With criticism of Barack Obama’s Latin America tour already rising in the current context of budget impasses and crises in Japan and North Africa, the President himself defends his trip in the pages of USA Today. Obama says he’s going to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador in a bid to boost American exports and create American jobs, but that prompts a question on one missing stop from his itinerary:
Nearly 600 million people live in Latin America. The region’s economy grew by about 6% last year. Between 2010 and 2015, it’s expected to grow by one-third. And as these markets are growing, so is their demand for goods and services — goods and services that, as president, I want to see made in the United States of America.
Every $1 billion we export supports more than 5,000 jobs here at home. That’s why last year, I set a goal for this country: to double our exports of goods and services by 2014. And we are on track to meet this goal: exports were up 17% in 2010.
The impressive growth that we’ve seen in Latin America in recent years is good for the people of the hemisphere, and it’s good for us. Thanks in part to our trade agreements across the region, we now export three times as much to Latin America as we do to China, and our exports to the region — which are growing faster than our exports to the rest of the world — will soon support more than 2 million jobs here in the United States.
First, few would begrudge any President an international tour in general. That’s part of the job. In the US, the President occupies both practical and ceremonial roles as head of state which are usually split in most parliamentary systems.
However, the timing is very suspect. As mentioned above, the federal government is now six months late with its budget, and its deficit exceeds 10% of America’s GDP. Those are both crises which demand presidential involvement, if not leadership, and instead Obama wants to go on tour. Also, with the UN resolution approving a no-fly zone, shouldn’t the Commander in Chief be in town to oversee the advent of American military action, assuming that the momentary cease-fire in Libya doesn’t moot the effort? The beginning of hostilities is a strange time for a President to be taking off for a business trip.
But even putting that aside, if boosting exports is the idea, then where is Colombia on the tour? We could boost exports if Obama would press for ratification of the free-trade agreement signed in November 2006 — an agreement that largely benefits the US, as Colombia already exports to the US without tariffs now, thanks to incentives offered for drug interdiction. Almost two years ago, Obama promised to push for ratification, but hasn’t done anything since to back up that pledge. Tellingly, Obama doesn’t even bother to mention Colombia in this essay, despite its staunch support for American interests in the southern hemisphere and its action against drug cartels that have put its officeholders at considerable personal risk.
Even while heading out of town, it seems that Obama finds ways to avoid leadership.