Politics & Policy

Our Man in Havana?

The Democrats' far-left foreign-policy guru.

Despite the presumptive nominee’s mantra of “change we can believe in,” the Democratic National Convention is taking on a decidedly retro look, with the Clintons, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter all scheduled to speak. Now we can add to those elements of nostalgia a foreign policy drafted by McGovern.

No, not George McGovern — but the next best thing. Jim McGovern, running unopposed for a seventh term representing Massachusetts’s Third Congressional District, reportedly played a key role in drafting the party’s foreign-policy plank, and in winning support for it from other House Democrats as well as 60 of the convention’s super delegates . The plank includes what McGovern calls “strong unequivocal language” calling for a 16-month withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq — regardless of how the war there is going. (McGovern had been a leading Congressional opponent of the “surge.”) It promises a new “mission” for the American military: “ending this war and giving Iraq back to its people” (implying that it is American forces that took the country away from “its people” in the first place). Instead, it calls for a diplomatic “surge” to ensure a lasting peace in Iraq. In addition, the plank calls for closing the detention camp for captured terrorists at Guantánamo, described as “the location of so many of the worst constitutional abuses in recent years.”

#ad#Congressman McGovern, currently a Democratic whip for the New England region and the “dean” of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, has an interesting background. He first worked on Capitol Hill as an intern in the office of the “other” McGovern in the late 1970’s, and then as an aide on his staff. He was Massachusetts campaign manager of the “George McGovern for President” movement during the Democratic primaries in 1984. He served for 14 years (1982-96) on the staff of longtime Massachusetts congressman Joe Moakley, a leading opponent of U.S. aid to the Contras, the Nicaraguan resistance that ultimately brought down the Marxist Sandinista dictatorship in 1990 elections. Since that time, McGovern has earned a reputation as one of Congress’s most left-wing members on foreign policy issues, especially regarding Latin America.

As Moakley’s aide in the 1980’s, according to a 2001 article in Insight magazine, “McGovern was one of the most hard-core Capitol Hill staffers helping the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the Marxist-Leninist FMLN guerrillas in El Salvador.” As a member of Congress in his own right, he has been a consistent critic of aid to the Uribe government in Colombia, despite its courageous and successful struggle against the FARC narco-Marxist terrorists who have threatened to destroy that country’s democracy.

In 2003, he was singled out in a New Republic article by Christian Science Monitor correspondent Rachel van Dongen, who documented Uribe’s accomplishments and criticized McGovern for introducing a resolution to reduce U.S. aid to the Colombian government by 60 percent, and for offering the lame justification that it was impossible to destroy the country’s coca crop (untrue) and that the Colombian government needs “to feed people too” — as if there were an incompatibility between feeding people and fighting FARC.

More recently, McGovern has been a prominent opponent of the free-trade agreement with Colombia (currently stalled in Congress owing to Democratic opposition) on account of continued murders of trade-union officials in that country — despite the fact that even the New York Times editorial page acknowledged in April that such killings have gone way down under President Uribe, whose administration has offered special protection to the unionists. Most strikingly, McGovern’s name was discovered on the computer hard drive of the FARC commander killed by Colombian troops in Ecuador last March.


A FARC sympathizer named James Jones offered the rebels help in arraying American opinion against the Uribe government by volunteering to act as a “bridge” of communication between FARC and McGovern — who the would-be intermediary described as someone open to the FARC point of view. Remarking that FARC needed “a spokesman that can communicate directly with persons of influence in my country like Mr. McGovern,” Jones claimed to have spoken for several hours with the Congressman, “exchang[ing] some ideas that will be, I believe, of interest to the FARC-EP” (the guerrillas’ army). Jones suggested that by meeting with Congressional Democrats like McGovern, FARC could hope to secure American support for “safe havens” for its forces, circumventing the Uribe administration.

McGovern vehemently denied the charge of supporting FARC, claiming that he was just working to help free American hostages held by the guerrillas — some of whom were subsequently liberated by Colombian troops in a brilliant operation this summer. His office identified Jones as merely a “development expert and a former consultant to the United Nations.” But even while McGovern claimed to have “no sympathy” with FARC, comments in the district’s leading newspaper, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette from an emeritus professor at a local college (and McGovern supporter) suggested otherwise. Nor did McGovern ever offer a plausible explanation of why he was conducting a private foreign policy with FARC: What inducements was he offering them in his supposed work on the hostages’ behalf?

#ad#Meanwhile, McGovern has consistently served as an apologist for the Castro regime in Cuba. In 2002, as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby has reported, he criticized President Bush for giving a speech saying that the Cuban people are entitled to liberty and democracy, and condemning Fidel Castro for jailing, torturing, and exiling his political opponents. (The DNC platform demands that the U.S. government pledge never to torture any terrorists it may capture. McGovern apparently takes a more generous view when it comes to Castro.) He has frequently called for the lifting of all U.S. sanctions against the Castro government – and continues to do so today, even as observers who previously doubted the utility of sanctions now see the value of continuing them, in order to have a carrot to encourage the newly installed Raul Castro to liberalize Cuba.

Previously, McGovern championed the successful movement to close the U.S. navy’s training ground on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, a goal long sought by Castro. Finally, McGovern (like Moakley before him) has been a consistent advocate for closing the School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in Fort Benning, Georgia — where Latin American military officers receive advanced training. In the liberal imagination, abuses committed by some graduates from the distant past make SOA a school for sadists that must be shut down — despite the lack of any evidence that SOA training had anything to do with the historical abuses, and despite the recent emphasis in its curriculum on democratization and human rights.

In turning over much of the responsibility for their foreign-policy platform to Jim McGovern, the Democrats indicate the influence that the far-left wing of the party continues to hold over its perspective on the world.

– David Lewis Schaefer is a professor of political science at College of the Holy Cross and the author of Illiberal Justice: John Rawls vs. the American Political Tradition.

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