The Clinton and Obama forces have asked us to consider who we want answering the phone at the White House at 3 AM. There is little need to speculate. We have a lot of evidence about how they will respond.
On Saturday, Colombia launched an attack on a FARC camp in Ecuador, with, Ecuador plausibly alleges, U.S. support. Colombia's President Uribe -- a close Bush ally -- lied to Ecuador's President Correa about the attack, claiming it was in "hot pursuit." Ecuador's soldiers, when they reached the scene and recovered the bodies of FARC members who had been killed, reported to Correa that they had been asleep when attacked. They were in their underwear. Correa called it a "massacre." Both Ecuador and Venezuela have moved troops to their borders with Colombia, warned Colombia about violating their sovereignty, and cut diplomatic relations with Colombia.
Colombia's attack was a flagrant violation of Ecuador's sovereignty. "Hot pursuit" was Colombia's only possible defense. There is no right in international law to engage in military attacks into another country with which you are not at war if it is not an immediate continuation of an engagement that began within your borders (unless your action is explicitly authorized by the UN Security Council.) If you say that international law doesn't matter, you're essentially saying that Colombia has special rights to violate international law because it's a U.S. ally. That may sell well inside the Beltway, but it's going to sell very poorly, in general, from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego.
While no-one should dispute that the tactics of the FARC have caused tremendous suffering -- as have the tactics of the U.S.-backed Colombian government -- it's important to consider the likely motivations of the Colombian government for carrying out this operation. Raul Reyes, the top leader in the FARC who was killed, led negotiations that resulted in the FARC releasing six political hostages to Venezuela, including four a week ago. This is a pattern for the Bush-backed Colombian government -- to meet the "threat" of successful diplomacy with military escalation. The Colombian government, with vigorous U.S. support, is taking actions whose probable consequence is to reduce the likelihood that FARC hostages will be released -- including three American captives.
Now consider the statements of the Democratic presidential candidates. First, Obama:
Obama Statement on Recent Events near Colombia's Borders - March 03, 2008
"The Colombian people have suffered for more than four decades at the hands of a brutal terrorist insurgency, and the Colombian government has every right to defend itself against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The recent targeted killing of a senior FARC leader must not be used as a pretense to ratchet up tensions or to threaten the stability of the region. The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have a responsibility to ensure that events not spiral out of control, and to peacefully address any disputes through active diplomacy with the help of international actors."
Obama is absolutely right, of course, that nothing should used as a "pretense" to ratchet up tensions or threaten the stability of the region. But this glosses over the apparent fact that Colombia flagrantly, deliberately, and with premeditation violated Ecuador's sovereignty. Ecuador is a U.S. ally. The U.S., as a member of the Organization of American States, has an obligation to defend Ecuador's sovereignty. If you say that doesn't matter, then what you're saying is that a country like Ecuador can't rely on the U.S. to behave in accordance with international law, and has to turn to countries like Venezuela to help defend its sovereignty (as it has.) In this assertion, you'd have a lot of agreement in Ecuador, including from its U.S.-educated president.
Obama says, "The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have a responsibility to ensure that events not spiral out of control, and to peacefully address any disputes through active diplomacy with the help of international actors." That's absolutely correct. He might also note that the U.S. - which is a protagonist through its role in Colombia -- shares this obligation.
Now let's consider Hillary's statement:
Statement from Hillary Clinton - 3/3/2008
"Hugo Chavez's order yesterday to send ten battalions to the Colombian border is unwarranted and dangerous. The Colombian state has every right to defend itself against drug trafficking terrorist organizations that have kidnapped innocent civilians, including American citizens. By praising and supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Chavez is openly siding with terrorists that threaten Colombian democracy and the peace and security of the region. Rather than criticizing Colombia's actions in combating terrorist groups in the border regions, Venezuela and Ecuador should work with their neighbor to ensure that their territories no longer serve as safe havens for terrorist groups. After reviewing this situation, I am hopeful that the government of Ecuador will determine that its interests lie in closer cooperation with Colombia on this issue. Hugo Chavez must call a halt to this provocative action. As president, I will work with our partners in the region and the OAS to support democracy, promote an end to conflict, and to press Chavez to change course."
This is 100% wrong. Hillary acts as if the "event" is not the Colombian attack in Ecuador, but the Venezuelan response (Ecuador, the country whose sovereignty was violated, is an afterthought.) According to Hillary, Colombia has "every right" to "defend itself" by violating Ecuador's sovereignty -- that's the event -- but if Venezuela sends troops to its side of the Venezuela-Colombia border -- its own national territory -that's "unwarranted and dangerous." Hillary says that "after reviewing the situation," she is hopeful that Ecuador will determine that its interests lie in "closer cooperation with Colombia" -- the country that just flagrantly violated its sovereignty -- than with Venezuela, its ally that is speaking up against the violation. She is hopeful that Ecuador will lick the hand that beats it. As president, she will work with our partners in the region and the OAS to press Venezuela to change course. Good luck with that. It's the U.S. and Colombia that need pressure to change course -- to forswear violations of international law and to choose real diplomacy.
Judging from Hillary's statement, we should expect no meaningful change in U.S. policy towards Colombia, Ecuador, or Venezuela (which she falsely claims is a dictatorship) if she is elected president -- unless it is a change to make it worse.
UPDATE: Ecuador says it was in talks with rebels to release 12 hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans, that the talks were in an advanced stage, and that the process was thwarted by the Colombian raid.