been rightly outraged by U.S. federal agencies’ detention of migrants and separation of their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Supreme Court’s subsequent ruling that the Trump administration’s racist travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries was legal came shortly after, reviving another fierce reaction to the administration’s policy toward immigrants, travelers, and asylum seekers.

school, children in the U.S. learn that the three branches of the federal government are arranged with a system of “checks and balances,” so that no one branch oversteps its power and violates the rights of individuals. Instead, the whole world is seeing that the only thing “checked” by the White House and the Supreme Court is the human right to freedom of movement.

The cases are united by more than one administration’s xenophobia. Much of Latin America and the Muslim world share a legacy of U.S. interventions driving the very migration now being cruelly restricted.

Latinx migrants at the Southern border have been in the national spotlight. But too rarely has the question been asked: What situation would compel so many people to leave their homes and take the perilous journey north in the first place?

To ask and answer that question honestly requires a look at U.S. policy in Latin America, and particularly in Central America.

While the Trump administration talks incessantly about the gang MS-13, its favorite villain, it says nothing about the origins of the gang. MS-13 was actually incubated on the streets and in the prisons of Southern California, where so many Salvadoran migrants were incarcerated in the 1990s. Washington’s deportation of former inmates — among other Salvadorans — back to El Salvador was the context for the development of the MS-13.

The Salvadoran community that developed in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s itself emerged as Salvadorans fled a nightmarish civil war. The United States was deeply involved in that conflict, arming and supporting the Salvadoran government and right-wing paramilitary forces throughout Central America.

These death squads committed acts of unspeakable violence and made for a hellish reality that still reverberates throughout the region today. Similar patterns have played out in Guatemala and Honduras, which are also countries of origin for refugees where the U.S. has a legacy of backing right-wing leaders past and present.

On the other side of the world is Yemen, one of the seven countries whose people are targeted by the travel ban — and the site of a catastrophic war. We may not hear the cries of Yemeni children the way we heard those of children detained at the border. But many of them are also separated from their families here in the U.S. because of the travel ban.

As with Central America, the U.S. is committing crimes in Yemen that makes the reality for millions a desperate one.

According to the United Nations, the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today exists in Yemen — a striking distinction, given that there’s no shortage of other disasters around the globe. There is a civil war in Yemen, in which combatants on both sides have taken actions that have had severe consequences for civilians. But the overwhelming responsibility for the destruction lies with a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which has bombed Yemen mercilessly in support of the Saudi-friendly Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, whom the Gulf States seek president.

Their campaign has targeted civilian infrastructure, weddings, funerals, and even medical facilities. As a result,  of thousands have been killed and millions have been displaced. Millions face starvation as well as sickness and death from entirely preventable diseases like cholera.  According to Unicef, 11 million children, or “nearly every child in Yemen,” is in need of humanitarian assistance.

A dropped bomb or exploded missile leaves so much in its wake. But there is a particular, and peculiar, remnant of the blasts that have wounded Yemen. Yemenis find, again and again, labels on bomb fragments that indicate they are made and sold by the United States.

Indeed, last summer, Trump negotiated with Saudi Arabia to sell the kingdom $110 billion in weapons. The United States also approved $2 billion in arms sales to the U.A.E. last year. The U.S. is also supplying intelligence to the Saudi/Emirati coalition, as well as mid-air refueling for coalition aircraft.

The U.S., therefore, is doing everything but dropping the bombs itself. But even that distinction dissolves when one remembers that the .

The U.S. has bombed Yemenis. It is supplying the weapons for other countries to bomb Yemenis now. And, as it’s doing toward Central Americans in the most callous way, it is denying Yemenis the right to enter the United States.

The beginning of accountability for those actions is letting these — and all — refugees in. But that cannot be the end. Let this time of anguish and outrage be one of a deep reckoning — with what the U.S. does at its borders, within them, and beyond them.

The U.S. must stop restricting migration. But it must cease its military and economic activities that drive migration as well.

This article was produced in collaboration with In These Times.

The post Given What the U.S. Has Done to the World, It Should Be Letting All Refugees In appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Khury Peterson-Smith is the Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

What’s Behind Trump’s Assault on Europe

Wed, 07/18/2018 - 11:01am

Anti-Trump protesters float a giant “baby Trump” in London. (Shutterstock)

Donald Trump didn’t fly to Europe to meet with NATO, European leaders, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He got there by stepping through the looking glass.

Once on the other side, Trump made a series of extraordinary statements that have effectively turned U.S. foreign policy upside down. He accused Germany of being “totally controlled by Russia.” He declared that the European Union is a “foe” of the United States. He told British Prime Minister Theresa May that she should forget about negotiating with the EU and sue the institution instead.

And, just days after the U.S. intelligence community and special counsel Robert Mueller confirmed once again that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 elections, Trump said that he believed in Putin’s claims of Russian innocence.

Why on earth would Trump embark on this surrealistic misadventure in foreign policy? True, his first instinct seems to be to disrupt. His statements also reveal his preference for “strong” leaders over “weak.” Perhaps, as some intelligence community insiders claim, the Russian president even has some dirt with which to blackmail Trump.

In fact, Trump’s statements and actions on this European trip aren’t just his own idiosyncratic style. Trump’s erratic behavior reflects a very specific worldview. Trump is attacking Europe and siding with Russia for political — and not just personal — reasons.

A segment of the U.S. right wing, which has now coalesced around Trump, has always been skeptical about Europe. It has long decried the social democratic ideals baked into the European system, at both a national and a European Union level. Indeed, any U.S. politician that leans in that direction inevitably gets branded a European socialist, as John McCain accused Barack Obama of being in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Then there are the more pacifist inclinations of Europe. Donald Rumsfeld famously divided the continent between “old Europe” and “new Europe,” with the former refusing to back the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Support for the U.S. misadventure largely came from East-Central Europe, while EU stalwarts France and Germany expressed the greatest skepticism.

These trends converge in the Euroskepticism expressed by the American Enterprise Institute and media outlets like Fox News and The Weekly Standard, a sentiment that gathered strength in the 1990s and heavily influenced the George W. Bush administration. The European Union represented, in their criticisms, a kind of super-socialism that was spreading eastward and threatening U.S. global dominance.

The other major contribution to Trump’s worldview comes from Europe itself. Right-wing nationalist movements and governments throughout the continent have tried to unravel the European Union. The movement scored its first victory with the Brexit referendum in 2016. But Euroskeptic governments have also taken over in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Italy.

These Euroskeptics view Brussels as an outside force trying to impose foreign customs on nations — unacceptable economic policies, unacceptable numbers of immigrants, unacceptable political requirements. The Polish and Hungarian governments are establishing illiberal regimes that challenge freedom of the press, judicial independence, and the free functioning of civil society. The two countries are risking all-out conflict with the EU.

But there’s another strong Euroskeptic voice: Vladimir Putin.

Under Putin, Russia has supplied rhetorical and financial support for far-right wing parties throughout Europe — the National Front in France, the Freedom Party in Austria, the Northern League in Italy. There is considerable issue overlap. Putin and the Euroskeptics are anti-immigrant and anti-liberal and favor nationalist and law-and-order policies.

But Putin also sees opportunity in Euroskepticism. A weaker EU won’t be able to attract new, post-Soviet members like Ukraine or Moldova. A weaker EU will be more dependent on Russian energy exports. A weaker EU would have less power to criticize Russia’s political and foreign policy conduct.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump. The president has declared Europe an enemy because of its trade policies. But that’s just a red herring. He actually has a more systemic critique of the EU that coincides with the worldview of Vladimir Putin, Europe’s right-wing nationalists, and Euroskeptics among America’s conservatives.

This is very bad news. If the crisis in transatlantic relations were just about trade, it could be handled by some hardnosed negotiating. If the disputes with the EU and NATO were simply about Trump’s disruptive style, then everything could be resolved by a regime change at the polls in 2020.

But Trump has launched a much larger, ideological assault on European institutions and values. What’s worse: It’s part of the same attack on liberal values here in the United States.

Forget about NATO: Maybe we need a transatlantic alliance against Trump.

The post What’s Behind Trump’s Assault on Europe appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands.