09 April 2011

A Rambling Diatribe Against How The US Conducts Its Latin American Foreign Policy: or How I Learned Who Exactly Is In Charge of this Ship of State Department

On Tuesday, 5 April, the US Ambassador to Ecuador, Heather Hodges, was declared to be persona non grata by the Ecuadorean government. At issue was an article in the Spanish newspaper, El País, about a WikiLeaks cable in which the ambassador had expressed her suspicions that police corruption rose all the way up to the level of President Rafeal Correa. When confronted about the allegations, the ambassador refrained from comment, her reason being that the cable had been illegally obtained.

The ambassador is being portrayed as a victim of WikiLeaks. The assumption is that Correa is corrupt, and she was just doing her duty, reporting to her boss what she understood to be going on while supposedly conducting diplomacy with one of Hugo Chávez’ closest allies. She had, after all, made a career in the Foreign Service, having been assigned to Caracas and Guatemala, worked at the Peru desk in Washington, been the Consul General in Bilbao, Spain, then it was back to Washington again, where she served as the Deputy Director of Cuban Affairs, and on to Managua, Lima, Madrid, the Eastern European country of Moldova, and she has been the US Ambassador to Ecuador since 2008.

But leaked documents are not the culprit in this crisis of diplomacy. The culprit is US foreign policy that mirrors the very troubling crisis in democratic principles at which the US Government has arrived.

The idea of democracy is that citizens elect people to represent their interests in the forging of laws and the making of policy. To add to the problem that the system in the US has been set up and further manipulated to avoid any actual accountability to its citizens is the problem that the average citizen has no idea whose interests their representatives are really representing unless they are active in any of the all-powerful interest groups that are the real forgers of the laws and policy of the land. When it comes to foreign policy, those groups consist of the corporate influence peddlers, the Israel lobbies, and the anti-Castro crusaders. These ideologues are running US foreign policy, and nowhere is their power greater than right here in the Western Hemisphere. But this fact is hidden in a monstrous bureaucracy of not only diplomats and foreign affairs “experts” but also the various congressional committees and subcommittees that are charged with overseeing and funding foreign aid programs; funding for, training of, and arms sales to allies; and confirmation of high-level positions in the State Department.

The Department of State is, of course, charged with conducting international affairs. But this is not just a matter of engaging in conversations with other nations as equals, as its official mission to “Advance freedom for the benefit of the American people and the international community” concentrates on the following core activities:

“Promoting peace and stability in regions of vital interest;” “Creating jobs at home by opening markets abroad;” “Helping developing nations establish investment and export opportunities;” and “Bringing nations together and forging partnerships to address global problems, such as terrorism, the spread of communicable diseases, cross-border pollution, humanitarian crises, nuclear smuggling, and narcotics trafficking.”

In other words, the US makes it its mission to involve itself in the internal affairs, particularly business affairs, of all other nations of the world in the name of “vital interests” and “creating jobs at home.”

Hilary Rodham Clinton is the Secretary of State, and directly under her is the US Deputy Secretary of State with six undersecretaries, a counselor, and a litany of staff offices. Does anybody have a clue who the second most important person making US foreign policy decisions is? Well, it is James Steinberg, a very capable foreign policy wonk and national security advisor who helped Obama get elected by being one of the principle authors of his speech to AIPAC, but Clinton also created a second position focusing on budget and management for a man named Jacob J. Lew, who happens to be an Orthodox Jew.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am really and truly not anti-Semitic. I usually don’t know or care if someone is Jewish, I don’t hold it against the Jewish people that they have become prominent bankers and lawyers and entertainment industry personalities, nor do I believe in conspiracy theories about the Rothchilds or anything of the sort. I believe that there are reasons why people of Jewish heritage have come to excell in the areas that they do that have resulted from their historic exclusion from social structures in Europe and as in their early days as immigrants to the United States. For example, Christians in Europe were long banned from the business of lending money, so just as women throughout history have turned to prostitution because they had few other opportunities, once upon a time, it was people of Jewish heritage who resorted to what was called “usury” – and let us not forget that in both cases, the underground market for these banned activities was driven by the hypocrisy of “upstanding” citizens of society who publicly shunned them. Anyhow, what I am addressing here is US foreign policy, the undue influence that a relatively small group of ideologically driven people has on that policy via the politics of lobbyist money and other mechanisms such as interest groups and think tanks, and the fact that the extent of this influence is not widely known about by US citizens.

So moving on, the third-ranking office in the DoS organization is the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, who is currently a man named William Joseph Burns. He is a career Foreign Service Officer who is highly respected, was the US Ambassador to Russia from 2005-2008, and it is probably a very good thing that he is an expert on US relations with Egypt. He oversees a slew of important bureaus, including the Bureau of Western Hemispheric Affairs, which is headed by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela.

...And now, we get at the heart of the beast. Arturo Valenzuela is another career diplomat and an excellent person to have in charge of US relations with Latin America. But that didn’t prevent Senator Jim DeMint (R, SC) from blocking his appointment for damn near six months due to differences over the 2009 coup in Honduras. I know, I know, Senator DeMint doesn’t think it was a “coup d’etat” at all, and neither does Secretary Clinton, even though she, along with the Obama Administration, supported ousted President Zelaya in the wee hours of the coup, but then she and the administration flip-flopped on their position, probably because of Lanny Davis, who was one of her top campaign fundraisers and supporters, having served as a “special counselor” to President Bill Clinton and guiding him through campaign finance investigations and his impeachment hearings, was also working for the Latin American Business Council of Honduras, who backed the undemocratic coup. That would be the same Lanny Davis who was a lobbyist for the Pakistani military dictatorship during the Clinton presidency, the same Lanny Davis who is a lobbyist for the dictatorship of Equatorial Guinea in Africa, and who up until last December was a lobbyist for Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president of the Ivory Coast whose refusal to cede power to his elected successor is resulting in yet another bloodbath in Africa. Oh, and this same Lanny Davis is a senior advisor and spokesperson for The Israel Project.

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But I digress from Senator DeMint and the role of congressional politics in this troubling beginning to the new administration’s relations with Latin America. So, first Senator DeMint went with a delegation to Honduras to meet with the usurper, Roberto Micheletti, despite the official State Department and the Obama Administration’s stance on the matter. Senator DeMint sits on the US Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Narcotics Affairs, and although he is neither the chairman nor a ranking member, he then proceeded to hold up the nomination of the overseer of the entire hemisphere’s diplomatic corps along with that of Tom Shannon as US Ambassador to Brazil, sending a wonderful message to all the people of Latin America that they are still just seen as pawns in the US political game. And to add insult to injury, the very next day after Senator DeMint lifted his hold on the two important nominations, Junior Senator George LeMieux (R, FL) jumped in the game and put a hold on Shannon’s nomination.

Things did not get off to a very good start for the Obama administration in regard to Latin America. And they haven’t gotten much better. There has been some movement to alter relations with Cuba, because the US approach has done so little to dissuade the Castro regime, and any change that is occurring there is growing organically from internal pressures and the universal human desire for freedom. Yet the ideologues will not be stepping aside any time soon, because like Israeli Zionists, anti-Castro Cubans are entrenched in important positions in Congress. They call themselves the Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus, and they are five senators and fourteen representatives, including the current chairmen of both the House and the Senate subcommittees on Western Affairs, Connie Mack (R, FL) and Bob Menendez (D, NJ), respectively, plus the chairwoman of the entire US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the very vocal Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R, FL).

The anti-Casto folks are, of course, also anti-Chávez of Venezuela, anti-Correa of Ecuador, anti-Morelos of Bolivia, anti-Ortega of Nicaragua, and thank goodness they eliminated that other slippery slope into hemispheric socialism in Honduras, Zelaya, who raised the minimum wage and wanted to make elections more fair and open to those without inherited connections to the business elites. Mauricio Funes had just been elected president of El Salvador, representing the first ever victory for the left-wing FMLN, so something had to be done. The fact that Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile were, at that time, also presided over by albeit more centrist left-wing governments was a real threat to the US brand of “democracy” that emphasizes investment opportunities over poverty alleviation and sees the hemisphere as a “free market” for its products more than as its partners in creating the kind of just societies that would go a long ways in reducing the crime and violence that rise out of despair.

To get an idea of the nature of the body of people who are charged with overseeing US Foreign Policy, especially in regard to Latin America, let me draw a little sketch.

On the US Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Narcotics Affairs, we have:

Chairman, Bob Menendez (D NJ). Born to Cuban immigrants; has been involved with anti-Castro lobbying; antagonized Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias, leader of Cypress’ Communist Party.

Ranking Member, Marco Rubio (R, FL). Child of Cuban exiles; interned with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; is also on the Senate Commerce, Small Business, and Intelligence Committees; Ran on small government, reduced taxes. Hired Cesar Conda, former lobbyist and Dick Cheney’s top domestic policy advisor as his chief of staff.

The other Republican members of the subcommittee that oversees US diplomats in Latin America are also far-right Tea Baggers and Conservatives who see diplomacy as a weakness: Mike Lee of Utah, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, with the one exception of John Barrasso of Wyoming, who is a little more of a moderate conservative. One might argue that there is some “balance” on the Democratic side, with Barbara Boxer of California, Jim Webb of Virginia, Jeanne Sheehan of New Hampshire, and Tom Udall of New Mexico, but I would ask, how is being reasonable and willing to negotiate a balance to being out on the edge of sanity – especially when the two leadership roles are also definitively to the right?

As for the House of Representatives, the Chairwoman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen may be rather liberal on the social front, championing gay rights (she does represent South Beach, in Miami Beach, after all), environmental issues, human rights in Darfur, yet when it comes to foreign policy, she is an extremist both concerning Israel and Cuba. One of her major campaign contributors is Irving Moskowitz, a key funder of militant Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Chairwoman would like to cut US foreign aid to such entities as the Peace Corps, and even to the State Department, itself, which puts her personal interests at odds with her position as the chairwoman of the House Committee that helps in overseeing the US State Department.

The Ranking Member of this committee, Howard Burman (D, CA), is also to the left on most social issues but to the right on foreign affairs and free trade, except when it comes to the film industry, which he doesn’t want outsourced (he does represent Hollywood, after all). He also champions intellectual property rights and is a Zionist.

Of note to the topic of this essay is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Dana Rohrabacher (R, CA). He is an anachro-capitalist libertarian turned conservative Reaganite who carries a personal beef against Ethiopia and who, according to WikiLeaks cables, went to Honduras in early 2010 along with a gaggle of friendly businessmen and real estate investors, taking what he called an “activist approach to foreign policy.” And then there was his secret support of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden – a previous manifestation of his “activist approach to foreign policy” otherwise known as TREASON.

We also have Gary Ackerman (D, NY) who is “moderately” Zionist, who also sits on the Cuba Democracy Caucus.

On to the US House Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, here is the leadership:

Chair: Connie Mack (R, FL). Vociferous critic of Hugo Chávez and TeleSUR; Member of the Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus. Interestingly, this congressman, like Hugo Chávez, defends WikiLeaks.

Vice Chair: Michael McCaul (R, TX). Married to the daughter of the Chairman of Clear Channel Communications, who is the sister of the company’s CEO.

Ranking Member: Eliot Engle (D, NY). Notable for his call for stronger US relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, taking particular interest in Haiti, advocating social investment to help alleviate poverty and inequality and alternative energy cooperation in the region. I admit, I don’t know much about Eliot Engle, but I am intrigued. His involvement in the Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus may be somewhat nuanced, as he also supports Greek Cyprus, which currently has an elected Communist government. He has been a vocal supporter of Israel and the Iraq War.

David Rivera (R, FL). Has a murky history of possible domestic violence, which he denies, but then again, his constant political hackery does little for his credibility; Received dog track payoffs; Tried to edit his Wikipedia entry.

Other members of this subcommittee who are also members of the Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus are Jean Schmidt (R, OH), Christopher Smith (R, NJ), and Albio Sires (D, NJ). This leaves Elton Gallegly (R, CA), Eni Faleomavaega (D, American Samoa), and Donald M. Payne (D, NJ) as the only members who are supported by neither the Israel nor the anti-Castro Cuba lobbies, nor by any overt corporate interest or sleazy gambling interests (the dog track thing in Florida really was sleazy). But one has to wonder why the dominance of the states of Florida, New Jersey, and California.

Now, the mention about of the nuanced position of Representative Eliot Engle introduces the point that the world is not black and white, and that political ideas can be nuanced, despite the impression that the politics of today give. Just as someone can be opposed to Israel’s policies toward Palestine yet not be an anti-Semite nor even anti-Israel, so too can someone be opposed to such figures as Castro and Chávez on the grounds that they are anti-democratic in a strictly political sense, yet be supportive of other ideologies that they embrace. But regardless of left or right or any other political stance that someone can take, one concept that is rarely questioned by the people of the United States is that US foreign policy is tied to US influence, business, and security, so that purely humanitarian aid cannot be dispersed without strings attached, "friendly relations" are equal to business relations, and diplomacy has more to do with keeping tabs than with working through any differences or problems toward a mutually advantageous solution. And, of course, everything the US does is all about image over substance.

So the US politicians charged with overseeing US foreign policy and diplomacy are constantly bombarded with lobbying efforts and think tank influence peddling that leads to such insanity as blowing off the entire Western Hemisphere for almost six months, or taking such offense at the fact that secret documents were leaked, that nothing was done to address the issues that were laid bare. The entire apparatus seems to have come to a grinding halt behind an invisible wall of denial – that not all is fair in love and war, sometimes secret truths will escape, and there is no system of law and justice in delicate interrelations with other nations to hide those unwanted truths behind.

I don’t know if the truth in the case of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa is that he knowingly hired a corrupt cop in order that he could use his vulnerability to manipulate him or not. But what we do know is that the US Ambassador suspected as much, that she relayed this message to someone else in the State Department, and that, knowing damn well that this cable would probably become public when the Wiki leaked, she did not or could not bother to discuss the matter with the people who she was supposed to be conducting international diplomacy with. This is not to say that she had to tell anyone the truth, because it is all a game, complete with bluffing and bravado and the stroking of egos, etcetera. But she wouldn’t even play the game.

I am not angry at her, as she was probably just following orders from above. I am angry at her bosses. Is this what the WikiLeaks have brought US foreign policy to – refusing to play the game – just like what the new Tea Party candidates are attempting to do? It doesn’t end the game, as she was expelled from Ecuador, and then the US expelled the Ecuadorean Ambassador the US. What does this impass mean for businesses that are trying to conduct trade between the two nations? How will this affect US citizens in Ecuador, or Ecuadoreans in the US? What are the consequences of this lack of diplomacy?

And another question: When will the United States learn that they can’t just message or crisis manage their way through every shitty situation, and as far as Latin America is concerned, all the money that the US says it doesn’t have to pay for social programs that is actually going into the lame marketing schemes that have replaced actual diplomacy, expensive yet ineffective propaganda campaigns, and all of the military expenditures that have been used to prop up the key right-wing regime in Colombia, where a surprise change of heart doesn’t seem to want to be the middle finger flipping off and fucking over not only their neighboring countries but also the vast majority of its own citizens any longer – when will all of the small-government ideologues who are crying foul on Hugo Chávez the loudest while funneling money into all of these underhanded “democracy-building” programs finally face the reality that democracy can only grow from within the hearts of the people when they are not fed a line of BS, not talked down to, not blown off for six frigging months, and not messed with from afield?

For more on unelected, unaccountable, well-funded “democracy advocacy” and other influential policy groups, see:

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