From Trump’s desire to invade Venezuela to Britain’s forgotten Jim Crow riots, a special US foreign relations edition of this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
As a meeting last August in the Oval Office to discuss sanctions on Venezuela was concluding, President Donald Trump turned to his top aides and asked an unsettling question: With a fast unraveling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can’t the U.S. just simply invade the troubled country? The suggestion stunned those present at the meeting, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom have since left the administration. This account of the previously undisclosed conversation comes from a senior administration official familiar with what was said.
In an exchange that lasted around five minutes, McMaster and others took turns explaining to Trump how military action could backfire and risk losing hard-won support among Latin American governments to punish President Nicolas Maduro for taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship, according to the official. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions. But Trump pushed back. Although he gave no indication he was about to order up military plans, he pointed to what he considered past cases of successful gunboat diplomacy in the region, according to the official, like the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s. [continue reading]
Wall Street Journal
President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of State George Marshall successfully pressed America’s war allies to create the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade more than 70 years ago. Leaders across the globe, mindful of how economic nationalism in the 1930s had contributed to the devastation of World War II, wanted to open the world up again. The agreement focused on slashing of tariffs and other barriers to trade—bringing unprecedented prosperity to hundreds of millions of people. The GATT, which evolved into the World Trade Organization in 1995, became the world’s most successful international economic experiment.
But now economic nationalism and tariff wars are back. President Trump regards the WTO with disdain and would like to withdraw. He has ordered aides to come up with ways to inflict punitive tariffs on U.S. trading partners anytime he wishes—in clear violation of the system the WTO administers. And it’s not only talk. Mr. Trump and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have taken a wrecking ball to the legal machinery sustaining the global trade regime. [continue reading]
Most historians of US foreign policy approach scholarship on 21st-century events with caution: If the diplomatic cables won’t be released for another three decades, why bother telling an incomplete story of the United States’ role in the world? But at this year’s conference of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR)—the leading organization in the field of diplomatic history—historians grappled with the controversial legacy of retired general David Petraeus, former CIA director and architect of the troop “surges” in Washington’s post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After SHAFR announced that Petraeus would give the keynote address at this year’s meeting, held June 21–23 in Philadelphia, several SHAFR members, led by New York University clinical associate professor Hannah Gurman, wrote an open letter contesting his invitation. Although a few junior professors were among the many organizers of the letter (a considerable risk for those hoping to get tenure) several notable senior historians, including Andrew Bacevich, Greg Grandin, Alfred McCoy, Lloyd Gardner, Carol Anderson, and Christian Appy, signed on. The letter, signed by 277 scholars in total, contested the invitation on the grounds of the former general’s particular legacy: “Petraeus played a major role in shaping the failed counterinsurgency wars of the post 9/11 era that left a legacy of destruction and devastation in Iraq and Afghanistan and destabilized the entire Middle East, the consequences of which we are still living with today.” [continue reading]
On Independence Day, 3.7 million Puerto Ricans will be celebrating America’s birthday, but they would also like to be reveling in their own liberation. Twice in the past five years, a majority of Puerto Ricans have voted in favor of becoming a state, rather than remaining a territory or being a sovereign nation. On the campaign, President Trump said that Puerto Ricans should be able to determine their own political status, and Congress should follow through on whatever the people decided. There are 36 cosponsors for the bipartisan Puerto Rico Admission Act of 2018, including the chairmen of the House Natural Resources Committee and its Indian and Insular Affairs Subcommittee. The legislation would create a task force to determine which laws needed to be amended or repealed before the territory can become a state, and recommend economic measure that would aid the transition. . . .
The record length of time that Puerto Rico has been a territory likely accounts for the astonishing lack of knowledge that its residents are citizens, which in turn has an impact on support outside of the island. A Morning Consult poll, taken just days after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, found that only 54 percent knew that its residents are U.S. citizens. An abysmal 37 percent of those 18 to 29 were aware of this fact, while 64 percent of those 65 and older had the correct information. [continue reading]
Bullet holes found in the wood surrounds of the NatWest Bank in Bamber Bridge, in Lancashire in the north of England, in the late 1980s led to the rediscovery of an event that saw some of the few shots fired in anger in England during World War II, which had been largely forgotten. These were not shots fired by invading troops, but by American GIs against their own military police.
Intrigued by his discovery, Clinton Smith, the black British maintenance worker who discovered the holes in the woodwork, asked locals how they could have got there. He was told that they were the remnants of the Battle of Bamber Bridge, when black American troops stationed in the town faced off against white US Army military police on the night of June 24-25, 1943. [continue reading]