Sunday, November 30, 2008

More Latin America Op-Eding

There has been a surge of published advice for Obama with regard to Latin America policy. Today's version comes from the San Francisco Chronicle, and mostly follows the main points of the Brookings Institution study.

I am repeating myself, but it is noteworthy how similar they all are. You must make reference to an "opportunity," in this particular case an "enormous" opportunity. Then you list some specific policy choices. Sometimes the policy choices are ridiculous (e.g. the NYT calling to bring the IMF into Latin America more deeply). Sometimes, as in this particular article, the policy choices are OK but the language is revealing for its assumptions about the dominant role the U.S. should play.

  • We want "cooperation" but this is our "traditional backyard" and so if China or Russia seeks trading partners, it represents "prowling" regardless of what Latin American leaders think.
  • The way to send a regional message of "cooperation" is to sign an FTA with Colombia, because it is critical for Obama to "morph" into a free trade advocate. Whether Latin American leaders believe Colombia to be the test case for cooperation is not explored.
  • Overall, we want "cooperation" but policy changes toward Cuba will create a "quiet storm of U.S. influence." How or why this is the case is not explained.
I will repeat myself some more, but it's important. In general, these opinions do indeed offer some useful policy prescriptions, and I hope many of them are pursued (especially with regard to Cuba, the drug war, and immigration). But if we truly have an "enormous opportunity" then let's be more bold, and rethink our relationship with the region as a whole. I have yet to see anyone suggest that.


Tambopaxi 11:54 AM  


Liked your two postings on U.S. policy/strategy options on LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) for the Obama Administration.

You mentioned key concept of flexibility and a flexible mindset in your posting of November 28, and I think that sums it up.

I might add that there's strong tendency of editorial writers and policy types in the White House and State to come up with general, one-size-fits-all vision for the region couched in platitudes and generalities, as you say. Thereafter, the U.S. attempts to shoehorn each country in the general vision, thus forcing each country into the unnecesarily defensive positions to which you refer. In essence, we keep coming up with regional, top-down paradigms which present broad,"you're for us or against us", choices to leaders in the hemisphere, and this approach simply hasn't worked, because the "down" part of that paradigm frequently refuses to go along with what the "top" (read, Washington, etc.) posits as the regional vision.

I submit that, dia en hoy, we should work from the bottom up in developing regional visions. By that, I mean that we should figure would what our policy should be vis-a-vis each and every country as our first priority. Once we've done that, we should come up with a regional vision/stragegy statement that takes into account those varied and various approaches and seeks to describe in regional terms how we propose to deal with LAC.

I realize that such an approach would make it nearly impossible for editorialists, State policy makers and Brookings Institute sorts to issue regional bromides as you put it, but too bad; broad-brush platitudes such as those coming out of Brookings, WHA/PPC, or the NYTimes are cliches at the least and counter-productive straight-jackets at worst, for field practicioners of foreign policy on the ground in our Embassies....

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