How "The Nation" Magazine Saved the American Empire (Wie Die Wochenzeitung "The Nation" das amerikanische Empire rettete)
What Can Obama Do in Latin America? (Was kann Obama in Lateinamerika ausrichten?) Zum Panamerikanischen Gipfel in Trinidad und Tobago. Von Greg Grandin *
Der folgende Text ist eine hochinteressante Erinnerung an die Neuausrichtung der - vormals imperialistisch-militaristischen - Lateinamerika-Politik der USA unter Präsident Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) in den 30er Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts. FDR machte auf der Panamerikanischen Konferenz im Dezember 1933 Schluss mit der US-amerikanischen Gewaltpolitik im "Hinterhof" der Vereinigten Staaten und erwarb damit riesiges Ansehen sowohl in Lateinamerika als auch im eigenen Land. Ein Vergleich mit dem bevorstehenden Gipfel der Amerikanischen Staaten (von dem Kuba nach wie vor ausgeschlossen bleibt) in Trinidad und Tobago (17. bis 19. April 2009), auf dem US-Präsident Barrack Obama sein Land vertreten wird, liegt auf der Hand. Obama genießt heute schon großes Ansehen in Südamerika und er könnte es noch wesentlich vermehren, wenn er sich klipp und klar von der Lateinamerika-Politik seines Amtsvorgängers distanzieren würde. Dazu müsste auch eine deutliche Abkehr von der neoliberalen Wirtschaftspolitik der USA gehören, zumal der Gipfel sich sehr eingehend mit der Weltwirtschaftskrise befassen wird, für die in den Augen vieler lateinamerikanischer Regierungen die USA eine Hauptschuld tragen. Unglücklicherweise, so schreibt Greg Grandin am Ende seines Artikels, stehen die beiden Lateinamerika-Berater Obamas, Thomas Shannon und Jeffrey Davidow, eher für die alte Außen- und Wirtschaftspolitik der USA.
Möge der sehr informative und mitunter amüsante Artikel (z.B. die Gespräche zwischen dem damaligen Außenminister Cordell Hull und seinem Berater Ernest Gruening), obwohl nur im englischen Original verfügbar, auch das deutsche Publikum ansprechen. Die historischen Parallelen zwischen den 30er Jahren und heute, zwischen der damaligen Krise und der heutigen Krise, zwischen den damaligen Versuchen ihr mit dem Rooseveltschen New Deal zu entkommen, und den aktuellen gigantischen Finanzstützungsaktionen und Konjunkturprogrammen, sowie zwischen der damaligen neuen Außenpolitik Roosevelts und den in Ansätzen neuen Tönen Obamas sind wahrhaftig frappierend.
Der Artikel erschien erstmals in der Internetzeitung Tom Dispatch (www.tomdispatch.com) und wurde uns dankenswerterweise zur Zweitveröffentlichung überlassen.
How The Nation Magazine Saved the American Empire
What Can Obama Do in Latin America?
By Greg Grandin *
What if Barack Obama had picked the Nation's
vanden Heuvel or Democracy Now!
anchor Amy Goodman to
advise him at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in
Trinidad and Tobago this week? Unlikely, to say the
least, but 75 years ago President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt did something just like that, tapping a
former Nation editor and fierce critic of U.S.
militarism to advise his administration on Latin
American policy. As a result -- consider this your
curious, yet little known, fact of the day -- anti-
imperialism saved the American empire.
FDR took office in 1933 looking not just to stabilize
the U.S. economy, but to calm a world inflamed: Japan
had invaded Manchuria the year before; the Nazis had
seized power in Germany; European imperialists were
tightening their holds over their colonies; and the
Soviet Union had declared its militant "third period"
strategy, imagining that global capitalism, plunged
into the Great Depression, was in its last throes.
When, soon after his March inauguration, Roosevelt put
forward a call to the "nations of the world" to "enter
into a solemn and definitive pact of non- aggression,"
the colonialists, militarists, and fascists who ruled
Europe and Asia balked. Because the new president's
global reach came nowhere near his global ambitions,
the London Economic Conference -- convened that July by
the equivalent of today's G-20 -- broke up rancorously
over how to respond to that moment's global meltdown.
Luckily for Roosevelt, the Seventh Pan-American
Conference was scheduled to take place that December in
Montevideo, Uruguay. Admittedly the very idea of pan-
Americanism -- that the American republics shared
common ideals and political interests -- was then
moribund. Every few years, in an international forum,
Latin American delegates simply submitted to
Washington's directives while silently seething about
the latest U.S. military intervention -- in Panama,
Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras, the
Dominican Republic, or Haiti. (Take your pick.)
Momentum was then building among Latin American nations
for a revision of international law, which effectively
granted great powers the right to intervene in the
affairs of smaller republics. Venezuelan diplomats, for
instance, were insisting that the U.S. affirm the
principle of absolute sovereignty. Argentines put forth
their own "non- aggression" treaty codifying non-
intervention as the law of the hemisphere. Caribbean
and Central American politicians insisted that
detachments of U.S. Marines, then bogged down in
counterinsurgencies in Nicaragua, Haiti, and the
Dominican Republic, get out.
FDR dispatched his Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, to
the summit, but instructed him not to offer anything
more than a promise to build a few new roads. The
demand that the U.S. give up the right of intervention
Yet Roosevelt, who had a way of mixing and matching
unlikely advisors, also asked Ernest Gruening
(recommended by Harvard law professor and soon-to- be
Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter) to accompany
Hull. In 1964, as a senator from Alaska, Gruening would
become famous for casting one of only two votes against
the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which President Lyndon
Johnson would use to escalate the Vietnam War, but in
the 1930s, he was already a committed anti-imperialist.
In the pages of the Nation and other left-wing
journals, he had helped expose the use of torture,
forced labor, and political assassinations that took
place under Marine occupations in the Caribbean,
atrocities he likened to European brutality in India,
Ireland, and the Congo. After touring Haiti and the
Dominican Republic, he lobbied Congress to cut off the
funding of counterinsurgency operations in the region,
and he excoriated the "horde of carpet-bagging
concessionaires that are the camp-followers of American
militaristic imperialism." That such an uncompromising
critic of U.S. diplomacy would be chosen to advise the
Secretary of State reflects the strength of the left in
the 1930s -- and Roosevelt's willingness to tap it.
Burnin' and Murdewin'
As the delegation set sail for Montevideo, Gruening was
shocked to learn that the U.S. had "no program except
to be friendly with everyone and radiate goodwill."
"Mr. Secretary," he reported himself telling Hull, "the
one issue that concerns every Latin-American country is
intervention. We should come out strongly for a
resolution abjuring it."
Hull, whom Gruening later described as speaking in the
thick accent of a born and bred member of the Tennessee
gentry, dropping g's and wrestling with r's, replied
that that would be a hard sell.
"What am Ah goin't to do when chaos breaks out in one
of those countries and armed bands go woamin' awound,
burnin', pillagin' and murdewin' Amewicans?" Hull
asked. "How can I tell mah people that we cain't
"Mr. Secretary," Gruening responded, "that usually
happens after we have intervened."
Hull was, however, afraid of bad press. "If Ah were to
come out against intervention," he said, "the Hearst
papers would attack me fwom coast to coast... Wemember,
Gwuening, Mr. Woosevelt and Ah have to be weelected."
"Coming out against intervention would help you get
reelected," Gruening replied. It would, he insisted,
help the New Deal jump off the merry-go- round of
invasion, occupation, and insurgency that had badly
crippled U.S. prestige throughout Latin America and
much of the world.
He was right. In Montevideo, Gruening helped bridge the
gap between U.S. envoys and "anti-American" Latin
American diplomats, including those from Cuba where,
well before Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, serial U.S.
interventions had strained relations between Havana and
Washington. Most importantly, he reconciled the
Secretary of State to the principle of non-
Hull "rose to the occasion magnificently," Gruening
wrote, announcing that the United States would
henceforth "shun and reject" the "so-called right- of-
conquest... The New Deal indeed would be an empty boast
if it did not mean that." Latin American delegates
broke out in "thunderous applause and cheers." And FDR,
ever the agile politician, seized the moment,
confirming that the "definite policy of the United
States from now on is one opposed to armed
"Our Era of 'Imperialism' Nears its End," the New York
Times announced. "'Manifest Destiny' Is Giving Way to
the New Policy of 'Equal Dealing With All Nations.'"
Twenty-One Different Kinds of Hate
Not quite, of course. Washington would return to a
policy of interventionism in the Cold War era.
Nonetheless, the importance of this diplomatic sea-
change cannot be overstated.
Montevideo was Roosevelt's first significant foreign
policy success, marking a turn in the country's
fortunes as an ascendant superpower. He then ordered
the Marines to withdraw from Haiti, while giving the
country back its national bank; he abrogated the Cuban
constitution's hated Platt Amendment, which had turned
the island into a U.S. vassal-state; and he began to
tolerate a degree of economic nationalism in Latin
America, including Mexico's expropriation of the
holdings of Standard Oil.
FDR's enormous popularity in Latin America fired his
aspirations to world leadership. Visiting Buenos Aires
in 1936, he was greeted by more than a million ecstatic
well-wishers who gave him a "wild ovation" and "pelted
him with flowers." Even Buenos Aires's usually
skeptical press heralded him as a "shepherd of
democracy," while hospitals expected an "enormous crop
of 'Roosevelts' among baby boys," despite a ban on
foreign names for infants.
Improved relations with Latin America also helped the
U.S. recover from the Great Depression. With Asia off
limits and Europe headed for war, Washington looked
south both for markets for manufactured goods and for
raw materials, negotiating trade treaties with 15 Latin
American countries between 1934 and 1942.
More importantly, Latin America became the laboratory
for what eventually became known as liberal
multilateralism -- the diplomatic framework that, after
World War II, would allow the United States to accrue
unprecedented power. With the League of Nations
practically defunct, diplomats began to discuss the
possibility of a new "League of the Americas," which
would eventually evolve into both the Organization of
American States and the United Nations. (Each would
enshrine in its charter the principle of absolute non-
intervention.) Roosevelt himself would hold up the
"illustration of the republics of this continent" as a
model for global postwar reconstruction.
Cordell Hull got the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to
found the U.N. and FDR took credit for overcoming "many
times 21 different kinds of hate" to "sell the idea of
peace and security among the American republics." But
the thanks really should go to anti-imperialists like
Gruening and guerrilla fighters like Nicaragua's
Augusto Sandino who rendered militarism an
unsustainable foreign policy.
Seventy-Five Years Later...
The parallels with today are unmistakable: a global
economy in tatters; a new president with a mandate for
reform, but blocked abroad by rising rivals and
hamstrung by the rapid recession of U.S. power and
prestige thanks to years of arrogant, unilateral
militarism. And coming on the heels of a London summit
of economic powers, a Latin American conference: the
Fifth Summit of the Americas to be attended by 34 heads
of state representing every American country except
The last time this summit convened at the Argentinean
beach resort town of Mar del Plata in 2005, Argentines
greeted George W. Bush not as a shepherd of democracy
but as an evangelizer for war, militarism, and savage
capitalism. Thousands turned up from all over the
continent to burn the president in effigy. Venezuela's
Hugo ChÃ¡vez and Bolivia's Evo Morales convened a
festive parallel "People's Summit," while Argentine
soccer legend Maradona called Bush "human rubbish" and
"a bit of an assassin." To paraphrase Michael Moore's
Academy Award homage to the Dixie Chicks, when Maradona
is against you, your time in Latin America is up.
With an aircraft carrier stationed just offshore and
fighter jets buzzing overhead, Bush still was nervous
and seemed distinctly out of his league. Coming just a
few months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans,
with Iraq careening out of control, Bush's disastrous
performance in Argentina, combined with an impressive
display of Latin American unity, hastened the demise of
the pretension of the neoconservatives to global
supremacy. "The United States continues to see things
one way," said one Latin American diplomat at the
Summit, "but most of the rest of the hemisphere has
moved on and is heading in another direction."
And so it had, with a left turn that started with
ChÃ¡vez's 1998 election as Venezuela's president and
still continues apace. Last year, after all, Paraguay
elected a liberation theologian as president; and last
month, the Farabundo MartÃ National Liberation Front --
the guerrilla group turned political party Ronald
Reagan spent six billion dollars and 70,000 Salvadorean
lives trying to defeat in the 1980s -- finally came to
power in El Salvador.
This week many will be watching to see if Barack Obama,
in what will be his first real engagement with Latin
America, is ready to reverse course at this Summit as
Roosevelt did more than three- quarters of a century
ago. To the United States, Latin America has not just
been a source of raw materials and markets, but a
"workshop," a place where rising foreign-policy
coalitions try out new ways to project U.S. power
following periods of acute crisis. FDR did it, as did
Reagan and the New Right when, in the 1980s, they used
Central America to experiment with junking
multilateralism, while remilitarizing and remoralizing
Today, President Obama is enormously popular in Latin
America. A number of local politicians in the region
even legally adopted his name to give themselves an
edge on ballots, and undoubtedly quite a few baby boys
will be called Barack. Brazil's president, known simply
as Lula, says he is praying for Obama -- and even
Maradona admits he likes him "a lot."
But popularity only goes so far. For the first time in
many decades, an American president might find that the
days when the U.S. could use Latin America as an
imperial rehearsal space are drawing to a close.
The Colombian Option
So what will Obama offer in Trinidad and Tobago? He
will, like Hull in 1933, be intent on "radiating
goodwill," but he will not necessarily "be friendly
with everyone." He's already poisoned the water by
insisting that Hugo ChÃ¡vez is an "obstacle" to
progress. Love ChÃ¡vez or hate him, he is recognized as
a legitimate leader by all Latin American countries and
is a close ally to many. For eight years, a Bush
administration policy of driving a wedge between the
rest of the region and the Venezuelan proved a dismal
failure, except when it came to increasing the outflow
of Washington's hemorrhaging power in the hemisphere.
On many fronts, however, the president is likely to
discover that his real obstacles to progress south of
the border lie uncomfortably close to home.
In preparation for the summit, the Obama administration
has made some overtures to Cuba, responding to demands
by nearly every Latin American country that Washington
end its cold war against Havana. The need to keep
Democratic senators from Florida and New Jersey (states
with large Cuban-American populations) in the fold
means that the general travel ban and trade embargo
will, however, stay in place, at least for now. (In
1933, Hull tried to prevent the Cuban envoy from
speaking, fearing that he would give a fiery anti-
American speech; Gruening appealed to the principle of
free speech to reverse the ban.)
Obama will probably reiterate recent official
statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among
others, that the United States bears real
responsibility for Mexico's drug-war violence and
perhaps bemoan the way an "inability to prevent weapons
from being illegally smuggled across the border" fuels
drug-related killings. Like every other administration,
though, Obama's will have to answer to the National
Rifle Association (NRA), which at this point carries
out its own foreign policy.
In 2005, for example, when Brazil held a referendum to
implement a stringent gun-control law, the NRA spent
considerable money lobbying to successfully defeat it.
So expect the NRA to fight any attempt to stem the flow
of guns south of the border. In fact, Wyoming senator
John Barrasso hopes to use the fear of Mexican drug
violence to force a greater distribution of assault
weapons. As he put the matter, "Why would you disarm
someone when they potentially could get caught in the
crossfire?... The United States will not surrender our
second- amendment rights for Mexico's border problem."
And so it goes: On nearly every issue that could either
actually help relieve the suffering of Latin Americans
or allow the U.S. to win back strategic allies,
domestic politics will hinder Obama's range of action,
even if not his immediate popularity.
Just recently, a study group made up of some of Latin
America's leading intellectuals and policy- makers,
including former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, and
Mexico, declared the U.S. war on drugs a failure and
recommended the legalization of marijuana. Obama is
obviously sympathetic to this position, having
instructed his Justice Department to back off "medical
marijuana" prosecutions. But will he be able to de-
escalate the war on drugs in Latin America? Not likely.
As a candidate, the president did say he wasn't opposed
to all wars, just stupid ones -- and this one is as
stupid as they come. It hasn't lessened narcotics
exports to the U.S., but has spread violence through
Central America into Mexico, while entrenching
paramilitary power in Colombia. Plan Colombia, the
centerpiece of that war, is a legacy of Bill Clinton's
foreign policy, and much of the six billion dollars so
far spent to fight it has essentially been direct-
deposited in the coffers of corporate sponsors of the
Democratic Party like Connecticut's United Technologies
and other northeastern defense contractors.
Rather than dismantling Plan Colombia, plans are
evidently afoot to have it go viral beyond the
Americas. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, recently commented that "many of us
from all over the world can learn from what has
happened with respect to the very successful
developments of Plan Colombia," and suggested that it
be franchised "specifically to Afghanistan." Washington
Post White House correspondent Scott Wilson agrees,
urging Obama to use Colombia as a "classroom for
learning how to beat the Taliban." Buried deep in
Wilson's recommendation was a revelation: U.S.
officials, he wrote, "privately" told him that death-
squad terror was a necessary first step in Plan
Colombia, serving as a "placeholder" until the U.S.
could train a "professional" army. The Bush
administration kept "the money flowing to Colombia's
army despite evidence of its complicity in paramilitary
The Path to Latin America Runs Through Brasilia...
Ultimately, imperial Washington's only real road may
run through the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. After all,
Obama approaches the region not as a leader of a
confident superpower, but of an autumnal hegemon. As
such, his best option may lie in forming a partnership
with Brazil -- Latin America's largest, most
diversified economy, with enormous, newly discovered
offshore oil reserves and a fulsome set of political
aspirations -- to administer the hemisphere. The White
House clearly recognizes this to be the case, which was
why an administration official called Lula's recent
one- on-one meeting in Washington with Obama a
recognition of Brazil's "global ascendancy."
Just before the G-20 meeting convened in London, Lula
blamed the global financial collapse on the "irrational
behavior of people that are white" and "blue-eyed."
Standing next to the blanching British Prime Minister
Gordon Brown, he continued: "I do not know any black or
indigenous bankers so I can only say [it is wrong] that
this part of mankind, which is victimized more than any
other, should pay for the crisis."
If these words came out of ChÃ¡vez's mouth, they would
have been taken as but the latest indication of his
irrational anti-Americanism, but the Obama
administration needs Lula. In London, Obama could
barely contain himself: "That's my man right here," he
said, grabbing Lula's hand as Secretary of the Treasury
Timothy Geithner looked on. "Love this guy. He's the
most popular politician on earth. It's because of his
good looks." That certainly represented an improvement
over George Bush, who asked Lula's Brazilian
predecessor, "Do you have blacks, too?"
Yet Brazil's cooperation will come at a price, which
Obama will have trouble meeting. This country's baroque
and bloated farm subsidy and tariff program -- which
House and Senate members recently refused to let Obama
cut -- will prevent the president from bowing
gracefully to Lula's central demand: that the U.S. live
up to its rhetoric about free trade and open its
economy to Brazil's competitive agro-industry.
And then there's Venezuela. Seventy-five years ago,
Secretary of State Hull feared the Hearst papers would
attack him "fwom coast to coast" if he renounced
interventionism. Well, the more things change...
When Obama's State Department declared Venezuela's
recent referendum to remove presidential term limits
(and so allow ChÃ¡vez to stand for reelection) an
internal matter "consistent with democratic
principles," it was attacked by the Houston Chronicle,
which is owned -- you guessed it -- by the Hearst
Corporation. More criticism followed, sending
administration officials "scrambling," according to the
Wall Street Journal, "to assert that the Obama
administration hasn't softened U.S. policy toward
Since the ongoing demonization of ChÃ¡vez carries
absolutely no domestic costs and its easing plenty of
potential debits, Obama might be forced to keep up some
version of the Bush administration's hard- line,
perhaps providing the president cover to moderate
rhetoric, if not policy, in real danger spots where far
more is at stake -- as in the Middle East.
...And Ends in Texas
Immigration is one area where Obama might have some
room to maneuver, but he would have to overcome the
Glenn-Beck wing of the Republican Party. Ordering
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to stop
hunting undocumented Latin American workers (as the
presidents of Mexico and Central America have demanded)
and opening a real path to citizenship would go a long
way toward improving relations with southern neighbors.
It would also guarantee the loyalty of the Latino vote
in 2012 and, by creating millions of new voters,
perhaps even pull Texas closer to swing-state status.
Returning to the Scene of the Crime
Ultimately, however, Obama's vision will be limited by
the smallness of the imaginations of the counselors he
has surrounded himself with. There are neither
Gruenings, nor even Hulls in that crowd. He has kept on
George W. Bush's Assistant Secretary of State for Latin
America Thomas Shannon and has picked Jeffrey Davidow
to be his special advisor at the summit.
A career diplomat, Davidow's foreign service has been
largely unremarkable, though his first posting was to
Guatemala in the early 1970s when U.S.- backed death
squads were running wild, and was followed by an
assignment as a junior political officer in Chile,
where he observed the 1973 U.S.- backed military coup
that overthrew elected President Salvador Allende.
Committed to the Clinton-era mantra of economic
liberalization, these diplomats will never recommend
the kind of game-changing ideas Gruening did.
Given that the global financial crisis will dominate
this summit, Obama's appearance will be seen by some as
a return to the scene of the crime. After all, it was
in Chile that the now-discredited model of deregulated
financial capitalism was first imposed. This occurred
well before Presidents Reagan and Clinton adopted it in
As it then spread through most of the rest of Latin
America, the results were absolutely disastrous. For
two decades, economies stagnated, poverty deepened, and
inequality increased. To make matters worse, just as a
new generation of leftists, taking measures to lessen
poverty and reduce inequality, was recovering from that
Washington-induced catastrophe, a reckless housing
bubble burst in the U.S., bringing down the global
Latin Americans will want an accounting. As even
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a close U.S. ally,
put it: "[The] whole world has financed the United
States, and I believe that they have a reciprocal debt
with the planet." Hugo ChÃ¡vez couldn't have said it
* Greg Grandin is the author of
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Tom Dispatch;
Empire's Workshop: Latin
America, the United States, and the Rise of the New
Imperialism (Metropolitan); and
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City, forthcoming in June.
Mit freundlicher Genehmigung durch Greg Grandin.
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