Bernie Sanders and the Monroe Doctrine

There were so many nuggets which came out of this week’s Democrat debate that it was impossible to get to all of them promptly. (That’s particularly true given the deluge of other news breaking in the same period.) Much of our attention was focused on Sanders and Clinton fighting over immigration, gun control the auto industry bailout, but there was another tidbit on interventionism which we didn’t get around to.

Peter Weber at The Week noticed the moment when Sanders was asked about Cuba and suddenly decided to go all in against the Monroe Doctrine. It came in response to a clip they played from 1985 showing Bernie saying some nice things about Fidel Castro.

Salinas followed up the clip with a loaded question: “In South Florida there are still open wounds among some exiles regarding socialism and communism. So please explain what is the difference between the socialism that you profess and the socialism in Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela.”

Sanders began, “Well, let me just answer that” — and then didn’t, explaining instead that he opposes the Monroe Doctrine and 70 years of the U.S. overthrowing democratically elected leaders in Latin America.

First, let’s include the video clip of Sanders just for context:

Yahoo News has the exact quote from Sanders at the debate where he opens up with both barrels on the Monroe Doctrine.

Well, let me just answer that. What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong to try to invade Cuba, that the United States was wrong trying to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, that the United States was wrong trying to overthrow in 1954, the government-democratically elected government of Guatemala. Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America we’ve operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine, and that said the United States had the right do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America. So I actually went to Nicaragua and I very shortly opposed the Reagan administration’s efforts to overthrow that government. And I strongly opposed earlier Henry Kissinger and the-to overthrow the government of Salvador Allende in Chile. I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get involved in regime change. And all of these actions, by the way, in Latin America, brought forth a lot of very strong anti-American sentiments. That’s what that was about.

There’s two parts to this question, neither of which paint Sanders in a particularly flattering light. The first question, however, is a fair one in light of more than a century of perspective. How interventionist should the United States have been in the early 19th century as opposed to our activities in the mid-20th century? And what should we take from that in terms of how we move forward today? During an expansionist era for America, it was clearly not only viable, but productive to stick with the Monroe Doctrine. And the threats being faced by nations around the world in Monroe’s day were considerably different, with the largest problems being caused by colonial empires and the crushing thumb they kept on their charges in newly developing regions. Throwing off shackles and striking a blow for local rule was considerably more defensible looked at through that lens.

It can be argued that we became the empire, tipping the scales in other (primarily Central and South American) countries in the period Sanders is talking about. And to describe the results as a “mixed bag” would be generous indeed. So in that regard, even some less interventionist minded Republicans could likely find a bit of common ground with Bernie.

But as usual, the ancient socialist runs the argument one very long bridge too far when he glorifies the status of the “freely or democratically elected” governments of many of these nations. Most socialist movements started with populist revolutions and, for a time, enjoyed some popular support. But socialism always winds up heading down the same parallel roads, leading to power distilled at the top among those who control the revolutionary party, brutal oppression of all dissent, impoverished economies in a society where capitalism is banned and strongmen style dictators who must keep the unruly peasants under control through force and terror. Any elections which happen after that post-revolutionary evolution begins are generally a joke, and pointing to them as some sort of model of success is strictly an unamerican view.

That moment from the debate was just a quick peek behind the curtain of Bernie’s “democratic socialism.” He’s been of that mindset since the sixties and nothing much has changed. If that’s who the Democrats want to elect as their standard bearer, best of luck to them. America still won’t have it and too many examples around the world have shown us what would happen if we did.


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David Strom 8:31 AM on October 02, 2022