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DeSantis' Warped Understanding of the Monroe Doctrine
Our neighbors are free to have close relations with other countries, including major powers that Washington doesn’t like.
Ron DeSantis doesn’t understand the Monroe Doctrine:
On Fox News, Mr. DeSantis called for a 21st-century version of the Monroe Doctrine to counter China’s influence in Latin America.
When the Monroe Doctrine comes up today in foreign policy debates, it is almost always a distorted version that Monroe and John Quincy Adams would have found unrecognizable. As the U.S. began expanding overseas and meddling more frequently in the affairs of Latin American states, the Monroe Doctrine was reinvented as a license to intervene when it was originally the opposite of that. Starting near the end of the nineteenth century, the U.S. began invoking the Monroe Doctrine as the excuse for its own domineering behavior. A doctrine that was the epitome of noninterventionism and noninterference was turned into a fig leaf for imperialism. It is the latter that DeSantis wants to use as part of the rivalry with China.
One of the main points that Monroe made in his message to Congress in 1823 was that the U.S. would not interfere in the affairs of its neighbors:
If we look to the comparative strength and resources of Spain and those new Governments, and their distance from each other, it must be obvious that she can never subdue them. It is still the true policy of the United States to leave the parties to themselves, in the hope that other powers will pursue the same course.
If the U.S. followed Monroe’s recommendations today, it would not presume to “counter” the influence of other countries in Latin America so long as the other countries did not threaten the independence and sovereignty of those states. There would be no way to “counter” Chinese economic ties with Latin American countries without engaging in the sort of coercion that infringes on the rights of our neighbors. We can be sure that the targets of this coercion would deeply resent it and become even less cooperative with the U.S. than they were before. The U.S. couldn’t dictate to its neighbors what kind of relations they are allowed to have with other states without inviting a backlash against its imperial arrogance. Our neighbors are free to have close relations with other countries, including major powers that Washington doesn’t like, and Monroe would have been among the first to agree with that.
Dan Drezner was putting it mildly when he remarked, “It is not like DeSantis has said or done anything that would indicate a willingness to engage with Latin America in ways that would woo them away from China.” In fact, everything we have seen from DeSantis on these issues marks him as a throwback to the Cold War as he railed against the evils of Marxism when Gustavo Petro was elected in Colombia. Granted, most of DeSantis’ hawkish posturing was driven by the need to pander to hardline Florida voting blocs, but we should assume that he is going to continue pandering to the same kinds of voters now that he is running for president.
The U.S. would do better to focus on areas where it can work with our neighbors in this hemisphere on climate change and trade instead of endlessly complaining about how they are doing business with trading partners that provide them with the goods and services they want. Talk of “countering” Chinese influence treats Latin American states as if they are U.S. satellites rather than independent states, and that just reinforces the suspicions many governments have about U.S. intentions.
In dealing with other countries in this hemisphere and elsewhere, the U.S. should be guided by another one of Monroe’s statements: “It is by rendering justice to other nations that we may expect it from them.” The best way to improve U.S. relations with our neighbors is by treating them with the dignity and respect that they are due as equal independent states instead of lording it over them and demanding their obedience.