US retreating in its own backyard

Dr. Norman Bailey

Iran, Russia and China are penetrating Latin America deeply, with no US response.

A few weeks ago, in a meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, US Secretary of State Kerry declared that the Monroe Doctrine was no long "valid". Perhaps this cavalier dismissal of what has been a pillar of American foreign policy for 190 years is simply a recognition that Iran, Russia and China are penetrating Latin America in a wholesale fashion, with no noticeable reaction on the part of the US.

The case of China is the simplest and least threatening. Generally, China is simply tying up supplies of energy, minerals and food (especially soy) through trade agreements and investment in sources of supply. In so doing, however, it is rapidly becoming the main competitor to the US in the latter's own back yard. No one seems to care.

Russia is a different story. It has announced that it is going to establish naval bases in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua and reopen the surveillance installation that was closed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Soviet naval and air contingents now regularly visit the Caribbean and surrounding areas. Again, the reaction has been feeble to the point of nonexistence, although the commander of the Southern Command of the US armed forces, General John Kelly, complained that US operations in Latin America were severely curtailed by budgetary stringency. Indeed, the Monroe Doctrine does appear to have died.

But worst of all, because it is much more insidious and partially clandestine, is Iranian penetration of the Hemisphere. Tehran now has eleven embassies in Latin America, where a few years ago it had none. In contrast, ten US embassies in the subcontinent are without ambassadors, a startling indication of neglect on the part of Washington. Some of the Iranian embassies, such as those in Venezuela and Nicaragua, are very large, and made up primarily of intelligence agents. Even more dangerous is Iranian support for the presence of its terrorist proxy Hezbollah in the New World, with many local chapters engaged in fundraising from the local Arab communities and in preparing for subversive activities in case of hostilities between the US and Iran.

What is the significance of all this for Israel in particular and the Middle East in general? If the last two US administrations could not and cannot be bothered to police their own neighborhood, what would lead anyone to believe that the once and former hegemon will not continue to withdraw from the Middle East? What does that signify? The countries of this region are on their own and are likely to stay that way for at least the next three years, although subject to increased attention from others, especially Russia and Iran.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.

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