Donald Rumsfeld — you remember him, right? He was U.S. Secretary of Defense (sic) during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Well, he popped up in the news over the weekend with an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled “The Smart Way to Beat Tyrants Like Chavez.”
Let me first give Rumsfeld some credit. In his op-ed, he does not call for invading Venezuela to get rid of Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez. Perhaps he learned something in Iraq — that when military means are used to get rid of a foreign dictator, hundreds of thousands of people have to be killed in order to get rid of the dictator. With estimates of Iraqi dead reaching in excess of a million, perhaps the deepest recesses of Rumsfeld’s conscience are starting to prick at him for the death and destruction that he and President Bush have wrought in Iraq.
There certainly didn’t seem to be much conscience working in the early days of the war. Wasn’t it Rumsfeld who said that “freedom” wasn’t tidy when he confronted with the massive unrestrained looting of Iraqi museums? But of course at that point, it was necessary to send a message to the world: This is what happens to countries that refuse to oust independent dictators and replace them with dictators that we like.
After all, who can forget the famous photograph of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein? Of course, that was during the time that U.S. officials loved Saddam, even to the point of sending him those infamous weapons of mass destruction that Rumsfeld was diligently looking for many years later when his troops invaded Iraq.
Thus, the only real beef that Rumsfeld has with Chavez is not that Chavez is a dictator but simply that Chavez doesn’t take his orders from Washington. In fact, the Rumsfeld mindset toward Chavez is no different than the U.S. government’s decades-long obsession with removing Castro from power. They’ve never liked Castro simply because Castro doesn’t take orders from Washington.
Look at Pervez Musharraf. Did Rumsfeld dare to mention his military crackdown in Pakistan, a crackdown that has involved the dissolution of the Supreme Court and the jailing of lawyers, judges, and dissidents? Of course not. Musharraf is a personal friend and ally of U.S. officials, just as Saddam was when Rummy had his photograph taken with him. He’s “our” despot and, thus, that makes him different from Chavez. The same holds true for the many Latin American dictators that U.S. officials have installed or supported over the years.
In his op-ed, Rumsfeld says that yesterday’s constitutional referendum in Venezuela threatened to destroy “the few remaining vestiges of Venezuelan democracy.” (By the way, Venezuelan voters defeated the referendum.) But Rumsfeld fails to give credit where credit is due. At least Chavez put his power grab up the voters in a vote involving a constitutional amendment. Did Rumsfeld’s boss, President Bush, bother to do that after 9/11? Nope. He simply assumed the omnipotent, dictatorial power to jail suspected terrorists as “enemy combatants” and deny them trial by jury, right to counsel, due process of law, protection from cruel and unusual punishments, and habeas corpus. In fact, does Chavez even claim to wield the “enemy combatant” power that Bush now wields?
In his op-ed, Rumsfeld suggests that “free trade” is the key to dealing with despots like Chavez. Unfortunately, he’s not talking about “free trade” with Venezuela. Instead, he’s talking about “free trade” with neighboring countries as a way to counteract Chavez’s influence.
Of course, it’s not truly free trade that Rumsfeld is talking about. Instead, he’s talking about managed trade — trade that is entered into by political agreements between governments and whose intent is to serve the imperial ends of Washington.
In fact, Rumsfeld’s op-ed perfectly reflects the imperial mindset that guides Washington. These people always see all sorts of international threats facing America — communism, Islam, terrorism, rogue nations, despots, dictators — and then figure out ways for the U.S. government to extend its octopus-like reach all over the world to protect the nation from all these “threats.”
What these people cannot see, however, is that their interventionist machinations only make things worse for our nation. As John Quincy Adams pointed out, there will always be plenty of monsters all over the world, but for more than a century the U.S. government did not go abroad to slay them. By abandoning that non-interventionist philosophy, the interventionists have plunged our nation into a state of perpetual crisis with perpetual enemies requiring a state of perpetual war with a perpetually plunging dollar as a result of perpetually rising expenditures for a perpetually growing military-industrial complex.
Rumseld is on the right track in talking about free trade but his warped and paranoid way of looking at the world prevents him from seeing the real road our nation needs to be traveling. The best way for America to deal with foreign dictators and despots is simply by dropping all trade barriers with every single nation, unilaterally, including with nations that are ruled by despots, dictators, and monsters. No agreements. No managed trade. No treaties. Just free the American people to trade with whom they want to trade and travel wherever they want to travel and spend their money any way they choose.
Consider Cuba, for instance, where the U.S. embargo has harmed the Cuban people for decades in the hope that the Cuban people will finally oust Castro from office and replace him with a U.S.-approved stooge. Why not simply lift the embargo and stop threatening Americans with criminal prosecution for traveling to Cuba and spending their money there? What better way to fight foreign despotism than by strengthening the economic and non-economic relationships that private Americans have with the citizens of countries suffering under despotism?
Why fight foreign despotism with economic despotism over the American people? Wouldn’t it be better to fight despotism with freedom?