Monday, August 03, 2020

Rubio's Influence on Latin America Policy: Much Ado About Nothing?

Interesting article in Politico about Marco Rubio's influence on Latin America policy, like the reference to him as the "virtual Secretary of State for Latin America." But something nagged me. Something seemed a but off about the influence. I mean, he's clearly influential, but...what? It finally crystallized as I thought about what Latin America policy would be like if Marco Rubio had no influence.

The answer is barely different.

He is viewed as having outsized influence on Venezuela and Cuba policy and keeping the administration centered on them. Makes sense. But in Venezuela, he's not getting what he wants, which is TPS and more interest in a military solution. He gets the oil embargo, I guess, but people like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo would've wanted that too. For Cuba, he's just getting establishment Republican policy, which would've been identical no matter what. Roll back Obama, love the embargo, no dialogue.

He's seen as contributing to ignoring the rest of Latin America, especially Mexico. Well, OK, except that for Trump, U.S. policy toward Mexico is driven from within the White House and would've been like that no matter what. Remember how Kushner ignored the State Department and everybody else. Further, Trump doesn't care about the rest of Latin America, so I wonder whether anyone could've convinced him otherwise. Trump likes Rubio's obsession with Cuba and Venezuela because it's about his own re-election, and he doesn't care about Latin America policy not related to re-election. Do you really think that absent Rubio, Trump would care about South America? He insults Colombia, our strongest ally, all the time, and that's not because of Marco.

This bring me to my next point. Rubio has been successful in getting his acolytes appointed to policy positions. I recently wrote about Carlos Trujillo in Global Americans. For Rubio, "personnel is policy," according to his office, and he pursues it with petty abandon. But in the Trump administration, the adage isn't true. Trump doesn't care what State Department officials say. However, they do have an impact on bilateral relations on the ground, and so can easily worsen them by showing ignorance about regional issues. I don't know if that's been the case or not.

This is all one big counterfactual. Would there be dramatic differences if Marco Rubio were not involved so deeply? He's got influence, but how much does it matter except for his ego and his cronies?


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