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Picking Up the Pieces
Colombia’s Catastrophic Success

The U.S. government’s Plan Colombia worked almost despite itself.

Appeared in: Volume 9, Number 3 | Published on: December 19, 2013
Russell Crandall is a professor of international politics and American foreign policy at Davidson College, a former national security aide to President Obama, and author of the forthcoming book America’s Dirty Wars: Irregular Warfare from 1776 to the War on Terror (Cambridge University Press, 2013).
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  • qet

    Very interesting! Some thoughts:

    (1) Mano dura/”security first and everything else later”–Hobbes vindicated. Again.
    (2) Your attribution of success at least partially to, in your words “Colombian elites, made up overwhelmingly of the roughly 37 percent of the population that is of European ‘white’ descent” and “educated political class, entrepreneurial genes and vibrant urban-based civil society” will likely draw fire from some US intellectual quarters but probably your service to Pres. Obama will save you (fortunately your resume does not mention Pres. Bush!). The implications are perfectly credible and logical, of course (one wants to say obvious) which will merely add fuel to said fire.

    (3) Surely there is at least one fundamental lesson here for US policy vis-a-vis other civil conflicts around the globe: whatever roles US money, US weapons and US professional military and police training have played, the Colombians are resolving it themselves which means the positive outcome will likely be permanent. No UN Blue Helmets, no “responsibility to protect” nonsense, no “shuttle diplomacy” or similar outside humanitarian intervention nonsense: the conflict is burning itself out (Luttwak vindicated). In particular, the political reconstruction (you mention “actual acts of justice, restitution and even the taboo subject of land reform. Colombia’s democratic government passed legislation in 2011 that for the first time allows citizens to be recognized as victims of the state or other armed actors. It also recognized the existence of an internal armed conflict, something once considered taboo, as a potential legitimation of the insurgencies”) is the work of Colombian politics and NOT some self-righteous cadre of international law professors insisting that justice can only come through the ICC, the IAHRC or some ad hoc tribunal applying the latest fashions in “international human rights law.”
    (4) One also hopes that certain segments of the US and Western intelligentsia and foreign policy establishment will learn from the failure of the initial overture to FARC under the prior regime. That step should just be skipped next time. To those who might argue that we couldn’t have known that the peace overture to the Marxist-Leninists (usually considered to be of the LEFT) would be so violently refused, I say that such a response was foreseeable and thus constituted gross negligence on the part of the government according to the same reasoning that prevails in US negligence and malpractice cases every day of the week. How many additional Colombians were killed or maimed as a result of that overture that would not have been had it not been made?

    • free_agent

      You mention “Colombian elites, made up overwhelmingly of the roughly 37 percent of the population that is of European ‘white’ descent”. I think you’re not reading carefully enough. Intellectual types will see this as admission that Euro-Columbians have taken all the wealth from the other Columbians.

  • javier millan

    very interesting articlle, but you missed a crucial point : the fact that large areas of colombian territory along its borders with venezuela and ecuador are controlled by FARC with active support by its governments.They use this areas for coca growing and traffic and .when colombian forces try to attack them they simply cross the borders where they got a sanctuary. Another important point is the growing mutual relationship between FARC , mexican cartels, terrorist groups like hezbollah and the venezuelan government.This associacions are supported by external players like Iran and Russia who could use them as a tool to wreak havoc in the western hemisphere, destabilize it and eventually challenge USA in its own backyard.Remember that right now Venezuela is the second largest buyer of russian weapons in the world. As long as this relationship remains it would be impossible to defeat FARC or force them to undertake a serious peace process.

  • free_agent

    You write, “economic depravity”.

    You want to write, “economic deprivation”. “depravity” is derived from “deprave”, which means “to corrupt”.

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