The Obama administration started out on the wrong foot in world affairs. It used techniques better suited for domestic political campaigns — popularity contests — in its foreign policy. In our own hemisphere, the result was confusion for our allies and our enemies alike.
The overriding objective of U.S. policy — in Latin America and elsewhere — should be to advance U.S. national interests, not to curry favor with foreign leaders. If we can be liked while advancing our interests, so much the better. But when we try to befriend undemocratic leaders and ignore their belligerence in the process, we neither become better liked nor advance our interests. Some of the despots in Latin America to whom the Obama administration extended an open hand, only to encounter a clenched fist, include the rulers of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador, and Honduras’s former president José Manuel Zelaya.
Foremost among our national interests is security, but, caught up in trying to be liked, the administration is underestimating the threats we face. The main threat to the peace, freedom, prosperity, and security of the U.S. and the Western Hemisphere comes not from military coups, but from a form of creeping totalitarianism that calls itself 21st Century Socialism; it is allied with some of the most virulent forms of tyranny and anti-Western ideology in the world.
Following Fidel Castro’s direction, this new gang of autocrats gains power through elections, and then dismantles democracy from within. That has already happened in Venezuela and Bolivia, is happening in Nicaragua and Ecuador, almost happened in Honduras, and could happen in any other nation that falls into the grasp of something called ALBA, the Spanish acronym for the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.