The Real World
On 20th December 2005 a former
Bolivian farmer Ivo Morales, after obtaining a number
of votes exceeding those of all the other candidates combined, was elected
president of his country. He became the
latest of a succession of socialist presidents in South America. One by one the South American republics have
elected leftist presidents, and the trend has been accelerated by strong
anti-US feeling, upon which the candidates openly traded. Morales boasted during his campaign that he
was ‘the United States’ worst nightmare’. Hugo
Chavez of Venezuela has been even more outspoken, calling president Bush ‘a madman, a
killer and a mass murderer’. At the Mar del Plata
summit of the Americas in November, 33 leaders walked together towards the seaside spot
chosen for the group photo, while one, George Bush, walked alone.
Michelle Bachelet is favourite
to take over from socialist Lagos in Chile, with a second round of voting in January. Argentina has leftist president Nestor
Kirchner, in Brazil is socialist Lula, in Uruguay is Tabare
Vazquez, leader of a left-wing coalition and, most famously socialist of them
all, Hugo Chavez, firm friend of Fidel Castro, is current president of
Venezuela. Right wing governments in Peru and Mexico
look vulnerable in coming elections.
The search for
reasons for the South American reaction against their powerful northern
neighbour does not need to go back far. US
interference in its ‘backyard’, Central and South
America, has been well documented. It was prompted by both ideology (the cold
war made the US very touchy on the subject of socialist neighbours), and self
interest (in terms of exploiting Central and South American wealth). The decisions to intervene were made at the
very top. All the US presidents became
embroiled in clandestine actions that resulted in entrenching dictators and
undermining democratically-elected governments (and, more than incidentally, in
tarnishing their own reputations):
Truman (authorised CIA to undermine President Arbenz
of Guatemala), Eisenhower (authorised assassination attempts on Castro, and
organised CIA actions in Guatemala that resulted in overthrowing a government
and the subsequent murder of thousands of civilians), Reagan (organised the
famous Iran/Contra scandal), Kennedy (authorised secret US backing for the
invasion attempt in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs), Carter (authorised military aid
for El Salvador dictator), Nixon (covert actions that resulted in the overthrow
and murder of Allende in Chile, and installation of
Pinochet), and Bush (attempts at undermining Chavez in Venezuela). All these
covert and murderous actions seemed like a good idea at the time, though which,
when they became known, undermined the reputation not only of individual
presidents, but also of the United States. Successive US
administrations clearly did not believe in the image they fostered at home and
abroad of a democratic country ruled by law, benign in its instincts and
actions, and an example to the world. (We must exempt Franklin Delano
Roosevelt, who initiated a genuine “Good Neighbour’ policy of no-strings
economic aid to Central and South America, the good intentions of which became trusted by all recipients.)
is not the present point. When Spain
dominated in South America, its actions were worse, openly contemptuous of indigenous
rights. The present aim is to consider
an alternative scenario.
case of a United States that had once taken the poor, huddled masses of Europe. A United States whose pioneering efforts to
install a government by the people, for the people, of the people attracted the
attention of intellectuals worldwide.
The US government was once low-key, transparent, a matter for justifiable
pride and an example and a beacon of hope to the rest of the world, best
described in words written at the time.
O! ye that love mankind!
Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with
oppression. Freedom hath been hunted
round the globe. Asia and Africa have long
expelled her. Europe regards her as a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart.
O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an
asylum for mankind.
Such a United States would not have dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but
instead would have readily accepted Japan’s
offer of surrender some three months previously. In the Cold War that was perhaps inevitable
afterwards between the competing ideologies of democracy and communism,
democracy would have shone the more brightly.
The enormous cost of nuclear bomb research would have deterred other
nations researching the unproven technology, and the world would have been, and
probably would have remained, non-nuclear.
Such a United States had the self-confidence to be a good example. It emerged from the second
world war as a strong military power, a position which it seemed wise to
maintain, but in the absence of a credible threat the American people saw no
need to spend one sixth of each tax dollar on a mighty military machine that
dwarfed every other nation’s. Instead
large amounts of the budget were laid aside every year for international aid –
a long-term, carefully-directed Marshall-type plan that excited the gratitude
and admiration of all recipients. Large
development projects were initiated in the US’s
‘backyard’: Central and South America were the greatest
beneficiaries of US largesse.
There were no
deals done with dictators, even though some pointed out that dictators, being
in total charge, were the ideal bulwarks against communism. Dictators saw communism as a personal threat,
and were in a position to grant bases indefinitely to US military. But strong though these arguments were, the US
administration viewed dictators as being quite the opposite of the US system
of government, and so would have nothing to do with oppressive ruling
elites. As a result, and not
surprisingly, such a United
everywhere perceived as the favoured alternative to communism. And it is most unlikely that such a United States would ever have become the object of a terrorist attack.
alternative scenario did not in fact happen, but it could have happened. That is
the point. When ‘realists’ attack peace movement attitudes, and declare that
the real world needs pragmatists willing to do secret deals and order murderous
operations that seem like a good idea at the time, they are not necessarily
right. Our own personal experience
suggests that better outcomes are more likely from openness, generosity, and
there is no need to adopt a permanently aggressive attitude towards the rest of
It really does
appear that the peace movement has got it right, that cooperation works better
than confrontation, that the arms race has been a stupid mistake. True realists will look at today’s world and
consider that the system of sly diplomatic deals, murderous covert actions in
the name of national interest, and misuse of power, have had a good long trial,
and have failed. The real world is what we make it.