Monday, April 20, 2009

Some Thoughts in the Wake of the Summit of the Americas

The Summit of the Americas wrapped up yesterday, and I have just a few preliminary thoughts on it right now.

-The meeting seems like a huge success (in the best sense of the word) for U.S. foreign policy and for creating a new form of U.S.-Latin American relations that we haven't ever really seen in our diplomatic history. As of yet, there isn't much talk about policy issues that were accomplished, but in many regards, whatever policy was or wasn't formed is irrelevant. The fact that Obama was pretty much able to talk to everybody and establish excellent, cordial, intelligent, and respectful links with the other leaders is seemingly mundane but amazingly important. After 8 years of non-relations and alienation under Bush, it seems to me that the U.S. is in its best position for Latin America ever; from the Latin American standpoint, it seems that the U.S. under Obama finally gets that the region is to be treated respectfully and equally, and not as some inferior region that the U.S. can impose policy on at will. What is more, Obama seems respectful and understanding of differences between countries, knowing that only one way ("my way") is not the only solution. And Obama's openness to listen to all leaders, be it Alvaro Uribe or Raul Castro, now and down the line, marks a major shift in the U.S.'s vision of Latin America, in which we aren't dividing leaders by "ours" or "not ours," but rather acknowledging that each nation has its own leaders, and even if they disagree with us or we with them, their and our legitimacy as potential collaborators is not diminished. Again, this was all talk this weekend, and policy could derail a lot of things, but U.S.-Latin American relations are in the best position I think they've ever been in. And that alone renders the Summit an unqualified success.

-That said, there's not much to say about the policy. I haven't read the Statement yet, but if Boz's analysis is fair, it's a massive failure (albeit one that can't take too much away from the successes of the weekend).

-The one specific area I've read some about is environmental issues. In dealing with energy issues this year, reports are that Obama listened more than offered his own suggestions, taking in what the regions leaders had to say, whether it was Lula discussing biofuels, or Mexico's Calderon continuing to push for a regional "energy market."

-Republicans still just don't get it, having begun to come out already in condemning Obama for his brief-but-congenial encounter with Chavez and his efforts to thaw relations with Cuba. For over 50 years, from the Cold War to the "war on 'terror'," a "with us or against us" mentality has been destructive diplomatically, economically, socially, and politically, and has often led to the deaths of thousands or hundreds of thousands throug the U.S's positions. While both Democrats and Republicans were guilty in the past, given the previous 8 years, Republicans have absolutely no pot to piss in when it comes to telling Obama how he should be running foreign policy, in Latin America or elsewhere. Until Republicans can prove they can come up with constructive policies (foreign or domestic) that actually take a stance other than "if Obama does it, it's wrong," then they have absolutely no political, moral, or ideological ground to stand on. [Although I didn't see it until after I wrote my own post, it turns out that Randy and I are in virtually complete agreement here.]

-If/As the details of individual meetings and discussions between become more available, I may have more. That said, again, even if the actual declaration was a dud, the Summit was great for the region, and one of the brightest beacons of hope for U.S. foreign policy in some time.