The Foreign Service Journal, September 2006

The Paranoid Style Empire’s Workshop — Latin America, the United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism Greg Grandin, Metropolitan Books, 2006, $25.00, hardcover, 286 pages. R EVIEWED BY D ENNIS J ETT If there is one thing the far right and the far left have in common, it is paranoia. Both political extremes see grand conspiracies in things they oppose. Empire’s Workshop — Latin America, the United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism argues that Latin America has served as a proving ground for U.S. imperi- alism for the last 250 years — a his- tory author Greg Grandin sees as a dress rehearsal for what is happening in the Middle East today. In the process of making this argu- ment, Grandin finds no heroes —only co-conspirators. Both the National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House are in on the plot. Former President Bill Clinton is included because he “embraced free- market absolutism and American mil- itarism as solutions to the hemi- sphere’s woes.” As a result, his admin- istration only “served as a bridge between [Ronald] Reagan’s resurgent nationalism and George W. Bush’s revolutionary imperialism.” In his search for villains, Grandin becomes deliberately misleading or, at least, makes factual errors that some- one who teaches Latin American his- tory at New York University should have avoided. For instance, he de- scribes the El Salvadoran military and oligarchy as preternaturally violent, but then adds: “Their solution to the crisis, according to Reagan’s own ambassador, Robert White, was apoc- alyptic: the country must be ‘des- troyed totally, the economy must be wrecked, unemployment must be massive,’ and a ‘cleansing’ of some ‘300 or 400 or 500,000 people must be carried out.’” Grandin gives no hint of what Amb. White, who was a Carter appointee, thought of that idea. Worse still, he neglects to men- tion that White was removed less than two weeks after Reagan’s inauguration precisely because he believed vio- lence was not the answer. Corporations are also included in Grandin’s conspiracy, but he again resorts to gross distortion to make his case. He asserts private contractors “advised Peru to shoot down a plane that turned out to be carrying not drugs but U.S. missionaries.” The Miami Herald article he cites in mak- ing this accusation only states that the contractors “mistakenly helped tar- get” the plane. In fact, they repeated- ly warned the Peruvian Air Force jet to hold its fire until the aircraft’s iden- tity was established, but the Peruvians shot it down anyway. Grandin’s argument would have been better served had he been less ambitious as well as less ideological. He covers a broad sweep of history with no chronological or thematic coherence. And he spends a lot of time blaming capitalism for the world’s woes, leaving the impression that Latin Americans have no respon- sibility for the shape the region is in. Grandin could have made his cen- tral point quite effectively had he lim- ited himself to showing how Central America in the 1980s was the proving ground for Iraq today. Some of the same apparatchiks, like Elliot Abrams and Otto Reich, pop up in both administrations, and their earlier dis- information operations were clear precursors of Karen Hughes. (If we really cared about public opinion abroad, incidentally, she never would have been placed in charge of public diplomacy. But since propagandizing the audience at home is her main task, she is perfect.) Grandin could have devoted more time to demonstrating that the death squads we encouraged in Central America are being replicated in Iraq today. The Iraqi security forces are probably contributing more bodies to Grandin could have made his central point more effectively by showing how Central America in the 1980s was the proving ground for Iraq today. B OOKS 82 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 6