Letters to the Editor(1)
In her letter in response to my article "Gunboat Democracy" (Volume 3, Issue 19), Roberta Cohen makes a distinction between interventions that are to "save lives" and "not at all about democracy" and interventions that are solely intended to promote democracy. She cites Somalia and Kosovo as instances of the "save lives intervention." Cohen then writes that Grenada was also a case in which democracy "was not an issue." Instead, Cohen argues, President Reagan's publicly-stated reason for sending in U.S. troops was "to save lives of American citizens being held hostage by the [Grenadian] regime."
First, it is worth mentioning that there were no U.S hostages at the time of the Grenada invasion. Rather, the Reagan administration ordered the invasion in order to, among other things, ensure that a Tehran-style hostage crisis did not occur. Among the other factors that led to the invasion was the perception that Grenada's hardening alliance with Cuba, the Soviet Union and North Korea represented a geopolitical threat to the United States. If there had not been a Soviet/Cuban component to the crisis, then there almost certainly would not have been an invasion.
But in addition to the threat to American lives and raw geopolitical interests, the invasion of Grenada was unquestionably about democracy. The vicious regime in Grenada was antithetical to democracy and the Reagan Administration made it publicly clear that it intended to support efforts at building democracy after the invasion. In fact, even before the Reagan Administration had made the decision to launch the invasion, Grenada's neighboring island nations were begging Washington to send in the Marines in order to remove the regime and establish democracy.
To be sure, democracy was not the sole or even critical factor in the decision to intervene. Yet, Ms. Cohen is on shaky ground when she argues that Grenada cannot be seen as a case of democracy by force. Instead of making this point myself, it is more fitting to listen to the views of the Grenadian people. A couple of days following President Reagan's recent death, the Grenadian Parliament passed a resolution praising Reagan for his "significant role in restoring peace and democracy." Gunboat democracy pure and simple.
Perhaps an easier way to look at this question of "democracy by force" is to understand that the United States will rarely if ever intervene solely to promote democracy. Geopolitical considerations, American lives and humanitarian crises are the sparks that tips the balance in favor of intervention. This was certainly true in Vietnam when stopping communist dominoes was infinitely more important to U.S. policymakers than was any notion of democracy. Thus, it is curious that Ms. Cohen selected Vietnam as a case of a U.S. intervention that was all about democracy. In any case, it's a more viable argument to claim that Vietnam represents one case where the United States failed to promote democracy by force.
Ms. Cohen could very well be correct that interventions should normally be reserved for episodes of "mass starvings, mass killings, or genocide." Yet, cases such as Grenada and the invasion of Panama in 1989 suggest that there might be a time and place for interventions that do not directly relate to the criteria that Ms. Cohen puts forth. I also agree that democracy promotion should not necessarily be a component of every U.S. intervention. But these points are entirely different than arguing that democracy has never been brought to countries on the barrel of a gun. Just ask the Grenadians.
Janusz Bugajski, in his reply last week to my article in the June 23 issue of In The National Interest provides an illustration of the point I was trying to make - the persistence of zero-sum, Cold War outlooks in the think tank milieu. The personal aspect of the reply is perhaps unfortunate, since no particular individual or institution was at issue, but its contents can help us understand the milieu situation.
The reply takes the form of throwing my argument back at me - "[Straus'] comments are the most poignant example of that other Cold War mentality - namely that America and Russia were equivalent and basically shared the same objectives." However, this is a simple mistake; I don't have an "equivalence" mentality, and the imputation of it to me in the above sentence is achieved by conflating two different things: (1) the proposition that "America and Russia were equivalent", (2) the proposition that they "basically shared the same objectives." One can believe either one of these propositions without believing the other; they have no necessary relation. My article did have something to do with the second proposition, but nothing to do with the first - the "equivalence" one.