Canada Fills Obama’s Leadership Void


Investor’s Business Daily
Issues & Insights Section
April 20, 2009

Leadership: Amid all the boilerplate about dialogue and partnership at Trinidad’s Summit of the Americas, the Obama administration has shown no real leadership on its goals. If they matter, why is it left to Canada to lead?

Thus far, the Obama administration seems more interested in continuing its global apology tour, Latin edition, during this weekend’s Fifth Summit of the Americas than he is in leading. His accusations against America are stronger than his promotion of the institutions and treaties that bring authentic democracy and prosperity to our hemisphere.

“Too often, the United States has not pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors,” he said. “We have been too easily distracted by other priorities and failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress through the Americas.”

Having never set foot south of our border nor paid much attention to the region until this week, he should speak for himself.

A critical goal of the Summit of the Americas when it was founded in 1994 by President Clinton and other democratic leaders was a great free trade zone of the Americas, enabling America and its neighbors to move from Barrow, Alaska, all the way to Tierra del Fuego, Chile, in a great free exchange of people, trade and ideas.

Today, Obama is paying only lip service to that trade goal while two finished free-trade treaties with friendly American allies Panama and Colombia sit in his desk drawer, unvoted-on in Congress.

He speaks of the U.S. being “distracted by other priorities” but in reality he’s only “distracted” by listening to Big Labor, which has tried to shut Colombia and Panama out of free trade.

In the same way, he’s distracted by the Farm Lobby’s campaign cash and won’t think of ending the senseless tariffs on Brazil’s ethanol — another major free-trade, and energy policy, issue.

He has yet to expend political capital to muscle Congress to put those tariffs and treaties to a vote. If he did, he would show leadership. It’s not going unnoticed by democratic leaders of our hemisphere, who, from Brazil to Chile to Mexico to Peru, are urging him to take action. This is the one issue he should be showing strong leadership on. But he isn’t.

Canada, by contrast, is taking the lead. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his top priority at the Summit is to champion free trade, in line with the will of the region’s real democracies.

“Our focus for the Summit of the Americas will be about free trade and avoiding other countries moving back to protectionist measures,” Harper’s spokesman said. “Canada’s position is that we must not allow the impact of the (financial) crisis to reverse our hard-fought progress towards freer trade and investment.”

The region’s protectionists can be counted on one hand, and they just happen to be the same countries trying to ruin their own democracies — among them Venezuela, whose de facto dictator, Hugo Chavez, declared at the last summit in 2005 he would “bury” free trade of the Americas. With Obama failing to lead, he’s effectively handing Chavez the leadership, as well as a victory.

He’s also giving Cuba a victory, unilaterally loosening rules for remittances to the island, providing the bankrupt Castro dictatorship with an economic lifeline as well as a fresh pool of visitors to spy on, blackmail and potentially recruit.

Instead of taking a principled stance, Obama seems to be following the example of other countries in the region. The problem is that in letting the summit focus on his unrequited overture to Cuba, a nondemocracy that isn’t even allowed to take part, he dumbs down the standards of democracy. That’s not leading.

Perhaps this lack of leadership is based on ignorance of history. Obama told CNN En Espanol: “There has always been a tradition of concern that the United States has been heavy-handed when it comes to foreign policy in Latin America. And that’s not something that just arose during the Bush administration. That’s something that dates back to the Monroe Doctrine and a long history of U.S. involvement in Latin America.”

Some history: President Bush was the first U.S. leader in decades to launch no military action on a Latin country. Not very “heavy handed.” In fact, his immigration plan showed he was a softie.

Meanwhile, the Monroe Doctrine was declared by President Monroe to protect Latin America’s infant democracies from European takeover, a real prospect in 1823. Obama’s double apology for that as Iran and Russia erect bases in the region is a bad signal to the region’s real democracies — and comfort for our foes.

Right now, the hemisphere’s definition of democracy is growing hazier as protectionism rises. The U.S. could lead the region on a better course, but Obama seems more interested in adulation.

What a shame that it’s now left to Canada to do the heavy lifting on the actions that will genuinely advance peace and prosperity in our global neighborhood.

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