Craddock Looks Back on Two Years at Helm of U.S. Southern Command
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
MIAMI, Oct. 18, 2006 Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock -- John to his friends -- has been at the helm of U.S. Southern Command for two years. As he prepared to relinquish command of this South Florida headquarters in a ceremony tomorrow morning, he looked back on positive trends, and a few disappointments, in the political and security situation in Latin America.
“I know there are many with pessimistic views of Latin America and the Caribbean Basin in terms of democracies (and) populist movements,” Craddock said in an interview earlier this week at the SOUTHCOM headquarters. “But I think if you take it on balance and you look at the entire region, there’s cause for optimism.”
At least 12 countries in Latin America have held elections this year, and riots and protests over election results are down throughout the region, he said. “As these democracies, however strong or fragile they may be, continue to exist, grow (and) mature, I think that, over time, the trends will be positive,” he said.
The general explained that the U.S. government approaches engagement in Latin America with a holistic approach, focusing on encouraging representative democracies and open markets. “If you look around the world, historically and currently, they are a proven recipe of development progress for the betterment of people’s lives,” he said.
As a military organization, U.S. Southern Command’s contribution to these efforts comes in the security and stability fronts. “We recognize that without security and stability, the opportunity for democracy to flourish and mature, for open markets to attract investors” would falter, Craddock said.
As another sign of progress in the region, Craddock said he believes governments are recognizing they have an obligation to eliminate poverty and reduce corruption and inequality in their countries. He said he believes these three conditions increase what he calls “street power.”
Up until a few years ago, when democratic processes failed, people “reverted to the street,” Craddock said. “The ‘street power’ process ensued in several countries.”
The democratic process is complicated in many parts of Latin America, with several rounds of elections and as many as 20 political parties in some countries. But complicated processes and widely varied political parties are no threat to democracy in the region, Craddock said.
He added that the true threat to democracy is extremism -- “extreme viewpoints from left or right that cause people to attach themselves to potentially violent means, to abandon the democratic processes, to abandon the rule of law.”
The general said he once read that the true test of democracy is whether people can hire or fire their governments, and throughout the Southern Command area of responsibility, people in most countries can hire and fire their governments through the electoral process. “So if you want to apply that litmus test … to the nations in the region, I think, other than a couple, it pretty much applies across the region,” Craddock said. “They can hire and fire their government.”
During his time at SOUTHCOM, Craddock said, he believes countries in the region are communicating and cooperating more, which is a good sign of continued progress. “Any time people talk, any time they dialogue, they have conversations, discussions, they reduce the potential for friction, for misunderstanding,” he said.
Because of this increased communication, countries in the region now have more common understanding of both the opportunities -- market economies, representative democracies -- and the challenges -- transnational threats, natural disasters -- of the 21st century, Craddock said.
Still, despite these positive trends, Craddock leaves the command disappointed at regional progress in at least two areas: poverty reduction and theater security cooperation among U.S. government agencies.
“The fact that with the talent, the resources and, I think, the opportunities, the poverty reduction in the region is far slower than in other parts of the world,” he said. “The elimination of poverty, in my judgment, is a key area that has to happen.”
Craddock said he feels progress in theater security cooperation within the U.S. government is lagging because so many agencies have “equities” in the process: Congress, DoD, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Agency, and the U.S. Agency for International Development are but a few. Interagency cooperation is “bureaucratic, it’s cumbersome, and I think that for the 21st century we’ve got … to decide on how to streamline that process and make it work better,” he said.
Craddock leaves Southern Command to assume command of U.S. European Command and NATO military forces. In Europe, he’ll manage NATO’s expansion in Afghanistan, a growing crisis in Darfur, Sudan, and lingering security issues in the Balkans. “It’s a different set of challenges,” he said. “I think the front-burner issue for NATO is Afghanistan. That’ll take a lot of time (and) effort.”
Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis will assume command of SOUTHCOM after most recently serving in the Pentagon as military assistant to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.