Monday, August 04, 2008

More on Obama, McCain, and the Caribbean

A few weeks ago I offered some tentative observations on what an Obama administration or a McCain administration may mean for foreign policy in Latin America. Last week, the Miami Herald looked more specifically at what either an Obama or McCain administration might mean for the Caribbean.

I strongly disagree already with those analysts who think McCain's stance on free trade would be good for the region. We saw in the 90s how free trade in Latin America ravaged far more stable and larger economies than there are in the Caribbean. And as for any policy experience McCain may be able to legitimately claim, I don't believe any of it he can claim for specific experience in and/or knowledge about the Caribbean. It's really not hard to know what McCain's adivor means when he says ''John McCain's vision for Latin America and the Caribbean basin is based on a belief . . . we need to develop an approach founded on peace and security, shared prosperity, democracy and freedom and mutual respect"; it means that he reserves the right to tell and, if necessary, to try to coerce the South American continent and the Caribbean (though let me stress here that the way the U.S. deals with the Caribbean region and with Latin America more broadly, something the article briefly blurs, are really two very different matters, both historically and presently) into doing what we think will benefit the U.S. the most, with barely any genuine concern for the goodwill of the other countries.

Of the three schools of thought voiced in the article, I agree most with those who "see the Caribbean as a low priority for each [Obama and McCain] and express little optimism that either will produce radical change," and I think Peter Hakim's right in claiming that "the lack of focus by either candidate on the region is a hint of what's to come regardless of who wins in November." Certainly, Obama's stance towards Cuba and the insistence he'll open a dialogue with Raul Castro is a major difference between him and McCain, but beyond that, and in the region more broadly, neither has really said anything, and there's no reason to believe they'll really have the Caribbean within their first 10 priorities (and I'm being generous here).

And that's not necessarily a criticism. Given the situations with the American economy, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the ongoing insistence that only the U.S. can oversee a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, the need to confront growing, more egalitarian trade deals with rising giants like China, Brazil, and India, the Caribbean truly is a low priority for our next president. Sure, it would be great if we could try to crack down some on the wealthy who flee to the Caribbean for its status as a "tax haven," but that shouldn't be within the first 30 steps to fix the economy. And I suppose it's fine that "Barbadians [now you know what to call them] feel good" about Obama possibly becoming president, but what bearing should that have at all on whether the president does more for the region or not? Certainly, building up goodwill is fine and all, and if the next president can benignly and non-imperialistically or non-paternalistically become involved in the Caribbean, I guess that's fine. I just don't really see it happening that much in the next four years, given how things are and what the global geopolitical context is.