By J. Michael Waller. Dr. Waller is the Center for Security Policy’s Vice President for Information Operations.
Among the more troubling legacies Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has inherited is one of neglect towards the Western Hemisphere, a legacy that has seriously diminished the United States’ stature and influence in most of the Americas This is due, in part, to the self-imposed abdication of the Nation’s hemispheric security obligations. Secretary Rice has signaled by her recent trip to the region and a major address on the subject delivered today that she intends to address the problem and not a moment too soon.
Today, Washington’s friends in Latin America stand isolated, disillusioned, and bewildered. At the same time, the foes of freedom are advancing their objectives in our hemisphere with an effectiveness unseen since the presidency of Jimmy Carter in the 1970s. Lack of a coherent U.S. strategy toward the region since the end of the Cold War, no less so since 2001, has allowed other actors to enter and dominate the scene.
These actors range from old, obsessed figures like Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and warmed-over ’70s terrorists-turned-politicians like Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, to Carter himself, whose continued international work certifying election results has provided essential political cover to anti-democratic forces in the region. Indeed, it might be said that over the past four years, Jimmy Carter has been the most visible and arguably most influential U.S. leader in Latin America.
Nowhere is the lack of a U.S. strategic approach to the Western Hemisphere more evident than in the unchecked rise of a self-absorbed, unstable strongman in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, who has made common cause with terrorists and the regimes that support them, and has developed a revolutionary ideology that has begun to plunge the Americas again into violence and chaos. It is necessary for the democratic nations of the hemisphere to come together and stop this rising threat to peace before it is too late.