Friday, April 17, 2009

The Goals and Missions of the U.S. Heading into the Summit of the Americas

The Fifth Summit of the Americas begins today in Trinidad and Tobago, and heading into it, Obama had an editorial that several newspapers ran yesterday (though not that bastion of liberal bias, the New York Times, which instead opted today for an ok-if-general analysis of how Obama's popularity may mark a radical shift compared to Bush's last meeting in 2005 in what can only be called a nadir in his diplomacy with Latin America). In his editorial, Obama outlines the general issues he feels are facing the countries in the hemisphere: U.S.-Cuba relations (which almost all Latin American leaders, left or right, want to see improve, feeling it would be the most concrete evidence that U.S. policy in the region as a whole was shifting); security issues; energy; and, of course, the economy. While it's just talk in an editorial, I do like Obama's comment that "we don't need a debate about whether to blame right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents - we need practical cooperation to expand our common security." Of course, who is defining "common security" and how they're defining it will be a major issue (especially from Colombia's and Mexico's representatives), but the simple fact that he's acknowledging that there is violence from paramilitaries is much better than anything his predecessor did, particularly in dealing with Colombia; and mentioning "left-wing insurgents" helps alleviate sectors from the right, too.

Despite its seemingly casual inclusion in the editorial, I think energy, and not the economy, may very well end up being the key issue for Obama at the Americas. After 8 years of Bush, we have a new outlook on the importance of energy efficiency and the environment. I suspect that Obama will want to act quickly on this, and given how much Latin America has criticized the U.S.'s environmental policy under Bush, this could be the most fertile area in which they could come to agreements about limiting emissions, using alternate fuels and renewable energy sources, and outline specific plans for the present and future.

Obama's call for collective action is interesting, as well - it seems rather mundane, but as Boz points out, Chavez may throw a wrench into the works. While I don't fully agree with every detail of Boz's analysis of Chavez, I think he's right in his suggestion that this weekend has the potential to say a lot about Chavez's power in the region. As I argued awhile back, Lula and Brazil are definitely the ascendant power in South America, and Obama is the most popular U.S. president in Latin America in some time (I don't have stats dating back, but I wouldn't be surprised if the numbers were the highest since at least Kennedy). Watching how this dynamic between the U.S., Brazil, Venezuela, and other countries plays out this weekend will be interesting to watch, as will the rest of the Summit, and I'll have more as the event takes place and wraps up.