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Obama should follow Bush’s successful Latin policies

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Lawrence J. Haas
August 16, 2008
— U.S. foreign policy is about more than confronting immediate dangers. It’s also about promoting American values of freedom, democracy and human rights over the long term because we believe those values create the path for more peace and prosperity — not just at home but around the world.

Though freedom and democracy have spread to more nations than ever in recent decades, further progress is not guaranteed. From Russia to China and throughout the Middle East, authoritarian regimes are digging in, determined to resist efforts to topple their iron rule.


The clash between democratic and authoritarian models is particularly intense in Latin America, where U.S. allies are facing a small cabal of populist leaders, led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. These modern caudillos are seeking to turn back the clock on regional democratic progress — promoting greater state control of the economy and less respect for human rights.


With the lines drawn starkly, President Bush has gotten it mostly right in our own hemisphere. He has sought to build stronger ties with our friends, notably Colombia, and to contain the ambitions of our adversaries. Rather than shift course, the next president and Congress should reinforce those efforts.


Bush has strongly supported Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who has worked hard to bring stability and prosperity to his once-troubled land while stepping up the fight against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the terror group that’s better known as FARC.


The results have been dramatic. Economic growth and living standards are way up, while drug trafficking, kidnappings, and murders of labor leaders are way down. Bogota is applying the rule of law to a once-lawless land, prosecuting murderers and protecting human rights.


Colombia’s recent rescue of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and more than a dozen others merely highlighted what was already clear — Uribe has FARC on the run. Half of its leadership is dead, and its ranks have shrunk from more than 25,000 to fewer than 8,000.


FARC has been supported — financially and otherwise — by Chavez, who promotes anti-Americanism, works with like-minded leaders in Bolivia and Ecuador, boasts of his growing ties to the terror-sponsoring and nuclear weapons-seeking Iranian regime, and threatens to use his oil as a weapon against the United States.


Colombia’s gain is our gain — it shows hundreds of millions of people south of our border that freedom, democracy, and the rule of law help improve living standards. FARC’s loss is our gain as well — it weakens Chavez while showing that a free society can break the back of a terrorist threat.


Thus, the United States has no reason to change course in Latin America. Quite the contrary, we should strengthen our ties to Bogota, and strengthen Uribe at home, by enacting the long-delayed U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, which Democratic congressional leaders have blocked largely due to the opposition of organized labor.


If Barack Obama wins the presidency, foreign leaders and populations the world over will quickly look for clues as to whether this young, charismatic, but inexperienced and untested leader will stick by America’s friends while remaining steadfast against its enemies.


In the late 1970s, an equally inexperienced new president chose a different route. President Carter downplayed the Soviet threat, abandoned our allies in Iran and Nicaragua, and sought warm ties to new regimes with a particularly virulent anti-American bent.


The results were disastrous. The Soviet Union and Cuba stoked Third World revolution across Africa, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held our diplomats hostage for 444 days. Through it all, the United States looked weak and uncertain.


We need not repeat that history. A President Obama would be wise not to abandon a policy that’s bearing fruit.


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ABOUT THE WRITER


Lawrence J. Haas is vice president of the Committee on the Present Danger. Readers may write to him at the Committee on the Present Danger, 1146 19th Street NW, Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20036.



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