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Open Letter to President Bush: Do Latin America Now, Iraq Later

By Scott Sullivan

29.07.05 | The Bush Administrationís approach to fighting terrorism has been to focus on Afghanistan and Iraq while ignoring Latin America as a whole. Meanwhile, the security situation in Latin America has been steadily deteriorating, most notably in Bolivia and Ecuador, as Senator Hagel has warned. The US assumption seems to be that Iraq will be decided relatively quickly, hence the press stories of large scale troop withdrawals by mid-2006. Another US assumption is that nothing can go very wrong in Latin America throughout the next year or so while Iraq is resolved. A third US assumption is that if things do go wrong in Latin America, US interests will not be seriously damaged.

ALL of these assumptions are open to serious question, which calls for a reversal of US policy. The US should make Latin America a top priority, especially if it wants to preserve its gains in Iraq.

US Assumptions

Iraq will soon be stable

A quick victory in Iraq is not on the horizon. The big problem is Syrian and Iranian meddling in Iraqís internal affairs, the latest example of which was the bilateral military cooperation signed between Iran and Iraq. A quick US withdrawal would leave Iran as the dominant power in the region by far (most likely with nukes), while Iraq would fall into Iranís orbit. Moreover, other problems might surface that would delay the US withdrawal such as Kurdish pressures for control of Kirkuk and full independence.

Nothing can go wrong in Latin America

On the contrary, Latin America is heading for a series of civil wars and regional conflicts, beginning with Bolivia. What was once a localized conflict between the FARC and the Colombian government has been extended throughout the region, most directly as a result of Hugo Chavez coming to power in Venezuela. Meanwhile, the US is in full retreat and is now accepting the expansion of his influence in the Caribbean and the Andes. Look for Bolivia to soon look like Bosnia, with all that entails in terms of ethnic cleansing, refugee flows, and border changes imposed by force. Only this time there is no EU or NATO force poised to intervene and separate the warring parties.

Latin America no longer matters to the US even if things do go wrong

This is the largest mistaken assumption. The US would no longer retain its superpower status if it ignores Latin America. Pre-emptive actions, so far not in evidence, should be undertaken before the worst case scenarios become inevitable.

Scott Sullivan is President of Sullivan and Associates, Global Analysis. Served at the National Security Council, Crisis Management Center, from 1984-1988, and in the Office of the Secreatry of Defense, International Security Affairs from 1988 to 2005, most recently in the Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

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