September 16, 2008

Lipstick on Pigs?

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Regardless of whether the next President is Obama or McCain, he is going to be confronted with difficult foreign policy challenges involving the United States’s relations with nearly every region of the world. In the Middle East there are the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, political instability in Israel and the unsettled conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians undermines U.S. policy goals and absorbs U.S. diplomatic resources. Outside of just the Middle East, Russia’s reassertion of power in the Caucuses is having ripple effects everywhere Russian tanks can reach; though mostly in Europe and the former Soviet states. The rises of China and India in Asia have the potential to upset stability in the respective regions. Many countries, among them Pakistan, India, Malaysia, and Thailand are internally threatened by political instability and/or terrorism. As all of these countries are important to American interests, this trend is particularly troubling. The African continent continues to present difficult challenges with the conflict in Darfur simmering and the political and economic outlook in Zimbabwe remaining uncertain, among others. And of course, terrorism remains a constant threat at home and abroad, especially with Osama Bin Laden remaining free these seven years since 9/11.

The above doesn’t include the myriad of challenges in our own backyard, the Americas. In addition to the threats posed by international drug trafficking and organized crime, a political challenge is rising. Through a combination of factors, including the blundering unilateralism of the Bush administration and the consequences of neo-liberal economic reforms in increasing inequality, a series of revisionist left-wing governments have taken power in Latin America with the expressed purpose of confronting and restricting American influence in the region and rolling back free trade. Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, among others, has articulated an alternative model of mass socialism that strikes many Americans as authoritarian. Seizing upon the anti-Americanism that the Bush administration has encouraged in much of the region, Chavez’s influence has grown over the past several years.

Most recently, the U.S. is engaging in a diplomatic “war” with the Venezuela, Bolivia and to a lesser extent, Honduras. In response to perceived (probably accurately) American support of Bolivian anti-government groups, Bolivia and Venezuela both expelled their U.S. ambassadors. Honduras then refused to accept the credentials of their newly appoint ambassador. Responding in kind, the U.S. has expelled the Venezuelan and Bolivian Ambassadors and frozen the assets of several high-ranking Venezuelan officials. As only the latest of a series of skirmishes between the Bush Administration and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the expulsions are indicative of the current tone of relations.

It is vital for the future of American interests in the region that an alternative to Chavez socialism be proposed, an alternative that takes into account the negative consequences of neo-liberalism and globalization. Like the intent of Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress,” it should build Inter-American dialogue and encourage moderate leadership in Latin America. Our future relevance is staked upon our ability to do so. This election cycle, rather than hearing about “lipstick on a pig” or sex education for kindergarteners, it would be refreshing if the candidates took on these foreign policy challenges in a more sustained way. The United States faces a relative decline of influence compared to other nations and challenges in nearly every region. Our future may very well depend on what we do now.