Under no circumstances should the Russians be allowed to bring in more troops, planes or war materiel into Venezuela by air or sea. Pictured: Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro in Moscow, on July 2, 2013. (Image source: kremlin.ru)
In his speech to Bay of Pigs veterans in Miami, Florida on April 17, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton explained the Trump administration's measures against Venezuela, which he said should serve as a warning to Russia and others offering military assistance to the regime of the dictator Nicolás Maduro:
"This incredible region [Latin America] must remain free from internal despotism and external domination... The destinies of our nations will not be dictated by foreign powers; they will be shaped by the people who call this hemisphere home. Today, we proudly proclaim for all to hear: the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well."
"It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness; nor can anyone believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord."
With a conflict now erupting in Venezuela, the American people clearly need to understand the relevance of the Venezuelan crisis to them, and why they should support it.
Here, therefore, is a short history of the milestone document drafted in 1823 by then Secretary of State and future president, John Quincey Adams, with input from former presidents James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.
The document was delivered in an 1823 annual message to Congress by our 5th president, James Monroe. His message -- not called the "Monroe Doctrine" until 1850 -- began by addressing the geopolitical ambitions in America of European tyrants ruling Russia, France and Spain. His greatest concern, as is among U.S. President Donald J. Trump's today, was Russia. Tsar Alexander I's 1821 ukaz [edict] was claiming all the coastal territory of the American Pacific Northwest down to the 51st parallel, today's State of Oregon, and was prohibiting non-Russian shipping in these regions.
America was still too weak to enforce its interests in the Western Hemisphere. Fortunately, America did have friendly support from Britain, with her then powerful Royal Navy, which helped to contain the Russian bear.
The first president to invoke the Monroe Doctrine by name was Abraham Lincoln. As America's Civil War continued to rage, a new threat had already opened south of the Texas border. Reform-minded Benito Juárez, the president of a new Mexican republic created in 1858, was fighting not only Mexican conservatives, but the troops of France's emperor, Napoleon III, to whom Mexico owed a considerable debt.
Napoleon III, apparently desiring to re-establish a monarchy in the Western Hemisphere, had created a Mexican throne for an Austrian archduke, Ferdinand Maximilian, and Confederate emissaries to the "Emperor" Maximilian were inquiring about a possible alliance.
Lincoln responded with covert military and economic aid for Juárez, the legitimate President of Mexico. Meanwhile Juárez dispatched agents across the U.S. to court capitalists, arms dealers and editors -- and even established "Monroe Doctrine Societies."
Finally, Lincoln deployed Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Philip Sheridan secretly to fight the French at the Mexican-Texas border. By 1867, the French units, evidently discouraged, began to withdraw. Maximilian was captured and shot. Juárez had prevailed.
In 1904, several other European powers -- Germany, Italy and the UK -- blockaded Venezuela and fired at its coast, evidently as part of an effort to collect an enormous foreign debt. Meanwhile, under President Cipriano Castro, a leader similar to today's Nicolás Maduro, chaos reigned and Venezuelans starved. Invoking the Monroe Doctrine against the extra-hemispheric powers. President Theodore Roosevelt sent in the U.S. fleet -- all of 50 ships. He then helped to negotiate and settle Venezuela's debts by using 30% of the country's customs duties until they were fully paid.
Roosevelt also added a "corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine: he proclaimed the right of the United States to exercise 'an international police power' to curb glaring and 'chronic wrongdoing.' The U.S. Marines were subsequently sent into Santo Domingo in 1904, Nicaragua in 1911, and Haiti in 1915. It was a move designed ostensibly to keep the Europeans out, but also to protect U.S. business interests. Other Latin American nations seem to have viewed these interventions with misgivings: for many years, relations between the "great Colossus of the North" and its southern neighbors remained strained.
Then came a course correction. Another Roosevelt, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), recognized that the Monroe Doctrine was framed to protect the Americas from extra-hemispheric threats, not to police Latin neighbors. To enhance stability, he placed an emphasis on trade, cooperation and good neighboring.
The improved relations that resulted from the return to the doctrine's original meaning helped FDR prepare Latin America and the Organization of American States (OAS) for the rising threat of Nazi Germany. In 1940, the Monroe Doctrine came to include the collective right of self-defense at the "Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics" in Havana.
The same year, FDR emphasized Monroe Doctrine in his presidential campaign, and in 1941, he extended the Monroe Doctrine "... eastward into the middle of the Atlantic." He also announced that it encompassed Greenland, then owned by Denmark, but at the time temporarily occupied by the U.S. : "We are applying to Denmark what might be called a carrying out of the Monroe Doctrine..."
Originating with FDR came an extended and more broadly defined Monroe Doctrine – one of taking the war across the Atlantic to the enemy, and rescuing an old ally, Britain, and with her Western Europe. The U.S. even made a temporary alliance with the Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party, Joseph Stalin, to block the ability of Germany's Führer, Adolf Hitler, to advance to the east.
Thereafter, amidst the long Cold War that followed WWII, the Russians returned to the Americas with a new geopolitical and ideological challenge -- this time to its eastern coast. In the 1960s, as 140 years earlier, the Russians tried to defy the Monroe Doctrine by injecting their communist system into Cuba, followed by Nicaragua and Grenada in the early 1980s.
In 1960, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced at a press conference:
"We consider that the Monroe Doctrine has outlived its time, has outlived itself, has died, so to say, a natural death. Now the remains of this doctrine should best be buried as every dead body is so that it should not poison the air by its decay."
Two years later, President John F. Kennedy discovered that the Soviet Union had quietly built missile-launching sites in Cuba and had secreted almost 42,000 disguised Soviet troops into the island. What followed was the Cuban Missile Crisis, bringing the U.S. to the brink of nuclear war. In August 1962, Kennedy said at a press conference:
"The Monroe Doctrine means what it has meant since President Monroe and John Quincy Adams enunciated it, and that is that we would oppose a foreign power extending its power to the Western Hemisphere, and that is why we oppose what is happening in Cuba today. That is why we have cut off our trade. That is why we worked in the Organization of American States and in other ways to isolate the Communist menace in Cuba."
Supported by the OAS, Kennedy stood up to Khrushchev and encircled the island with a naval and air "quarantine" -- a word less bellicose than "blockade". Mobilizing for a possible invasion, Kennedy was also aware that a military strike at Cuba might inspire Russia to retaliate against West Berlin.
After several tense days of this Doomsday Clock ticking loudly, the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw the missiles and dismantle its sites. Reciprocally, the United States dismantled several obsolete air and missile bases in Turkey.
As laudable as was Kennedy's courage and iron resolve, the finale was not a clear-cut U.S. victory. Neither he nor subsequent presidents demanded that all Russian military assets be withdrawn from Cuba, as President Trump is now demanding for Venezuela.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter's Administration acknowledged that a Soviet brigade of about 10,000 men was garrisoned in Cuba. Incidentally, it was the Soviet Embassy, and not former U.S. leaders and intelligence officers, who notified the U.S. State Department of a "Soviet military advisory group" that had been in Cuba since 1962.
Kennedy's people, like subsequent administrations, had apparently forgotten about the threat. The issue of the Russians in the Western Hemisphere re-emerged with the growing activities of a brigade that was training Nicaraguan and Grenadan communist guerrillas who had come to power 1979.
On March 11, 1981, President Ronald Reagan evoked the principles, if not the name, of the Monroe Doctrine:
"On this side of the Atlantic we must stand together for the integrity of our hemisphere for the inviolability of its nations, ... and the right of all our citizens to be free from the provocations triggered from outside our sphere for malevolent purposes."
Reagan thus became determined to reverse a Leninist tide in Grenada, Nicaragua and the communist guerrillas in El Salvador and in other regions, such as Angola and Afghanistan.
After Reagan liberated Grenada in 1983, his tactic became not to invade Nicaragua, but instead to arm and support anti-communist guerrillas, later known as Contras, to fight the left-wing Sandinistas there. Reagan, apparently to persuade the Russians to leave, also approved sabotaging some strategic targets there.
In 1990, the Sandinistas lost free elections in Nicaragua. In December 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, largely as a result of Reagan's doctrine and military policies, combined with pressure from radical Russian reformers.
Over the years, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin, while rejecting Bolshevism, has reverted to backing tyrannical, anti-American regimes, seemingly for geopolitical and economic reasons. In Nicaragua, in tainted elections, the Sandinistas also came back to power and have stayed to this day. So have their 21st century "socialist" allies in Venezuela, led by the late Hugo Chávez and now by Maduro.
As Lincoln supported Juárez, the legitimate President of Mexico, Trump has been supporting the democratic and legitimate Venezuelan president, Juan Guaidó. Not only has Maduro become the puppet of extra-hemispheric powers, particularly Russia and China, but he and his allies in Cuba and Nicaragua clearly maintain security ties with Russia and support a tyrannical "socialism" at home. All three, in Ambassador Bolton's words, constitute a "Troika of Terror" as well as a "Troika of Poverty."
Russia's successful invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014 appear simply to have whetted Putin's appetite. Now, partly because of enormous investments that Russia and China have made in Venezuela's oil and defense industries, both superpowers are trying to save the Maduro regime by flying in military personnel (as is Russia) and weaponry (from both Russia and China). On April 29th media reports surfaced of Russian air-defense specialists deployed to Venezuela, evidently "sent to ensure the nation's sophisticated S-300 surface-to-air missiles remain a credible deterrent to any U.S. military action..."
Moreover, reports have emerged that Russia recently requested permission from Malta "to use its airspace to fly military aircraft from Syria to Venezuela," and that "two Russian military planes also flew through the airspace of Greece and Cyprus from Syria en route to Venezuela on March 22 and 23."
What else should President Trump do in Venezuela now? Under no circumstances should the Russians be allowed to bring in more troops, planes or war materiel by sea or air. Trump should follow Kennedy's example with a "quarantine" around Venezuela.
In addition, as Ambassador Bolton has said, "all options are on the table."
At the same time, it is probably a good idea to keep an eye on the Ukraine, where Putin has been offering fast-tracked Russian passports, as he did prior to his invasions of Georgia's South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008, and Crimea in 2014. It is also probably advisable for the US to help the Ukrainians reinforce their defenses there, especially around the city of Mariupol.
In addition, it might help to explain to the American people what is at stake for the Western Hemisphere in Venezuela -- like the earlier "Monroe Doctrine Societies" in the United States. Most Americans are possibly not aware that while most statues and busts of Lenin were torn down after the 1989 democratic revolutions in eastern Europe, Maduro had erected a bust of Lenin in Caracas at the 100-year anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in 2017, and sent birthday wishes to Lenin on April 22.
Last month, President Trump announced that, "The movement for freedom in Venezuela reveals that the twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere."
The American people and its "southern brothers" need to know that the Monroe Doctrine protects everyone in the hemisphere -- from their own tyrants as well. As the Marquis de Lafayette noted, the Monroe Doctrine is the "best little bit of paper that God ever permitted any man to give to the world."
A member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, Dr Jiri Valenta is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Israel. A former tenured professor at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, he testified at Henry Kissinger's Bi-partisan Commission on Central America in 1983. The author of Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968, Johns Hopkins, 1991, co-author of Conflict in Nicaragua, Allen and Unwin, 1987, and Grenada and Soviet/Cuban Policy: Internal Crisis and U.S./OECS Intervention, Westview Press, 1987.