Monday, December 18, 2017

Trump's 2017 National Security Strategy in Latin America

Donald Trump just released his National Security Strategy. Past examples have been useful to get a feel for the signals the administration wants to send. That is only partially true with Trump, who shows the same amount of incoherence on paper as we've seen in policy.

Back in 2010, I wrote a comparison of George W. Bush 2006 version and Barack Obama's in 2010:

--Bush had binary "good vs. bad" whereas Obama emphasized engagement.

--Obama mentioned Brazil more.

--Obama emphasized the importance of immigration reform, which Bush only mentioned briefly.

Obama's 2015 version is similar in those regards.

Trump takes it in a completely different direction and frames the western hemisphere largely in terms of pushing back against Chinese and Russian influence.

Competitors have found operating space in the hemisphere. China seeks to pull the region into its orbit through state-led investments and loans. Russia continues its failed politics of the Cold War by bolstering its radical Cuban allies as Cuba continues to repress its citizens. Both China and Russia support the dictatorship in Venezuela and are seeking to expand military linkages and arms sales across the region. The hemisphere’s democratic states have a shared interest in confronting threats to their sovereignty. 

It argues that "We will catalyze regional efforts to build security and prosperity through strong diplomatic engagement." This is boilerplate stuff that directly contradicts what the administration is currently doing, most notably its failure to nominate key appointees plus inaction and lack of public statements on the election crisis in Honduras. The same goes for "U.S. trade in the region is thriving," even while the administration tries to torpedo NAFTA and has prompted Latin American countries to look precisely toward countries like China for economic partnerships. It does not mention Brazil at all.

Perhaps the main consistent message is restrictionist sentiment, but that's to be expected. Maybe that's also why Mexico isn't mentioned at all. The border and trade discussions are made with no reference to our contiguous neighbor. It mentions Venezuela and Cuba several times but no other country is criticized.

What should we take from this? The short answer is more bad policy. There is no vision for U.S. leadership in the region, no acknowledgment of key players, no recognition of important allies, and no realistic strategy to counter Russian and Chinese influence. If anything, the administration is pursuing policies that will almost achieve almost the opposite of what it claims to want.


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