by Rick Rockwell
Was anyone paying attention to John McCain last week while he was trying to act presidential?
Well, some pundits are still scratching their heads about why Sen. McCain (R-AZ) went to Latin America during a week when most in the U.S. were barbecuing and paying little to no attention to the news. Much less news from Latin America.
Of course, what did McCain have to lose? Except for the political junkies, few are tuned into the presidential race right now with so many months until November. McCain might as well go somewhere to jolt his campaign back to life yet again.
Naturally, McCain went to Mexico and Colombia for his visit. Those two countries have conservative presidents who are friendly to the Bush administration. In Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe has been a loyal Bush supporter from the start. Although President Felipe Calderon in Mexico got off to a rocky start with Bush, within the past year Calderon saw his conservative friends north of the border as a bulwark in his fight to maintain order in Mexico. Little noticed north of the Rio Grande, at least 1,500 people have been killed in Mexico in the drug war this year, which certainly dwarfs U.S. losses in Iraq in 2008.
So what did McCain accomplish? Maybe not much, but he got pundits talking about the differences between him and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) on Latin America. And the big media outlets like the BBC and The Los Angeles Times seemed to agree that if you look at positions, the candidates look similar.
Of course, this is a blow to Obama who gave a great speech on Latin America in May, which laid out a true vision for the region, something grander than what we’ve seen in the past 40 years. Instead, McCain offers more of the same Bush administration non-policy or in his own recent policy speech he echoes his hawkish views of the 1980s.
But Obama didn’t need McCain to go south to eclipse his Latin American vision. He’s done it himself. In his speech, Obama came out against the Merida Initiative, which plays the same old game in the War on Drugs that this country has been playing since the Reagan era. But there was Obama less than two weeks ago voting for the supplemental appropriations bill that had the Merida Initiative rolled inside. So now President George Bush gets a win at the end of his presidency to ship $1.4 billion to Mexico and Central America. Some critics have noted this aid package will do the same thing to Mexico and Central America as Plan Colombia has done: strengthen the military in those countries instead of addressing the need to improve democratic institutions. And Obama helped Bush do that with his vote. So what are we left to believe about Obama’s vision if his votes don’t square with it?
If this is all about posturing for the Latino vote, then as usual on that front, Obama has some catching up to do. Check the foreign policy section of Obama’s website and notice how Latin America doesn’t even warrant a separate heading. Despite the positive reviews for his Latin American speech, it is barely an asterisk. That communicates volumes to Latinos who don’t like being taken for granted any more than anyone else.
Does Latin America matter at all in the election? The truth: no.
McCain can discuss the Merida Initiative with Calderon days after it was signed as if McCain was a stand-in for Bush. McCain can get secret briefings from Colombia’s president about the daring hostage rescue the Colombians launched. His acting presidential in July will be of little consequence in November.
But sadly this also signals neither McCain nor Obama will likely provide the policy leadership for a region that has been ignored for far too long.
For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:
(Political graphic © copyright Comandante Agi and used with permission; you can see more of the comandante's political graphics at his blogs, This Blog Will Self-Destruct in Five Seconds and Guys from Area 51.)
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by Rick Rockwell