Poses, not principles: Obama's pandering threatens America's strategic allies

Obama's disturbing attitude toward Colombia might worry Israel.

us special 224 (photo credit: )
us special 224
(photo credit: )
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If you were President of the United States, how would you treat a staunch, lonely ally committed to liberal democracy and free markets-the only such country in an increasingly anti-American region? A friend surrounded by hostile neighbors who harbor terrorists bent on its destruction, flush with oil money and weapons from the region's maniacally anti-American and anti-Semitic dictator? A people regularly extorted through terrorist hijackings, murders and kidnappings? A country which faithfully shares invaluable intelligence with the United States regarding subversive anti-American groups and governments in the region?
Wouldn't you back such a country, avoid propaganda victories for that country's-and America's-sworn enemies, and take simple steps to solidify that country's sometimes shaky emerging economy, especially when those steps would strengthen America, too?
Not, apparently, if you are Barack Obama.
Israel? Who said anything about Israel? We're talking about Colombia. But Obama's disturbing attitude toward Colombia reveals how an Obama administration might worry Israel and other embattled American strategic allies.
Obama opposes the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which would put our ally Colombia, with an economy smaller than Sweden's, on the same trade footing with the US as Mexico, Chile and Peru, and numerous other countries with whom the US trades freely.
There is no credible economic argument against this agreement from America's perspective. According to the US Department of Commerce, there are already no US trade barriers to over 90% of goods Colombia exports. The free-trade agreement gives Americans the same access to Colombia's markets that Colombians have to ours. It would also be a boon for foreign investment in Colombia, and lower prices Colombians pay for American goods.
Obama is striking a calculated protectionist pose to shore up his union support. Unions oppose nearly all of America's trade agreements for undermining their domestic monopolies on labor. Obama, in fact, supported an identical free-trade agreement with Peru last December, but that was before the Democrat presidential contenders struggled to outbid each other in opposition to free trade when America's unions were auctioning off their endorsements.
Thus, during the primaries, Obama also promised to "use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage" to re-negotiate the NAFTA free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, all the while whispering to alarmed Canadians that he wasn't serious, but merely posturing for the primaries. Similarly, his AIPAC pose-"Let me be clear…Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and will remain undivided"-also wasn't serious, as he has now "clarified" for Arab audiences and CNN.
One gets the nagging suspicion that Obama doesn't stake out principled, coherent positions so much as he strikes convenient momentary poses. (Sorry, "change" is not a principled position.)
So, beholden to organized labor, Obama strikes a new pose: his opposition to the Colombian agreement is now supposedly a result of lack of "sustained progress" of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, especially in fighting violence against labor unionists.
Well. Some context is in order. Uribe was elected in 2002. He inherited a country reeling from civil war and a government that had been trying to appease the drug-financed FARC (Colombia's Marxist terrorists-labeled so by both the US and European Union-committed to overthrowing the democratic government through armed struggle). In the name of "peace", the previous government had ceded to FARC a Switzerland-sized chunk of territory, which FARC used to intensify its terror activities and drug business. FARC forces even fired rockets at Uribe's inauguration, killing 19 people.
Colombia is surrounded by hostile Venezuela, led by FARC patron Hugo Chavez, Peru and Ecuador, run by a Chavez ally. According to the US government, Chavez, close ally of Iran, has opened his country to Hizbullah for training and recruitment, and spread oil and money around the region to support other anti-American Marxist leaders in Nicaragua and Bolivia. Chavez, of course, is on the list of dictators with whom Obama has promised to meet without preconditions during his first year as president. (Now, there's an Obama principle.)
With American assistance, Uribe charted a course for defeating the Chavez-backed terrorists, not accommodating them. The results? Kidnappings are down 78%. FARC forces have been cut by more than half. Troops have liberated most FARC-controlled territory. Uribe has extradited over 600 drug dealers to the United States. The notoriously violent drug capital of Medellin has been transformed into the regional capital of…flower-growing. Colombia now dominates the cut flower market in America, and has created a booming job market that is lifting millions out of poverty. Homicides are down 94% from their peak-Medellin is now safer than Washington, DC.
In March, Uribe's troops raided FARC bases two kilometers inside Ecuador, and seized computers revealing Chavez's extensive FARC involvement. Chavez's reaction: "The Colombian government has become the Israel of Latin America…. We have to liberate Colombia." Credibly threatening invasion, he massed thousands of troops and tanks on the Colombia border. (Obama's promised chat with Chavez, however, still stands.) Last month, Colombian forces conducted an Entebbe-esque operation to free FARC-held hostages, including a former presidential candidate captured five years ago.
And Uribe's record against anti-union violence? Colombian trade unions historically had been riddled with violence-advocating Marxists and FARC sympathizers, and thus were a target of bloody anti-Marxist paramilitary units. But Uribe has cracked down on the paramilitaries as well: union assassinations have dropped 90% - to a homicide rate lower than that of the general population. The government now provides special protection for 2,000 union leaders. The paramilitaries have been further neutralized as thousands have disarmed and confessed their crimes as part of Uribe's quasi-plea bargain/amnesty program.
Uribe's free-market policies have Colombia's economy humming along at a 7% growth rate, and his approval ratings routinely exceed 80%. Achieving these successes while under constant threat from enemies of America does not go un-noticed: Uribe even received the 2007 American Jewish Committee's "light unto the nations" award.
Can Obama explain how that record doesn't qualify as "sustained progress"? Does it fail to measure up to Obama's own daring decade as a "community organizer" (whatever that is) and legislator in Springfield, Illinois?
Should Obama's pose succeed in scuttling the free trade agreement, he'll put our endangered closest regional ally at an economic disadvantage. Is that any way to reward the Colombian people? Colombia's great progress is not irreversible. If Uribe is to continue his outstanding work, he deserves more American cooperation, not less. Hurting the Colombian economy is more likely to increase violence than to curb it. But it will make Hugo Chavez happy. Obama's pose may be cheap, but that doesn't mean we won't pay a high price in undermining America's own credibility (and worth) as an ally.
The lesson for Israel is worrisome: if Obama can sell out reliable, pro-American, brave, embattled Colombia in exchange for some union votes, then what won't he do for political advantage? Obama's cynical willingness, against American strategic interests, to sacrifice the welfare of a loyal ally in mortal danger in order to strike a politically expedient pose should give pause to those believing he would be a solid, principled defender of Israel and America's other embattled friends.