President Trump’s decision to send senior adviser Jared Kushner to meet with Mexico’s president gave the New York Times another opportunity to allow professional diplomats to take pot shots at the administration.
The Times noted the visit by Kushner, “a political newcomer whose top-secret security clearance was stripped last month, underscored a profound shift in approach” to Mexico and the entire region.
The shift was that it was announced the day before it happened, little was offered in terms of what would be discussed and Kushner met with the both President Enrique Peña Nieto, and his foreign minister without the U.S. ambassador – “a diplomat with more than 30 years of experience in the region” – being present.
“’This is not the way foreign policy normally is, or should be, conducted,”’ The Times quoted Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University, as saying. “’The sending of the president’s son-in-law – someone with no experience in Mexican-U.S. relations – is another example of the de-professionalization and personalization of diplomacy that will hurt U.S. interests and leverage in the region.”
What it doesn’t mention is the ambassador, Roberta Jacobson, resigned two weeks ago over disagreements with the Trump administration on policy. The visit was to “soothe tensions,” so having the ambassador there after she had publicly parted with the president on policy might not have been productive.
The Times did mention that the departure of Jacobson, who was appointed by President Obama, was not the only one at State. The No. 3 official in the department and the ambassador to Panama had also left, it said.
“Their departures have coincided with a marked increase in hostility from Washington toward countries in the region,” the Times then states.
“Public fights with Mexico, vows to end relations with Cuba, suggestions of intervention in Venezuela and a high-profile exit from a major regional trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, have signaled a sharp change from what had become a rough consensus in Washington over the last two decades: a softer, friendlier approach to the region and a belief that American interests would be better served through alliances.”
This “unanimity in policy,” Jeffrey Davidow, a former American ambassador to Mexico and Venezuela under both Republican and Democratic presidents, told the Times, enabled better governance, economic development and growth in democracy in Latin America.
“’I don’t know if the new administration is just turning back the clock or just doesn’t give a damn,” Davidow was quoted as saying.
The Times has pursued this theme from the outset of the Trump administration. A headline from Sept. 7 read, “Mexico’s Finance Minister Resigns Amid Fallout from Trump Visit.” One from Feb. 2 read, “Tillerson Tries to Soothe Troubled Allies in Latin America. It’s Not An Easy Sell.” Then, on Feb. 25, “Sharp Words Over Wall Halt Plans for Mexican President to Visit White House.”
“On Cuba, Mr. Trump appears to be catering to political supporters in Florida who helped get him elected and who oppose warming relations with the Communist government,” the Times wrote.
“On Mexico, the calls for tearing up trade deals, building a border wall and deporting people respond to American frustrations over immigration and jobs, building on the promises made on the campaign trail.”
The Times reported that things are even worse with Colombia, our top ally in the region.
Before, “American diplomats and Colombian presidents have largely been in agreement that the drug war was best fought by a mix of targeted crackdowns against drug traffickers and measures to improve the lives of ordinary Colombians.”
But Trump has been more interested in stopping drugs and less about nation building – constant themes on his campaign trail.
“Policy has become all about drugs,” said Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America. “It’s made the relationship between the U.S. and Colombia the worst it has been in 20 years.”