Sunday, February 28, 2010

Jimmy Carter Defends His Record

In a recent letter to Foreign Policy, President Jimmy Carter lays out what what he sees as his administration's foreign policy accomplishments.

There's not much Latin America-related material in the letter except for the Panama Canal. 

This extremely unpopular but requisite task had been promised since the time of President Lyndon Johnson but delayed because of the obvious negative political consequences. For instance, among the 20 brave men who faced re-election in 1978 after supporting this action, only seven returned to the Senate. This decision strengthened greatly our nation's ties with the people of Latin America and many others within the Non-Aligned Movement who had former ties with the Soviet Union.
I "know" that US control over the Panama Canal was a source of division between the US and Panama as well as the rest of Latin America.  But, how do I "know" that we got any additional support from Latin America and the Non-Aligned Movement because the US returned the canal to the Panamanians? 

Were Torrijos (probably) and Noriega (not so sure) more supportive of US foreign policy in the region because of the canal's return?  It's possible that Carter received assistance from other states because of the way that he handled the canal issue but it is hard to imagine that any of that good will extended to Reagan.  Campaigning against the canal is one of the most important issues that led to his win against Carter.  In addition, Torrijos was dead by mid-1981.

Had Carter, Torrijos or both been able to stick around for a few more years, the return of the canal might have provided longer-term dividends.  What do you think?


  1. It would be useful to hear from President Carter his response to the February 1980 letter Archbishop Romero of El Salvador begging him not to send military aid to El Salvador. Was that a lost opportunity that contributed to the war that began in earnest later that year. What would have happened if Carter had stopped military aid to the Salvadoran government?

    In the current context, what would have happened if President Obama had cut most of the aid to the Honduran coup early on, instead of equivocating?

  2. Had Carter stopped military aid, its symbolic loss might have led to the collapse of the government and led the FMLN (though they don't exist yet) to advance the uprising from January 1981 to some earlier date. I'm thinking it would have created similar conditions to the events in Nicaragua when the US pulled its support for Somoza. But it is hard to know.

    My impression is that the civil was was inevitable once the October 1979 reform-minded junta collapsed. On the other hand, even if it hadn't collapsed, I don't think that that would have significantly altered the FMLN's plan. The war probably would have broken out anyway. The dynamics might have been different.