President James Monroe articulated an enduring U.S. foreign
policy in 1823 when he declared that the United States would
not tolerate European intrusion in the Western Hemisphere.
By 1850, his declaration was popularly described as the
“Monroe Doctrine,” and it has been implemented in various forms
by many U.S. presidents of both parties ever since, especially by
Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and
In December, 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared
at a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) that
“the Monroe Doctrine is over.” He received tepid applause for
this statement from the representatives of other Western
Hemisphere nations primarily because he was only
formally stating the obvious. The Monroe Doctrine had already
been receding from the international vocabulary under previous
administrations, both Democratic and Republican, and was being
replaced with a policy of hemispheric cooperation under Bill
Clinton and George W. Bush.
A few days ago, in Panama, President Barack Obama reiterated
this reality, describing past policy in terms that ignored the
evolution of U.S. policy with its neighbors in the hemisphere.
These terms could have been written by any leftist professor or
leftist activist in the 1980’s. Apparently, that is when Mr. Obama
formed his views about the Monroe Doctrine. His language no
doubt pleased the likes of intellectual anarchist Noam Chomsky
and his ilk, and it raised a few red flags among observers on the
right, but the fact remains that the Monroe Policy, in its original
form, no longer exists.
The callowness of Mr. Obama’s language will no doubt inspire
dreams of new influence in South America by extremist
movements in other parts of the world, but the next U.S.
president of the U.S. can easily reject that language, and
continue the long political evolution of US. foreign policy in
the hemisphere. In fact, this subject should be a substantial
one for questions directed to the presidential contenders in
both parties in the campaign ahead.
A political reality, however, is that most voters find foreign
policy obscure, and when they do take an interest in our
neighbors, it is mostly about the issue of immigration from
the rest of the hemisphere to the U.S.
Another reality is that the U.S. revolution in the late 18th
century worked, and freed from British colonialism, the U.S.
become the dominant world power by the end of the 20th
century. The 19th century revolutions in South and Central
America, however, failed to produce very stable democratic
states. Simon Bolivar’s vision did not hold in most of the
former Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Governments came
and went, caudillos came and went, oligarchies endured.
U.S. hemispheric policies in the 19th and early 20th centuries
frankly were exploitive more often than not, and a brief
period of U.S. colonial adventurism in the region was
thankfully brief. After the end of the Viet Nam War, U.S.
policy more rapidly evolved into regional cooperation wherever
possible. (In 2010, the Obama administration attempted to
intervene in Honduras in a manner opposite to previous
interventions when it initially attempted to repress a
popular uprising against a leftist takeover in that nation.
That intervention failed, although Mr. Obama’s recent words
go a long way to explaining why his administration took that
Even the largest South American nations today find
themselves in constant crisis. Venezuela is on the verge of
economic collapse under a repressive regime, Argentina
goes from economic crisis to crisis, and Brazil (having
seemingly matured as the continent’s largest and most
prosperous nation) has returned to incessant political
crises. Only Colombia seems to be coming out of a
century-long political fog.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry are half-right. Their declarations
of U.S. intentions to replace domination and imposition with
cooperation are just what U.S. hemispheric policy should be.
Their implications of U.S. hemispheric indifference, particularly
to any malign intrusions from the rest of the world, however,
are an over-reaction to past U.S. mistakes.
The new role of the United States is to protect its neighbors and
its allies in the world. That protection most often takes the form
of disaster relief, economic assistance, and educational and
commercial exchange. But when totalitarian regimes and forces
become clear threats to smaller democratic nations and peoples
who cannot defend themselves, indifference is not an option.
Copyright (c) 2015by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.