Politico is describing Obama’s South American vacation as a “big trip short on progress.” President Obama basically wasted his time instead of being more actively engaged in the “war that isn’t being called a war” in Libya.
Last week I defended the President’s decision to make the trip south, in spite of my concerns that he wouldn’t devote a sufficient amount of time to the conflict in Libya. But now that he’s returning home, I question the need for the trip in the first place.
Obama has been received warmly by his Latin American hosts. Local media coverage has been positive, reporting on protocol for official state meals and hailing the fact that the entire first family made the trip.
Yet despite the focus on U.S.-Latin relations, Obama has repeatedly faced questions about Libya, and the lack of substantive Latin American news has led even local reporters to essentially ask, “Where’s the beef?”
“Obama launches a new deal with Latin America, without announcing specific plans,” read a front-page headline in La Tercera, one of Chile’s largest newspapers. “Despite expectations, the U.S. president did not elaborate on the new deal with the region,” the paper continued, and Chile’s dominant political parties “regretted the absence of specifics.”
America “is not a bystander in Latin America’s development,” said Mauricio Cardenas, a Latin America analyst at the Brookings Institution. “Issues like the free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, the flow of arms from the border states into Mexico or the status of Hispanics in the U.S. need to be resolved. And the U.S. president is the only person in a position to move them forward with vision and clarity of purpose.
It’s great that everyone came out to cheer him, but quite frankly, the trip was just a big ego boost for Obama. South America is a part of the world that is becoming increasingly important to global politics. Socialist, anti-American leaders like Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, and Evo Morales are flexing their America-bashing muscles at every turn, most recently with the Libya intervention. We must prevent the spread of anti-Americanism throughout the region, mostly through stronger economic ties.
One big step in that direction is Congress ratifying the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements. President Obama should be impelling Congress to ratify the agreements, rather than heading off for sightseeing in Rio.