The Cold War and Its Aftermath in the Americas: The Search for a Synthetic Interpretation of U.S. Policy
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The Cold War and Its Aftermath in the Americas
The Search for a Synthetic Interpretation of U.S. Policy
Latin America's Cold War: An International History. By Hal Brands. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010. Pp. 408. $29.95 cloth.
Which Way Latin America? Hemispheric Politics Meets Globalization. Edited by Andrew F. Cooper and Jorge Heine. New York: United Nations University Press, 2009. Pp. xxix + 326. $36.00 paper.
The United States and Latin America after the Cold War. By Russell C. Crandall. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. xiv + 260. $85.00 cloth, $24.99 paper.
In from the Cold: Latin America's New Encounter with the Cold War. Edited by Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniela Spenser. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. Pp. ix + 439. $99.95 cloth, $26.95 paper.
The Obama Administration and the Americas: An Agenda for Change. Edited by Abraham F. Lowenthal, Ted Piccone, and Laurence Whitehead. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2009. Pp. xiv + 235. $28.95 paper.

More than two decades have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the transfer of the Cold War file from a daily preoccupation of policy makers to a more detached assessment by historians. Scholars of U.S.-Latin American relations are beginning to take advantage both of the distance in time and of newly opened archives to reflect on the four decades that, from the 1940s to the 1980s, divided the Americas, as they did much of the world. Others are seeking to understand U.S. policy and inter-American relations in the post-Cold War era, a period that not only lacks a clear definition but also still has no name. Still others have turned their gaze forward to offer policies in regard to the region for the new Obama administration. [End Page 261]

Numerous books and review essays have addressed these three subjects—the Cold War, the post-Cold War era, and current and future issues on the inter-American agenda.1 Few of these studies attempt, however, to connect the three subjects or to offer new and comprehensive theories to explain the course of U.S. policies from the beginning of the twentieth century until the present. Indeed, some works and policy makers continue to use the mind-sets of the Cold War as though that conflict were still being fought.

With the benefit of newly opened archives, some scholars have nevertheless drawn insights from the depths of the Cold War that improve our understanding of U.S. policies and inter-American relations, but they do not address the question as to whether the United States has escaped the longer cycle of intervention followed by neglect that has characterized its relations with Latin America. Another question is whether U.S. policies differ markedly before, during, and after the Cold War. In what follows, we ask whether the books reviewed here provide any insights in this regard and whether they offer a compass for the future of inter-American relations. We also offer our own thoughts as to how their various perspectives could be synthesized to address these questions more comprehensively.

Revisiting the Cold War

In reviewing the history of the Cold War in the Americas, Latin America's Cold War, by Hal Brands, and In from the Cold, edited by Gilbert Joseph and Daniela Spenser, consciously seek to include Latin American perspectives and, in the case of the latter volume, to examine the Cold War from a grassroots and a cultural angle. These are certainly welcome additions, but one needs to ask why the Latin American perspective has largely been omitted from literature on the subject. There are two reasons, empirical and theoretical.

First, almost all Latin American archives were closed to scholars; there were no freedom-of-information instruments that allowed access to government documents, and few scholars tried to interview Latin American policy makers, as they commonly did in the United States. As a result, scholars spent time looking under the lamppost of U.S. foreign policy to locate problems in inter-American relations. [End Page 262]

Even more important than the lack of data was the...