President Biden’s foreign policy of choice is to appease America’s adversaries and ostracize its friends. Case in point: Latin America and the Caribbean, where the administration lifts sanctions on Cuba’s Communist regime and Venezuela’s narco-dictatorship while imposing them on partners like El Salvador.
For a president who claims to love democracy, it’s a curious choice.
Two weeks ago, I made my first official visit to El Salvador and witnessed its story firsthand. For decades, the Central-American nation was little more than a playground for ruthless gangs. “See, hear, and shut up”—the gangs’ menacing message to ordinary people—took the place of law and order. Public shootouts were commonplace. And anyone who resisted extortion was brutally murdered. I recently met parents who told me their son was killed for their refusal to pay protection money. This was the daily reality that millions of Salvadorans faced—until President Nayib Bukele cracked down hard against the criminal element.
In a span of two days, from March 25 to March 26, 2022, nearly 100 people died in El Salvador from gang violence. The following day, in cooperation with the Salvadoran legislature, President Bukele announced a state of emergency and directed the military to round up the gangs. The military did just that. This wasn’t about arresting a few low-level thugs or a handful of gang leaders to make a statement. Virtually all dangerous criminals in the country found themselves swept up. In the words of local news media, the gangs now “do not exist.”
It takes more than arrests to restore law and order, but it’s hard to overstate how much things have improved. Children play on soccer fields that were once whizzing with bullets. Families go out at night without fear of being murdered and mutilated. Businesses sell their wares, no protection money required. In short, people are free and flourishing. No wonder President Bukele’s approval rating is approaching 90 percent.
All this hasn’t impressed the Biden administration, however. Far from backing Bukele, the White House has sanctioned key members of his government. That should come as no surprise, given that Democratic Party activists—the same people who glorify mass-murderer Fidel Castro—now badmouth El Salvador as an emerging dictatorship and a bastion of “illiberalism.” The move reveals how ideology, not democracy, is driving America’s leftists and the president beholden to them.
Despite what you hear from the Biden administration and left-wing pundits, Bukele is a democratically elected leader who has enacted reforms with the collaboration of legislators and the people who elected him. I would be the first to condemn any tyrannical move from Bukele, but I also think it’s absurd to criticize him for giving Salvadoran people their freedom back.
Simply put, the left is so allergic to law enforcement that it would rather see Barrio 18 and MS-13 roaming the streets than criminals locked up. Nothing else explains our open southern border or the process by which major American cities that were once the pride and joy of this country—San Francisco, Chicago, New York—became drug-infested warzones. It’s hypocritical, because Democrats had no problem with using emergency powers to shut down the entire economy during the pandemic.
Projected abroad, that allergy to order makes for terrible foreign policy. After all, our hemisphere is an increasingly hostile place. Traditional adversaries like Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua have grown even more tyrannical under this administration. Traditional allies like Colombia, dissatisfied with US leadership, are opening doors to Moscow and Beijing. Now is not the time to push a partner like El Salvador into the arms of our opponents for being too tough on crime.
This isn’t a call to make a celebrity out of Nayib Bukele or to ignore the fragility of his nation’s democratic institutions. It’s simply a call to inject some common sense into our treatment of friendly nations. President Biden seems to think he can lecture and sanction anyone he wants without detriment to our own national security. He couldn’t be further from the truth.