Thoughtless Rhetoric and Foreign Protests
Peggy Noonan is thrilled by Marco Rubio’s indignation:
America should not stand mute when presented with political dramas in other nations, particularly when they occur in our own hemisphere. We have a voice. We should use it. If we don’t show our sympathies, who will? If we do not articulate our values and beliefs, who will?
Obviously, Americans can and do express their sympathies and articulate their values and beliefs all the time. This doesn’t depend on taking sides in foreign disputes. It also doesn’t follow from this that it is the business of the U.S. government to pick sides in every foreign dispute that arises. One might sympathize with the Venezuelan opposition, but why should that sympathy mean that the government should publicly take its side in an internal political quarrel? Of course, the U.S. hasn’t been entirely “mute” in response to protests in Venezuela, but it hasn’t engaged in the sort of full-throated cheerleading that Noonan seems to want, either. On the one hand, there is no need for the U.S. to “show our sympathies,” since it is painfully obvious that our sympathies do not lie with the Chavista government of Venezuela, and on the other it could backfire badly if the U.S. made a great show of support for the opposition.
Inserting the U.S. into the dispute seems unwise for a number of reasons. The Venezuelan opposition has spent the last decade recovering from being perceived as far too close to the U.S. following the abortive coup attempt against Chavez, so it seems unlikely that they would benefit from overt U.S. support. Because the U.S. encouraged or at least acquiesced in the coup attempt in 2002, it is all the more important that the U.S. not be seen as backing or in any way orchestrating the protests. It is appropriate to criticize government excesses and to draw attention to the government’s behavior at the OAS and in other international institutions, but it would be useless or potentially quite harmful for our government to offer declarations of support. The question that should always be asked in these situations is, “What good would a more activist U.S. role do?” If there is no compelling answer to that question, it is usually best to refrain from getting more involved.