Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


APRIL 2022

The war in Ukraine shattered illusions held by the liberal left about U.S. national interests. It was time to be realistic, President Biden concluded, about the world we live in, not the one we wish for.

Venezuela is a good example. Three years ago the U.S. imposed sanctions, including oil imports, from this Caribbean country after a widely claimed fraudulent presidential election. It also recognized the leader of Venezuela's National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as interim president until new elections were held. The European Union and other states recognized Guido as the legitimate president.

There was a problem, however: The incumbent president, Nikolas Maduro, decided not to leave office. He was backed by the army which is heavily supported by Cuba. Earlier, Havana sent thousands of military "advisors" to insure that Venezuela didn't leave the socialist camp. Rather than pressure Guaido further, the Trump administration decided to reduce its support, which left him in political limbo.

Hugo Chavez, leader of the Socialist Party, became Venezuela's president in 1999 after winning a national election. An admirer of Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chavez modeled his socialist/communist programs on Castro's experience. Including nationalizing foreign; mainly American, oil companies. After the 2019 fraudulent election; oil imports from Venezuela quickly stopped.

After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, President Biden decided in March to sound out Maduro about reopening relations which the U.S. broke in 2019. Biden also hoped to resume oil imports from Venezuela. A team of top Latin America specialists was sent to Caracas to talk to Maduro about resuming oil shipments, to replace banned oil from Russia. The outcome is not known, but U.S. oil companies are confident that oil imports from Venezuela will soon resume.

Venezuela is one of several places where Biden is prepared to put realism ahead of human rights in foreign policy. Negotiations on resumption of a multi-nation Iran nuclear treaty is a prime example. Washington broke diplomatic relations with Tehran in 1979 when its Revolutionary Regime seized the U.S. embassy and imprisoned U.S. diplomatic personnel for over a year. As on Venezuela, Biden concluded that mending fences with Tehran will hopefully provide the U.S. with much needed oil, and also lead to a less dangerous Persian Gulf.

Another example of dealing with leaders who ignore U.S. ideas on democracy and press freedom is Turkey's President Recep Erdogan. Although it has no oil, Ankara has diplomatic leverage with both Russia and Ukraine and hosts meetings to find a cease-fire and end the war in Ukraine. As the largest and most strategically located country in the Middle East, Turkey has an important diplomatic role.

Egypt is another case where an authoritarian government, supported by its strong military, continues good ties with Washington. This is anathema to American progressives and many liberals.

The larger question to address in this: When did the United States get started publicly judging other countries on their human rights records?

In the 1970s, an idealistic president, Jimmy Carter, had a Congress that thought U.S. foreign policy should be based more on idealism instead of the realism practiced by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Congress passed legislation in 1977 that mandated the State Department to prepare annually a list of countries that ignored human rights in their foreign policies. That law is still in effect.

It's difficult for the State Department to manage relations with countries that resent being lectured on not living up to America's standard of human rights. As a result, some presidents talk publicly about the issue while others, including Ronald Reagan, choose to discuss it in private.

Mr Biden now encounters a political problem in his Democratic Party. The liberal/progressive wing, led by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, deplore what they consider his abandonment of human rights and democracy in favor of larger defense budgets and coddling authoritarian regimes.

Some on the left want Biden to reduce American commitments abroad and concentrate on building what they call a more just American society. As his party faces the 2022 mid-terms and general election in 2024, how far will the president go on alienating part of his base to ensure that Europe remains strong and united against Russia?

File last modified on Monday, 04-APR-2022 04:05 PM EST

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