Thursday, August 22, 2013

William Michael Schmidli's "The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere"

William Michael Schmidli is Assistant Professor of History at Bucknell University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere: Human Rights and U.S. Cold War Policy toward Argentina, and reported the following:
One of the main themes of my book is the competition in U.S. foreign policy between the idealist pursuit of moral imperatives such as human rights, and realist security goals rooted in self-interest and the maintenance of power. Over the course of the 1970s, I argue, the blossoming human rights movement—a loose coalition of grassroots organizers, lobbyists in Washington, and members of Congress—directly challenged longstanding U.S. support for illiberal, anticommunist regimes in the developing world, particularly in Latin America. This battle between Cold Warriors and human rightists reached its climax following Jimmy Carter’s successful 1976 presidential election bid. Carter did more to institutionalize human rights in U.S. foreign policy than any of his predecessors. This was most evident in U.S. policy toward Argentina, the book’s primary case study. Following a coup d’état in 1976, the Argentine military initiated a “counter-revolutionary” campaign resulting in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of tens of thousands of perceived subversives. Entering the Oval Office at the height of state-sanctioned violence, the Carter Administration oversaw a remarkably extensive U.S. effort to convince the military junta to curtail abuses.

Page 99 focuses on the Carter team’s effort in the months following the President’s inauguration to redirect U.S. policy toward Latin America away from unilateralism and interventionism. As Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, made clear, this was a break with U.S. policy dating back to the 19th century:
Underscoring the administration’s commitment to redefine U.S.-Latin American relations along a less interventionist framework, Brzezinski asserted, “In the past, it has done nothing more than lock us into a cycle of creating unrealistic expectations and then having to live with the subsequent disappointments.” The Monroe Doctrine, Brzezinski continued, “is no longer valid. It represents an imperialistic legacy which has embittered our relationships.” To promote healthier U.S.-Latin American relations, the National Security Adviser concluded, the United States needed to put its southern neighbors “on a more equal footing.”
Page 99 concludes with Carter’s address at the Organization of American States on April 14, in which the president affirmed his commitment to “three guiding policy principles for the hemisphere: U.S. nonintervention; a willingness to work with Latin American leaders on global economic issues; and a commitment to promoting human rights and an expansion of democracy throughout the region.”

While Carter’s lofty principles elated human rights advocates, turning them into actual policy initiatives would be no easy task. In subsequent chapters, I argue that human rights did emerge as the defining feature of U.S.-Argentine relations, marking a notable transition from the previous quarter-century of Cold War policy. Yet human rights decreased as a U.S. policy priority in the second-half of Carter’s presidency due to fierce resistance from U.S. business leaders to delayed or denied sales to Argentina on human rights grounds, combined with Carter’s increasingly hawkish stance in foreign affairs in response to a resurgence of tension with the Soviet Union.
Learn more about The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue