Time in Colombia?
news from Colombia early this week was anything but encouraging.
Over the weekend leftist guerrillas killed six people and kidnapped
several others. Bomb attacks in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city,
leveled buildings near a military base and injured three people.
A bomb exploded Sunday in Cartagena, a popular tourist spot on the
on Monday least 24 people were killed in clashes between leftist
guerrillas (the FARC of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia)
and paramilitaries who may or may not be affiliated with the Colombian
military, near the village of El Prodigio, about 45 miles south
of Medellin. The outlawed paramilitary Self Defense Forces (AUC)
had warned earlier Monday that they are prepared "to die or
conquer" in an effort to prevent Colombian President Andres
Pastrana from turning over control of a 1500-square mile area in
northern Colombia to a second rebel group, the National Liberation
week President Pastrana was in Washington asking President Bush
to pledge more aid to Colombia in addition to the $1.3 billion in
mostly military aid to fight against coca production, manufacturing
and smuggling in and out of Colombia, the illicit trade that finances
much of the violence that wracks the country.
administration is said to be considering aid to Ecuador, Bolivia
and Peru, neighbors of Colombia whose governments had previously
expressed doubt about American involvement in Colombia’s drug wars
--which is supposed to be separate from but is inextricably linked
to the 40-year civil war the country has endured.
was some confusion last week over whether Pastrana had asked Bush
to send a U.S. representative to meetings scheduled for this week
between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas. The FARC
and the government have been performing an elaborate peace-talk
dance that might involve a truce in exchange for a semi-permanent
arrangement whereby FARC control over about a third of the southern
part of the country might become formalized. The FARC is said to
want the United States involved in peace talks, and perhaps as a
guarantor of a cease-fire later on.
has denied making a request to have the United States "participate
directly on the negotiating table," but rumors were rife that
Pastrana asked Bush for some kind of US involvement and Bush turned
him down. The reason given is that the US has no business dealing
with guerilla revolutionaries directly, and that the Clinton administration
had imposed a prohibition on direct contacts with the FARC following
the killing of three Americans in 1999.
A CLINTON COMMITMENT
the involvement begun by the Clinton administration is so intense
that it becomes a matter of not wanting to look as if the invincible
United States is backing down, the Bush administration should take
a hard-nosed, skeptical look at US intervention in Colombia. One
can understand empathy and a desire to help a country facing such
a wrenching and violent struggle. But the likelihood of playing
a constructive role is so low and the cost of trying and failing
could be so high that prudence would suggest ending the US commitment
commitment under the Clinton watch was engineered largely by former
US "drug czar" Barry McCaffrey, who also had headed the
US southern command in Latin America when he was still a general
in the Army. One might understand Gen. McCaffrey’s fond hope that
a resolute military commitment by the United States could end or
at least reduce Colombia’s role as a supplier of cocaine. But it
seems a fond hope at best. One hates to contemplate the level of
money, material and (eventually) US personnel it would take to make
a serious dent in a country marked by rugged mountain ranges and
vast expanses where the central government has no effective control.
And if coca production were substantially reduced in Colombia it
would re-emerge perhaps in neighboring countries, perhaps in some
African countries as long as the demand for cocaine in the United
States and Western Europe persists.
current civil war in Colombia has its roots in the 1950s, when a
10-year war called "La Violencia" followed the split of
the two main parties. The conflict simmered at a low level for years,
then gained new energy in the 1980s when Colombia emerged as a leading
producer of coca and cocaine. Leftist guerillas and then rightist
paramilitaries offered to protect cocaine traffickers for a share
of the profits, and the drug-trade money has made it possible for
all sides to escalate the violence.
notion that the United States can help the Colombian government
eradicate cocaine trafficking without becoming embroiled in the
ongoing civil war is naïve at best. The US might hope to play
a strictly advisory role, but US forces are more likely to be drawn
in or targeted the longer the United States is an active player.
ON A GRAND SCALE
over Colombia is beginning to capture attention in Washington at
the same time that, according to the intelligence Web site Stratfor.com
and other sources, the Pentagon is in the midst of an internal review
of American defense strategy.
says that the new US strategy that is likely to emerge from
this reassessment will involve "a dramatic reduction in US
troops deployed overseas while increasing the use of technologies
that can monitor and strike adversaries from long distances. Such
a historic shift would reduce the vulnerability of US forces to
attack and lower the profile of a seemingly imperial military presence."
would be irony indeed if the conflict and commitment in Colombia
were to be increased at a time when the United States is rethinking
its grand strategy and pulling US troops back from overseas postings
elsewhere. We can only hope that while Andrew Marshall, director
of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, the internal "think
tank" assigned to deliver a report on defense restructuring
next month, is taking Colombia and its trouble into account when
rethinking US commitments overseas.
BEFORE THE HORSE?
some extent, of course, having the Pentagon rethink US defense commitments
is putting the cart before the horse. This country’s defense policy
should flow from its overall foreign policy philosophy, not the
other way around. If the administration is thinking about altering
US foreign policy to be less interventionist, less imperial, less
eager to be involved in the inevitable conflicts that will emerge
and erupt in even a relatively peaceful world, then a defense policy
in keeping with the larger foreign-policy goals of the United States
can be designed.
those larger policy decisions are made, it is somewhat silly to
make decisions about what kind of defense is needed. And there is
a danger that defense commitments or decisions made with the needs
of capabilities of the military foremost will end up driving foreign
policy that we will have the foreign policy our military capabilities
dictate rather than the military our foreign policy demands.
the meantime, the situation in Colombia could spiral out of control
in a way that might seem to demand more aggressive US intervention
unless Washington changes its philosophy. If death or violence strike
US personnel in Colombia the authorities assure us no US
citizens are in a combat role but the battle lines are porous and
permeable the United States might find itself committed to
a larger-scale intervention for reasons of pride or maintenance
is unlikely the US government will take the most sensible step toward
reducing violence in Colombia and end its war on drugs. That would
be the most effective way to take much of the profit out of the
trade and a good deal of the money- and weapon-driven steam out
of the civil war.
the low likelihood that the US will be so sensible, however, it
should think long and hard before increasing a commitment to a conflict
that must eventually be settled by those participating in it. It
is tempting to imagine that the sole remaining superpower can do
pretty much whatever it wants in the world, stepping in like a benevolent
big brother to settle the disputes and problems of nations of lesser
stature. But that kind of hubris even in the Brave New World order is
more likely to lead to disappointment and tragedy than peace in
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