Here’s something you may not have thought about. We have, literally, dozens of military bases on or near the Mexican border. They include

  • Yuma Marine Corps Air Station
  • Yuma Proving Ground
  • Fort Huachuca
  • Fort Bliss
  • a half dozen different facilities in San Diego

My back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that we have as many as 100,000 troops stationed in those bases. And then there’s our facility at Guantanamo Bay. Somehow those facilities are never described as “massing on the Mexican border” or coercing Mexico or Cuba but, of course, they are and that’s not lost on either the people of Mexico or Cuba.

With that prelude let’s turn to Peter Beinart’s New York Times op-ed on “spheres of influence”:

At the heart of the current crisis between Washington and Moscow is this: Vladimir Putin has massed troops on Russia’s border with Ukraine and implied that he may invade unless he receives a guarantee that Ukraine will never join NATO. The Biden administration rejects that demand out of hand. Powerful nations, it insists, cannot demand that their neighbors fall under their “spheres of influence.” As Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken put it last month, “one country does not have the right to dictate the policies of another or to tell that country with whom it may associate; one country does not have the right to exert a sphere of influence. That notion should be relegated to the dustbin of history.”

It’s a noble principle, just not one the United States abides by.

The United States has exercised a sphere of influence in its own hemisphere for almost 200 years, since President James Monroe, in his seventh annual message to Congress, declared that the United States “should consider any attempt” by foreign powers “to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.”

Listening to Mr. Blinken, you might think the United States long ago deposited this prerogative over the foreign policies of its southern neighbors in history’s dustbin. It has done no such thing. In 2018, Donald Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, called the Monroe Doctrine “as relevant today as it was the day it was written.” The following year, his national security adviser, John Bolton, boasted that “the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.”

To be sure, the United States doesn’t enforce the Monroe Doctrine in the same way it did in the first half of the 20th century, when it regularly deployed the Marines to Central America and the Caribbean, or during the Cold War, when the C.I.A. helped topple leftist governments. Washington’s methods have changed. It now prefers using economic coercion to punish governments that ally with adversaries and challenge its regional dominion.

Does Russia intend to coerce Ukraine by putting troops on its border? Of course it does. It doesn’t want an actively hostile Ukraine with foreign troops and weaponry pointed at it anymore than we want an actively hostile Mexico or Cuba with Chinese or Russian troops and Chinese or Russian weapons pointed at us.

IMO the cognitive dissonance on this issue in Washington is actually worse than Mr. Beinart leads us to believe. I think far too many U. S. foreign policy experts find it outrageous that Russia should have interests of its own at all. Why, who do they think they are?

Do I think we should remove our troops from Cuba or from the Mexican border? Of course not. But we should maintain a realistic and frank attitude towards them and our interests than presently appears to be the case.

5 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    That is not a good comparison. The presence of a military base is not a “massing” of troops. Bases in the US are not operational facilities – they are garrisons for administration and training and the ones along the southern border have been there for decades.

    Ft. Huachuca, for example, is primarily a training base for intelligence personnel. There are no units that could do anything at all to Mexico or anyone else.

    That is not remotely the same as what Russian is doing. Russia is deploying operational combat forces along with the necessary logistics and other enablers to specifically allow Russia to actually attack Ukraine.

  • steve Link

    What Andy said. If we went from 100 to 100,000 troops over the course of 3 months, that would be massing.


  • I think you need to consider the context more closely. How long would those bases remain non-operational were Mexico to become openly hostile?

    My basic point is that Ukraine can and should be free but that it should not be hostile to Russia is a fact of life and we should facilitate that rather than facilitating hostility towards Russia which is largely what we’re doing.

  • Grey Shambler Link

    “hostility towards Russia”
    They’re used to that.
    Military minds remember Stalin cut a deal with Hitler to avert war, they figure Putin will cut a deal too.
    America has interests as well, and they grow year by year.

  • Andy Link

    “I think you need to consider the context more closely. How long would those bases remain non-operational were Mexico to become openly hostile?”

    Yes, that would be a different case. But that is another reason why bases near Mexico and Russia’s current actions are not comparable.

    To say nothing of the different histories – Ukraine never being an independent state and Mexico never being part of the US.

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