Frank Mora has an op-ed in the new Latin America Goes Global website. He makes a similar argument to what I've repeated many times, which is that the commentariat does not measure U.S. influence very well.
Perhaps most perplexing is when analysts point to the vacuous anti-American rhetoric of increasingly irrelevant Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivian Alliance for the People of Our Americas—ALBA) or when governments refuse to toe the line on U.S. policy as indicators of erosion.
Worst of all, pundits like to point to the dramatic decline in economic and military aid or the absence of an all-encompassing policy with an exciting moniker such as the Good Neighbor Policy or the Alliance for Progress as proof that the U.S. is ignoring the region and therefore ceding influence to others with a clear anti-American agenda. The desire for some anachronistic overarching policy or catch phrase for the U.S. leadership in the region are misguided—if not out and out facile—indicators for evaluating effective U.S. support and leadership in the region.
Yes! As I've argued, grand strategy often mean bad strategy, so we're better off without one.
Rather than focusing old time notions of levels of economic and military aid or large inspiring policy declarations, analysts and policymakers should focus their attention where policy and its return (i.e. influence) is most impactful—communication, contact and exchange that improve the daily lives of Latin American and Caribbean citizens.
This is also true, but since it's hard to measure it doesn't receive adequate attention. It's much easier to note the lack of grand strategy, or focus on rhetoric, or tally off foreign aid numbers. There is a lot happening on the ground and that's what we should try to focus on.
Oddly enough, this is a problem both for the left (which sees lack of influence as a victory) and the right (which see lack of influence as President Obama's fault). They're both insistent and both wrong.