An extensive read in the Washington Post this weekend details the extent to which the United States’s help saved Colombia from becoming a failed state in the hands of the left-wing paramilitary FARC.
It gave the Colombian government the technology it needed to fight the drug trade, kidnappings, and murders that had become the nation’s staples.
The report, compiled by the Post‘s Dana Priest, details how the CIA taught Colombian military officials how to use GPS equipment to make their conventional weapons into smart bombs that would allow them to target the leadership of the FARC, using the same methods by which America targets the leadership of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The multi-million dollar program also included training Colombian officials in the ways of CIA intelligence gathering (though it omitted the use of enhanced interrogation techniques) and negotiating with defecting FARC leaders.
The FARC recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of using terror techniques such as hit-and-runs, bombings, and kidnappings to attempt to overthrow the Colombian government and replace it with a leftist regime. A decade ago, when the Bush administration committed to helping then-president Álvaro Uribe take serious measures against the FARC, they were, unlike today, succeeding. With help from Hugo Chávez in the West and Rafael Correa in the Southeast, the FARC had Colombia on a path to ruin.
Then the CIA stepped in and suggested the Colombian government change its tactics.
While the CIA is not allowed to directly act in the case of Colombia (too many US officials were still scarred from the problems raised by arming the Nicaraguan Contras), they helped build Colombia an intelligence computer system and taught them how to use smart bombs. By the time Uribe stepped down to be replaced by his defense minister, President Juan Manuel Santos, the latter was able to control the smart bombs and has killed almost three times as many FARC leaders as his predecessor. The program has been a resounding success, bringing the FARC to the negotiating table and reintroducing many guerrilla leaders safely into a Colombian society that is thriving more than any nation in the region.
The story leaves readers no choice but to accept two conclusions the media struggles to make wildly unpopular: that the Bush administration’s foreign policy helped a nation thrive, and that the United States won a major battle in the War on Drugs.
President Bush, the report notes, gave CIA Director George Tenet a wide range of power regarding the control of the Colombia situation. What resulted is a program that yielded mutual trust in the countries, such that Colombia trusted the United States with teaching it how to discipline its national security infrastructure, and the United States trusted Colombia with a smart bomb. It is difficult to think of many nations the United States could currently give control of a smart bomb to and not expect certain civilian calamity. While many, as the article notes, chide the United States for its involvement in Afghanistan, the Colombia case proves that the Bush foreign policy strategy works when properly applied. Colombia might just be the crown jewel of the Bush Doctrine, insofar as the United States unilaterally involved itself in the dissolution of a terror group without first suffering a preemptive strike by the FARC.
Yes, many will argue that the FARC had been willing to sit down with the Colombia government for negotiations in Havana and that this aided the peace process more than U.S. involvement. That is giving the FARC too much credit. What this fact obscures is that during the Havana negotiations — in which socialist Venezuela took part despite increasingly exposed ties between drug trafficking and the Venezuelan government — reports show that the FARC did not slow down their line of attack. Spanish newspaper ABC reports that the FARC launched 2,075 guerrilla operations in 2013, the same amount as three years before. The turning of the tide against the FARC, therefore, is not a product of their own volition, but the product of years of cooperation between a government that knows the lay of its land and an ally with the technology to help it exploit it.
The Colombian story might not be just the only success of Bush’s War on Terror. It is arguably the only success of the War on Drugs, though it might not look like what the media conventionally labels the “War on Drugs.”
There is the domestic American War on Drugs that involves the D.A.R.E. program, sensationalization of marijuana use, and millions of taxpayers’ dollars lost in imprisoning addicts that need help rather than punishment. Those who criticize the impact of the War on Drugs on our prison system, the inconsistency of our mandatory minimum laws, and the hypocrisy of marijuana remaining illegal while millions suffer from alcoholism are not totally without merit. However, that is not the only War on Drugs.
The War on Drugs in Latin America is the War on Terrorism, the War on Child Slavery, and the War on War. The FARC are not friendly neighborhood pot dealers, nor did they ever primarily engage in selling drugs; on the contrary, they sell drugs to fund their primary occupation, terrorism. They are a radical, pseudo-Maoist group bent on taking over the Colombian government and tearing its economy apart. They have proven unscrupulous in their methods, killing over 6 million people in the nation since their establishment half a century ago and indiscriminately enlisting child soldiers to their cause. At their peak, Priest notes they turned Colombia into the murder capital of the world.
Colombia has much to thank the United States for today, and unlike many foreign nations whose attitudes towards the superpower have soured, the Colombian government continues to be grateful. “Part of the expertise and the efficiency of our operations and our special operations have been the product of better training and knowledge we have acquired from many countries, among them the United States,” President Santos told the Washington Post. Moreover, his example could help lead a new generation of so-called “neo-conservatives,” those who believe that the world is better off when America fights on the right side of history.
Santos, at least, has reason to think so.