Research: Commentary

Optimism, Pessimism, and Terrorism: The United States and Colombia in 2003

Brown Journal of World Affairs, February 1, 2004 | Article

By Adam Isacson

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In August 2003 Colombia again became the center of lavish attention from Washing- ton, DC government officials. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, and Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy John Walters each paid separate visits to the South American nation. Interestingly, every Washington official arrived in Colombia empty-handed, with the exception of Rumsfeld who announced a long-expected renewal of suspended aerial narcotic surveillance. They offered nothing but words of encouragement and support for their Colombian counterparts and the current policy. During his stay in Bogotá, Grossman gushed, “We have exceeded ex- pectations, and that’s because Colombians are ready to fight for their democracy, their human rights and to have a state that functions, an economy that seriously functions.”1


Why the sudden show of interest in a country that, in spite of being the third- largest recipient of U.S. military and police aid, had dropped sharply on Washington’s list of post-11 September 2001 priorities? Was a significant policy change afoot, per- haps a move to bring Colombia to the fore of the Bush Administration’s war on terror? (“Colombia is a staunch U.S. ally in the war on terrorism,” Gen. Myers reminded reporters.2) Or was the parade of occurring officials at a time when the new U.S. am- bassador to Colombia, William Wood, had just been sworn in simply an offer of atten- tion to a non-Middle Eastern hotspot during a traditionally slow month in Washington?

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