- U.S. Presidents and Latin American Interventions: Pursuing Regime Change in the Cold War
What explained the likelihood of U.S. intervention in Latin America during the Cold War? Michael Grow initially set out to examine the relative influence of economic and security factors in such interventions but soon concluded that neither of these explanations was persuasive. Instead, he argues, the explanation for these U.S. interventions encompassed “three entirely different factors—U.S. international credibility, U.S. domestic politics, and lobbying by Latin American and Caribbean political actors” (p. xi).
Grow organizes his book into eight chapters, each of which features a case study of U.S. intervention: Guatemala in 1954, Cuba in 1961, British Guiana in 1963, the Dominican Republic in 1965, Chile in 1970, Nicaragua in 1981, Grenada in 1983, and Panama in 1989. Each of these chapters presents an admirable summary of the respective case. Yet, Grow emphasizes that his intention is not simply to provide “a descriptive history of the interventions themselves,” and he refers readers who seek detailed accounts of such interventions to the works of others. Rather, his book is “about causation and causation alone” during the “interventionist decision-making process” (p. xiii).
It is a tribute to Grow’s impressive scholarly achievement in this book that he does in fact present excellent descriptive histories of the interventions themselves. Moreover, he organizes each empirical chapter analytically, which greatly facilitates comparisons across the cases. In each chapter, Grow systematically explores highly detailed evidence to shed light on the relative importance of the five arguments that are at the heart of his analysis; namely, economic, security, credibility, domestic politics, and Latin American lobbying. Grow is also an excellent writer and a polished storyteller, all of which make his book valuable for scholars, students, and other interested readers.
For a book about causation, however, Grow devotes remarkably few pages to the comparative analytical task—five pages in the preface and ten pages in the conclusions. He never addresses the most common objection to a research design of this type; namely, the selection bias on the dependent variable. He has selected for study only cases that resulted in a U.S. intervention. Each empirical chapter serves as parallel empirical demonstration of the same points; namely, the relative unimportance of economic and security factors and the greater salience of Grow’s three preferred explanations.
Yet, the history of the same years is full of examples that did not lead to U.S. intervention, even though they shared some of the traits of the cases that did lead to such intervention. For example, in the early 1950s revolutionary situations developed in Guatemala and Bolivia. The United States acted to overthrow the revolutionary [End Page 145] leaders in Guatemala but worked out a mutually satisfactory accommodation with Bolivia. Let us stipulate, as Grow does, that neither economic nor security factors mattered in either case. Even so, the Bolivian case, no less than the Guatemalan case, sent international signals about U.S. credibility and was affected by the lobbying of displaced elites in Bolivia. Why the difference in the likelihood of U.S. forcible intervention?
Consider a second example. A left-wing military regime headed by General Juan Velasco was in power in Peru at the very time the U.S. government began to engineer its intervention against Chile’s President Salvador Allende. This Peruvian government had much more extensive military relations with the Soviet Union than Allende’s Chile ever did and purchased considerable Soviet military equipment. Hundreds of Soviet military trainers were deployed to Peru. The Peruvian government expropriated many U.S. and other international firms. At the time of Allende’s overthrow, Peru had negotiated fewer compensation agreements with expropriated firms than had Chile. Why did it serve U.S. international credibility to accommodate Velasco’s Peru but not Salvador Allende’s Chile?
In these two pairs of cases, one might argue that part of the difference was ideology. U.S. Cold War elites would intervene in...