Monday, November 14, 2005

George and His Road Trips

The Resident heads for China this week, with a stop in Mongolia on the way. The press has touted this as an important trip, probably because China is a major trading partner as well as the primary holder of American debt.

I hope Mr. Bush is more successful on this trip than he was on his last one. He got nothing accomplished in Latin America beyond giving our hemispheric neighbors a chance to show just how much they dislike him, and with good reason. The Netherlands' newspaper NRC Handelsblad offers some reasons for the failures in that trip.

Unilateralism in foreign policy is a bad idea if you want to clinch a multilateral deal. Unilateralism is the reason that last weekend, the leaders of most North and South American countries could not reach an agreement on a free trade deal for the whole of the American continent. Bush could have spared himself this latest embarrassing political defeat if he had only shown a keener interest in the shifting balance of power in the southern portion of the Americas. The United States is rapidly loosing its global stature.

In dealing with Latin America, Washington has traditionally acted in the explicitly selfish pursuit of its own interests. But the unilateralism that this behavior is based upon presumes that other countries simply don't possess the power to meaningfully challenge America's interests. Clearly, this is no longer the case.

In the Argentine resort town of Mar del Plata, President Bush was challenged by five leftist political leaders. For the time being, those five leaders oppose an American Free Trade Agreement. Bush's noisiest opponent is the populist Hugo Chavez, president of oil-rich Venezuela. In another part of town, Chavez was rallying anti-American protesters against the free trade plan [the FTAA: The Free Trade Area for the Americas]. It will be exceedingly difficult for Bush to ignore Chavez, because a quarter of U.S. petroleum imports come from Venezuela. Meanwhile, Chavez is actively pursuing other customers for his oil.

Brazil, South America's agricultural powerhouse, has fundamental problems with Washington's free trade plans. Before discussing regional trade deals, President Lula wants to see major progress in negotiating global agricultural trade issues. If the United States maintains its system of farm subsidies, any free trade deal will be a disadvantage to Brazil. But America will only lower its farm subsidies if the European Union does the same. But the European Union has shown little eagerness to implement substantial reductions, and because of stiff opposition from France, global agricultural trade talks are at an impasse.

...It would be advisable for Bush to do away with his unilateralism and form a coalition with his Latin American neighbors to pressure several foot-dragging European countries into making concessions regarding agricultural subsidies. Because these European "foot-draggers" are also practicing unilateralism.
[Emphasis added]

There is a delicious irony in having the United States lumped in with that part of the world Donald Rumsfeld and other members of this regime disparagingly called "Old Europe." The fact is that the US, like most of Europe, has indeed long considered the Southern Hemisphere (including Latin America and Africa) as puppet remnants of Nineteenth Century Colonialism. Unfortunately, the Southern Hemisphere contains much of the minerals and markets that the US and Europe need for the continued health of their economies, and these southern neighbors are not so willing to give them up as they once were.

Until the US and European Union recognize that Free Trade implies a multilateralism of interests, not merely the unilateral imposition of demands, debacles such as Mr. Bush endured in Argentina and Brazil will be the norm, not the exception. Agricultural subsidies are a symbol of that northern arrogance, but an important one.

As for China? Well, we will see if Mr. Bush has learned any lessons the past five years.


Blogger Elmo said...

Well, we will see if Mr. Bush has learned any lessons the past five years.

Considering what he learned in his first 59 years...(if you can't say anything nice...)

8:19 PM  

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