- - Tuesday, November 6, 2018


After eight years of the Obama administration’s complaining, false modesty and general incompetence, President Trump has reluctantly backed into the logical role as leader of the free world. If not us, who? Who else to keep at bay the United Nations, even more incompetent than Mr. Obama?

It’s ironic, to say the least, that America’s rediscovered leadership results from an erratic Trump political agenda which he calls “nationalist.” But the overwhelming U.S. economic and military capability, coupled with domestic tranquility, establishes this role almost spontaneously. Managing those functions will not be easy.

Washington’s purview is huge, including a half dozen crises around the world. To evaluate their significance and their difficulties for policymakers is to compare apples and oranges.

The United States faces a breakdown in its seven decades of encouraging creation of a united Europe where world conflicts have so often originated. Britain’s bumbling exit from Europe intensifies the forever-present and overwhelming German presence. Yet these are leading nations with rich political cultures which seem to stumble into short-term solutions, not unification.

In East Asia, with the expansion of a huge population of the Chinese — a billion-plus in China and another 40 million spread over Southeast Asia — together with the world’s second largest economy and political ambitions backed by a growing military, China has to be the principal concern of any president, Democrat or Republican, like it or not. America’s regional allies, including Tokyo with its vast economic power, are inhibited by the population growth in South Asia.

But it is the Western Hemisphere that exhausts Washington’s overtaxed foreign policy mechanism. The approaching migrants on the U.S. southern border are a manifestation of this growing threat to hemisphere-wide stability.

Puerto Rico is the most obvious expression of the U.S. dilemma. In 2016 Congress enacted what Puerto Ricans call “La Junta,” a label masking a return to colonial rule, acknowledging the failure of Latin self-government. Puerto Rico represents more than a century of dismal Washington administration. The island was already $70 billion in debt when in 2017 Hurricane Maria inficted 4,500 deaths, sent 200,000 fleeing to the mainland, with $139 billion needed to fully recover.

Meanwhile, across the Caribbean, crisis has overtaken Venezuela’s 32 million, with President Nicolas Maduro accusing President Trump of asking neighboring Colombia to assassinate him. Washington has imposed sanctions on Caracas, denouncing Senor Maduro as a dictator who has quashed human rights and triggered an economic meltdown. Despite the largest oil and gas reserves in the world, since 2015 almost 2 million Venezuelans have fled severe food and medicine shortages, hyperinflation, and violent crime. Venezuelans have been reduced to fighting over toilet paper.

John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, in announcing new sanctions, calls the neighboring left-wing regimes in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua a “troika of tyranny.”

In addition to the enormous reserves of conventional oil and gas, Argentina’s Vaca Muerta (“Dead Cow”) shale-oil reserves are the world’s third-largest. Argentina is rich, too, and if it could attract foreign capital, the money could start flowing in abundance within a decade. But the only problem Argentina has — with its incredibly rich soil, vast energy resources, no problems with minorities, and vast investment possibilities — are the Argentines themselves. Argentina was the world’s fourth-largest exporter of wheat in 2006, and seven years later it had fallen to 10th place. Reform requires the Argentines to confront their own decline. No other country had come so close to joining the rich of the world, only to fall back. Understanding why is the first step to a the future the Argentines say they want.

Brazil’s 210 million, a third of all Latin Americans has just elected Jair Bolsonaro, a fiery populist. Senor Bolsonaro says he approves of torture to make men behave as he wants them to, promises to curtail environmental conservation efforts, and has a history of insulting women and LGBTQ constituents. President Trump has reached out to him for bilateral and Hemisphere multilateral collaboration.

Yet there’s hope if not ready solutions. Argentina’s short-term prospects distinguishes it from other Latin American countries that have suffered institutional breakdowns, and recovered. Chile’s military dictatorship was a catastrophe until it introduced long-lasting reforms. Mexico’s dictatorial Institutional Revolutionary Party governed steadily for most of the 20th century. Reform from above has to be the hope of the Continent.

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