Obama’s Confrontation With America’s Soft Imperialism.

Leaving Cuba and that confrontation with relatively recent(50 years)American/Cuban hostility,President Obama heads for Argentina where his arrival coincides with the anniversary of the ascent to power of a brutal military regime.March 24th 1976 was the date that a seven year reign of terror presided over by the Argentinian military and not visibly opposed by the U.S.rocked Argentina.
While Obama has personal popularity in much of South and Central America,as the wearer of the American presidency , he is widely distrusted. He cannot disown all of the past objectives of American diplomacy, but a corrective course must be pursued.That Nobel peace prize may yet be earned as he tight walks his way through the remaining months of his presidency!

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16 Comments

  1. Milton Friedman opined in the 1980s that those who put equality above freedom will end up with the equality of poverty.He also opined that the equality that is to be sought in democracy( democratic capitalism) is that of access to opportunity and not that of outcome..The dyed in the wool neo conservatives (time traveling Calvinists) appear unable or unwilling to make the distinction.The fear of a federal government that would ensure equal outcome is nonsensical at best.But the fear of programmed control of local government to undo and defeat the impact of demographic change seems to be rather more justifiable.As DS has indicated often and accurately,all men are not created equal.Equality of outcome is a non starter.But when equality of access is repeatedly,structurally denied through the application of money and power,the three dimensional chess game with revolution as an option gains momentum.This is the customary course of human history and American Democracy requires masterful leadership,informed followers and the ability to err and course correct to avoid extinction.(The need for a strong military doesn’t negate any of this!)

    1. daedal2207: “… Friedman … opined that the equality … is that of ACCESS TO OPPORTUNITY and not that of outcome. … The fear of a federal government that would ensure equal outcome is NONSENSICAL at best. … when equality of access is repeatedly, structurally denied through the application of money and power … revolution as an option gains momentum. This is the customary course of human history and American Democracy requires masterful leadership, informed followers and the ability to err and course correct to avoid extinction.”

      Thank you, Professor Thomas, for summarizing so succinctly the matter at hand … access to opportunity and the historical consequences of denial.

    2. Daedal2207 has provided an excellent summation! This has brought to our attention a focus on that which is pivotal. Daedal2207 writes: “But when equality of access is repeatedly, structurally denied through the application of money and power, the three dimensional chess game with revolution as an option gains momentum.”
      We can now address the fundamental issue: What system or systems maximize access to opportunity?
      An important part of the equation has to do with increasing the number of options=opportunities.
      Capitalism has a strong record for its ability to expand economies and cause a rise in economic status for large populations. Free acting, willing buyers and willing sellers are central to this system. That which interferes with this dynamic tends to subdue the growth of an economy and thus reduces the availability of opportunities. For example: Do government officials truly know better than the employer how much value a particular employee (or type of employee) will bring to an enterprise? Minimum wage requirements may help some, but loss of opportunities due to a lessening of viable business activity must be listed on the side of diminishment.
      Another part of the equation: How well prepared are we to embrace opportunity?
      Daedal2207’s mentioning a possibility of “revolution” means that he perceives that some group/s are discontent (extremely so) as to their access to opportunity. But, it is acknowledged that nature did not distribute aptitudes or health equally among individuals or groups. It should be a given that some individuals and some groups will do better than others no matter what “system” prevails. The founders’ Constitution put the focus on individual rights, thus minimizing the importance of groups (Responsibility belongs primarily to you, not your group or some other group). To the degree that judgment regarding access or lack of access hinges on the comparative performance of groups we need to address the real causes of disparate performance. Not only did nature put us on earth with unequal aptitudes, we inherit societal habits that are often destructive. In other words, all cultures are not equally functional. I suggest that it is easier to correct self than one’s group. With a focus on individual rights and individual responsibilities tribal-based justifications for discontent diminish in importance. Society’s assignment of importance to group-based “diversity” therefore illustrates a cultural trend that increases perceived justifications for discontent and is counterproductive relative to the expansion of options and the capability to embrace them.

  2. DS: “Our challenge as humanitarians is that of advancing the most realistic, viable-for-mankind agenda and resisting the expansion of lesser agendas….Will it be sharia, or some other form of social structure ‘where the running argument can run freest’ that best expands man’s advance into the future?”

    Oh, please! Talk about elitism! No to sharia … and no to Torquemada (on behalf of the faith!). Where’s the high-minded morality in “advancing the most realistic, viable-for-mankind agenda” by supporting dictatorships? Who should be thrown off alive from an airplane because they’re not “advancing” the “right” agenda? Why just two choices for Korea … the North’s or the South’s? The reality … yes … that the empirical formula is very simplistic: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And, the goal is power/control under the guise of sharing. Are we teaching the Chinese or are they teaching us about “the profit motive (with its necessary unequal distributions of wealth)”?

    How not to agree more with daedal2207’s rejection statement on the implied acceptance of the necessity of error? When an ideal is stated but pursued with known brutality and corruption, is it possible to claim ignorance with an oops-I-erred response?

    daedal2207: “Course correction has to be more than a matter of a few twirls on a dance floor and a determined visage for the few remaining months of a remarkable presidency.The coming election is of major importance for the U.S. and the world.It will probably decide the possibility of meaningful course correction for the next half century. This in turn will have a huge impact on the survivability of our nation and mankind.”

    Yes. Let’s hear an amen for “meaningful course correction” … and honesty in simple rhetoric. Hopefully, there are younger eyes reading advocacies expressed in this forum. They’re looking for enlightenment, real humanitarian visions. Platitudes have a tendency to obfuscate the truth.

    1. Susanna;
      Here is the definition of elitism: “the advocacy or existence of an elite as a dominating element in a system or society. The attitude or behavior of a person or group who regard themselves as belonging to an elite:”
      I am trying to understand how what I had written can be construed as “elite”. Maybe it has to do with a confidence with the logic that defines what must follow given the premises presented? I tend to be wary of elites dominating government. Could you clarify?
      Sadly, in this agenda-confused world there are some solid arguments for supporting temporarily some even brutal dictatorships given the greater brutality of the options. But you address this (I think accurately) with “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
      North and South Korea were mentioned only as a very clear example of US policy that resulted in beneficial-to-mankind results. I have noticed that many on the left focus on what can be construed to be US faults.
      I am trying to understand how the following opinion relates to my statements referring to the dynamics of agendas in conflict: “the goal is power/control under the guise of sharing.” It is fundamental that to do anything requires power and control. Like gravity, there is nothing we can do about it other than to recognize its existence and try to use that truth wisely. “Under the guise of sharing” suggests some nefarious motive. Could you clarify?
      I would agree that platitudes are often unhelpful – and I suppose often “obfuscate the truth”. But we need to distinguish the difference between platitudes and appropriate generalities. Without a developed understanding and use of appropriate generalities, the thing we call wisdom would be impossible. Trite should be avoided, but sometimes even (what should be) obvious truths are repeatedly needed in order to support a point of view. I hope that “eyes” of all ages are interested in developing such understandings.

    2. Local public television KOCE, reviewed America’s relationship with South and Central America recently.Mexico,Cuba,Dominican republic,Guatemala, El Salvador,Peru,Chile,Nicaragua,Puerto Rico,Venezuela and Hawaii and Guam.The same pattern of the exploitation of economic opportunity/ advantage(United Fruit)* using dictatorships and suppression of opposition groups labeling them as insurrection and often communist with heavy military support including the use of U.S. marines with C.I.A. direction .When the suppression became intolerable and dictators had to be eliminated the U.S. had an escape valve on the pressure pot that these countries became namely immigration and facilitated paths to integration in the U.S. Thus Reagan’s call for amnesty after the contra fiasco involving Nicaraguans
      It is ironic that the inability to deal with immigration reform by our congress is partly blamed on the number of illegal immigrants whose presence in the U.S. is the direct outcome of our national policies.

      *Shades of the British East India Company in the 18th and 19th century.

      1. Third world countries tend to lack sophisticated ways to tap their many natural resources. If those resources are to be of value to their people, these countries have to import the needed skills (and venture capital). Profit attracts talent. In the US, businesses have developed plentiful skills in great part because they have been private and capitalist. Our government was supposed to be hands-off regarding most private sector activities. On the other hand, the government is supposed to protect the interests of its citizens – even those doing business in other countries. Third world governance tends to be volatile and subject to nationalizing (or personalizing to the benefit of dictators) foreign-owned assets. Labels of “insurrection” and “communist” have often been accurate.
        Given these contrary conditions any economic improvement is going to be a messy process. For a business to confront high risk projects there needs to be the promise of high profit potential, and/or the means by which risk can be diminished.
        Those who are advancing an “exploitation” view of the US character like to suggest that had (their) socialist (believed to be altruistic) values been DICTATING U.S. policy instead of capitalistic free market dynamics, life in these third world countries would have evolved better and fairer.

        1. DS: “Third world countries tend to lack sophisticated ways to tap their many natural resources.”

          How do you define “sophistication?” Miriam-Webster:

          1 a : the use of sophistry : sophistic reasoning
          b : sophism, quibble
          2 : the process or result of becoming cultured, knowledgeable, or disillusioned; especially : cultivation, urbanity
          3 : the process or result of becoming more complex, developed, or subtle

          Sophism
          1 : an argument apparently correct in form but actually invalid; especially: such an argument used to deceive.

          Sophistry
          1: subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation.
          : the use of reasoning or arguments that sound correct but are actually false.

          Let’s start with the very basics: for point #2, the average American citizen, of varying social strata and financial means, does not know how to properly set a table let alone how to use use a fork and a knife in recognized (Western) etiquette.

          Now, on to sophism and sophistry. How patronizing … and rather insulting … when using a sweeping statement that infers ignorance and (if not also) unworldliness.

          DS: “For a business to confront high risk projects there needs to be the promise of high profit potential, and/or the means by which risk can be diminished.”

          This is a Catch-22 scenario which in turn promotes the on-going, insidious corruption that is mocked as “lacking sophistication” but is merely a total controlling condition. The Art of the Deal (as a leading presidential contender often reminds us).

          daedal2207: “The same pattern of the exploitation of economic opportunity/ advantage(United Fruit)* … *Shades of the British East India Company in the 16th and 19th century.”

          To be sure!! How refreshing to have United Fruit Company mentioned. Let us not forget Juan Tripp’s Pan American Airways. The bitterness and backlash that surge from time to time are due to the fact that we did not promote the rule of law (we so proudly boast about in our country) but rather the rule of corruption.

          daedal2207: “It is ironic that the inability to deal with immigration reform by our congress is partly blamed on the number of illegal immigrants whose presence in the U.S. is the direct outcome of our national policies.”

          Continued exploitation … more cruel when the helpless are targeted not penalizing those who do the exploitation.

          DS: “… (their) socialist (believed to be altruistic) values … ”

          Ah, name-calling in an attempt to pigeon-hole/define concepts that are so … well, early 20th century. The political spectrum is being redefined worldwide, to meet evolving societal trajectories, past the Industrial Revolution into the Technology Revolution. Stating utopian outlines does not reality make. The “altruistic values” being ridiculed are still seeking equal opportunity and rule of law, nationally and internationally. Do we stop to wonder if our Founding Fathers would have recognized the terms “insurrection” when breaking away from the dominance (to include financial) of King George III? But, that was the 18th Century. Of course, the term “communism” had not been “invented” then. Welcome to the 21st Century where the world, in spite of stereotypes, is more sophisticated than we’re willing to accept and/or recognize.

        2. This sounds incredibly,like a post hoc justification of exploitation and abuse ranging from slavery/trafficking ,drug peddling,,to untrammeled profiteering etc. All based entirely on power.I don’t know how one can be offended by an accusation of cruelty when such a justification is coupled with a definition of empathy that puts emotional reciprocity second to aesthetic appreciation of objects d’art.

        3. I presented a sentence that I think represents a self-evident truth: “Third world countries tend to lack sophisticated ways to tap their many natural resources.” That sentence provides an essential premise for structuring the “help their people” case to follow. SB apparently found offensive the association of “third world countries” with “lack sophistication to tap their many natural resources”. SB writes: “How patronizing … and rather insulting … when using a sweeping statement that infers ignorance and (if not also) unworldliness.”
          Consider: Isn’t it TRUE that “third world” equates strongly with “lack of sophistication”? If a third world country had the sophisticated technology with which to tap their natural resources why would they not do it themselves? Also, “tend”, by definition, should tell the reader that I am not accusing any group of being totally “ignorant” or “unworldly”. (As a general rule: If confrontation with a truth is experienced as emotionally offensive, the truth-seeking part of the self would welcome adjustment.)
          SB elaborately illustrates that “sophisticated” can be used with varied meaning, but context is the key to intended use. “Sophistry” (a distant and ugly cousin to sophistication) is something that we should all try to avoid. (As a general rule: Suggesting, but not demonstrating, that a writer with whom you disagree is engaged in sophistry can be seen as a relatively easy way to express anger, and/or a method by which unpleasant-to-confront ideas can be avoided.)
          Daedal2207: Your statement that my definition of empathy “puts emotional reciprocity second to aesthetic appreciation of objects d’art” does not accurately represent what I had written. My basic point was that ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING with which we identify shapes in some way that entity we perceive to represent the “self”. I used the Funk and Wagnalls definition (that demonstrated a link to esthetics) in order to draw attention to the fact that not only other people’s feelings, but objects and ideas too, can be “empathic” factors – for ill and for good. I didn’t prioritize one type of empathy over any other given the apparent fact that as regards our becoming the most functional “self” the variables of context are vast. (“Functional” means – works well alone and in interaction with others – works well with life’s total environment.) For instance, we need to “understand,” identify with those with whom we live and work. But the headlines demonstrate that some “selves” are as monstrous and dangerous as a wrathful God.

        4. Quoting my earlier posting to which DS makes reference … “This is a Catch-22 scenario which in turn promotes the on-going, insidious corruption that is mocked as ‘lacking sophistication’ but is merely a total controlling condition. The Art of the Deal (as a leading presidential contender often reminds us).” Apparently, unbeknownst at the time of the posting, Bette Midler also recently turned to Joseph Heller to describe the current discourse as she quoted Heller in the following manner:

          “It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” — Joseph Heller, Catch-22

          Doublespeak? When someone states so well one’s own beliefs, why try to re-word? Is the purpose of this forum to write in the form of a PhD thesis on the thought-provoking subjects introduced, or rather to offer an exchange in a world that is increasingly 140-character attentive? As the strong admirer of this blog, I have referred and encouraged a younger generation to “tune in.” Hopefully, they will not “tune out.”

          DS: “(As a general rule: If confrontation with a truth is experienced as emotionally offensive, the truth-seeking part of the self would welcome adjustment.)”

          Thank you … this truthiness (oh, Stephen Colbert) works both ways. We each have our own particular way of expressing ourselves. For the most part, the assumption is made that, in that expression, no offense is intended. Having said that, our words represent our believes/philosophy. An attempt is made not to personalize differences of viewpoints … however, as Tip O’Neil used to say “all politics is local.” In the end, opinions have inherently the personal reaction. Paraphrasing Joseph Heller, one’s truth is another person’s falsehood. And, control extortion eventually shows its ugly head … or others can play the same game. Case in point:

          An example of what goes around comes around?

          To cut to the chase, as history has proven, man’s imperialistic tendency will continue to create “third world” conditions. Those affected may switch in location … the Egyptian pharaohs would not have considered themselves “third world” … and so on. With that acknowledgment, it’s the attempt to keep man’s inhumanity to man in check … slavery throughout the ages, including today, as an example of our inhumane capabilities … that keeps me advocating for equal opportunity and vigilant against unfair/unjust accusations (i. e. the “third world” brought on its own “unsophisticated” conditions.).

          Don, still searching for things in common. Can’t paint with a brush, but as an avid gardener, nature has provided me with a beautiful canvas. The dogwoods are blooming! ‘Tis the season for dirty fingernails!

          P. S. Not a fan of Ayn Rand.

  3. daedal2207: “While Obama has personal popularity in much of South and Central America,as the wearer of the American presidency , he is widely distrusted. He cannot disown all of the past objectives of American diplomacy, but a corrective course must be pursued.That Nobel peace prize may yet be earned as he tight walks his way through the remaining months of his presidency!”

    Yes on the popularity … and yes on the distrust factor. The basis for the former is very personal … the latter is not. It is a reflection that goes back to subsequent interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine. Outside of the U. S., historical record is well studied and remembered, especially when practices throughout its young age as a liberated continent from imperialistic European control, Latin America found itself becoming the underling of North American hegemony. Corrupting rulers/strongmen was easy/cheap enough to obtain the means of resources control that American (U.S.) interests desired.

    This is somewhat problematic for me to comment on. My family and I emigrated from Argentina in 1955. I have not been back since 1963. I was very young and thus the memories/impressions reflect my youth and passage of time … with, perhaps, distortions and romanticizing. Argentina is a beautiful country, with a variety of topography, natural resources, climates almost equal to the U. S. (no Grand Canyon!), worldliness, educated, underpopulated. What I do remember of my young impressions was the fear to speak/discuss in public any disagreement with the Peron regime. The awareness that to be heard guaranteed you questioning by the “policia federal,” possible detention, torture, if not actual disappearance. In 1955, the U. S. not only offered better opportunities to my parents, but the contract with the Constitution and the rule of law were of particular appeal. We all became naturalized citizens as soon as we were eligible. These basic concepts are currently being revisited/challenged in the politics of fear. In anticipation of President Obama’s visit to Argentina, The NYTimes published the below opinion column.

    Argentina’s “Dirty War” 1976-1983 has scarred … emotionally damaged … multiple generations. The excuse given by we in the U. S. for looking the other way was that Argentina was fighting communism … in other words, another Cold War tool. The fact of the matter, so far, appears to be that Argentina, as the rest of Latin America, has learned to live with rampant corruption and human rights violations.

    daedal2207: “He cannot disown all of the past objectives of American diplomacy, but a corrective course must be pursued.”

    I’m so very much hoping for that “corrective course,” to include policies throughout all Latin America. Reconciliation can only be achieved when wrongs are confronted and acknowledged. “Don’t cry for me Argentina!” I personally cry for Central America. Pope Francis (also Argentine) was instrumental in opening a dialogue between the U. S. and Cuba. Could he also be trying to bring some closure (is that term actually possible?) between Argentina’s ruling class, our own duplicitous behavior and the citizens of this hemisphere? He asked: “Pray for me!” I wish I were a believer … even in prayer. Tall order. It will have to be human action.

    daedal2207: “That Nobel peace prize may yet be earned as he tight walks his way through the remaining months of his presidency!”

    Our president has a lot on his plate. Unfortunately, he’s having only 8 years for corrective action on so many global issues. Perhaps his post-presidency will prove to be even more effective for world peace, human rights, the environment. Another one of those subjects … to be revisited in search of progress.

    Thank you, Professor Thomas, for this post.

    1. A very personal reminder that a couple named Juan and Evita preceded by twenty odd years the brutality of the 1970s! Also a reminder that eight years is not enough to throw into reverse two centuries of complicit supports(beyond implicit) of fascism.Thanks!,,

    2. Thank you Susanna for the personal element. We are a mixed population and as a consequence, a wealthy-in-diverse-experience society. Argentina’s loss is our gain.
      I wish that our United States could honestly make the claim to have always performed perfectly as regards that which is best for humanitarian issues. How many of us as individuals would like to have sailed through life, producing and delivering life-saving supplies, without ever raising a wake that upset our neighbors? But there are many vessels sailing the same waters, and they do not agree on the rules of the road. Some don’t even believe that we have a right to be sailing the same waters! How does one navigate without being upset, and causing upset to those who run their ships chaotically, dangerously?
      Not able to fight all fights, we hopefully prioritize wisely those conflicts that are most urgent. For a time fighting communism was a first priority, but not too many years earlier Stalin’s communism was supported in order to defeat Hitler. This illustrates the reality.
      Because perfection doesn’t exist, I ask a couple of questions, “Where can the running argument run freest?” and related, “Which side winning gives humanity its best future?” How many would prefer to live in North Korea than in South Korea? The US did not gain great wealth by its costly efforts in the Korean War. There and elsewhere there are many millions of individuals alive and thriving today precisely because the US did some very responsible things for the well-being of humanity’s future. We have demonstrated by our success a system of governance that unites people from diverse backgrounds as never before (welcome Susanna). Let’s not inflict damage on the best because it is not the perfect.

      1. DS’ comment seems to accept the necessity of error making and course correction as the inevitable path of intergovernmental relationships. (probably of all human relationships!).The problem has been that the institution creators that the U.S. has worked with in this hemisphere(and significant parts of the rest of the world),have been majorly, dictatorial and poverty/ famine producing, procuring the tools of power for a few and exploiting a majority. It may be that those were what surrounded us in many(but not all) instances.But the emergence of regimes like Allendes’ were dealt with in a markedly hostile manner.Course correction has to be more than a matter of a few twirls on a dance floor and a determined visage for the few remaining months of a remarkable presidency.The coming election is of major importance for the U.S. and the world.It will probably decide the possibility of meaningful course correction for the next half century. This in turn will have a huge impact on the survivability of our nation and mankind.

        1. Daedal2207 is correct. Our central problem is that of clarifying what is meant by “meaningful course correction”. Our country today is almost equally divided into two very different visions for the future (and what should be done to shape it). The two are largely incompatible. It is a small, divided-power government focused on individual liberties with their required individual responsibilities versus a much more powerful central authority empowered to discipline us to adhere to “appropriate” behavior (and attitudes too, as defined by the elites in power) through the use of increased rule of law (Laws shaped by Supreme Court majorities who consider our Constitution to be a “living” document). One is likely to play out better than the other. It is complicated by the fact that a number of foreign forces too have as their agenda the shaping of us to their liking. To the degree that their attempts to shape us are in conflict with humanity’s future, we must resist those efforts (which means that we must inject our influence into their affairs). (To the degree that their efforts to shape us are to the good we should adapt and embrace those ideas.) But what is the “good”?
          Let’s be fundamental: In a finite world, one agenda cannot expand without impacting/displacing the agenda/s of others. Man is imaginative in his ability to invent meaning. Conflict cannot be avoided. Our challenge as humanitarians is that of advancing the most realistic, viable-for-mankind agenda and resisting the expansion of lesser agendas. We cannot know with certitude that our guess is the best, but by reducing the elements that are based in sentiment and focusing on objective evidence we can enhance the probability of its being accurate. (How would it be possible to do better?) Among several agendas central to this election: Is the use of government to force a greater equality of income distribution driven mostly by a good-feeling sentiment, or will that effort truly help to provide for humanity its best future? Or, is a focus on merit and the profit motive (with its necessary unequal distributions of wealth) going to result in greater abundance of needed product thus benefitting more the future of man?
          Relative to today’s major foreign challenge and the fact that our influence must be injected: Will it be sharia, or some other form of social structure “where the running argument can run freest” that best expands man’s advance into the future?

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