Change and continuity in American foreign policyTuesday, July 20, 2021
The world watched incredulously as former US President Donald Trump resiled from America playing its traditional leadership role in international affairs.
Traditional allies, such as those in Asia, for example Japan and Korea, in Western Europe, and even Canada were uncertain as to why the Trump Administration chose to turn a blind eye to the intrigue of Russia and North Korea.
The Caribbean Community (Caricom) was divided when only Jamaica, The Bahamas, Haiti, St Lucia, and Belize were invited to meet the president, as the others differed with the US over Venezuela, Cuba and China.
Many people expected and/or hoped for a different approach to foreign policy from the incoming President Joe Biden and his woman vice-president with Jamaican connections. But the reality is that there is substantial continuity between the foreign policy of one Administration to the next.
US foreign policy, like most others, is driven by domestic politics — and not as much by considerations of international affairs. Even as Democrats worry about the midterm Congressional elections and the prospect of a Trump return, the combative approach to relations with China continues because the vast majority of Americans support this approach.
So too the continuity of the 'do not come' immigration across the Mexican border reflects entrenched American attitudes of being overwhelmed by illegal migrants.
An approach which blends coexistence with competition could lift international trade and stimulate the recovery of the global economy, which is vital at this time.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years was a commitment made by Messrs Barack Obama, Trump and Biden.
The reorientation of policy towards Russia was an inevitable outcome of a mounting resurrection of anti-communism attitudes fuelled by Russian interference.
In regard to the Caribbean, the Biden Administration is yet to ease sanctions on Cuba — much of which could be done by administrative measures without Congressional approval. Cuba poses no real threat to US national security but the vote in Florida could be crucial in forthcoming elections.
Similarly, there has not been a noticeable change in policy towards Venezuela — a festering humanitarian disaster pouring migrants in neighbouring countries including Trinidad and Tobago.
Meanwhile, American companies miss out on trade, tourism, and investment opportunities in Cuba and Venezuela. In the opposite direction, the US seems unsure about how to help stabilise Haiti, a potential source of large numbers of migrants.
Caricom continues to feel overlooked but still hopes that the US will donate vaccines and approve sale and delivery of US-made vaccines. The region, the so-called Fourth Border of the US, urgently needs a package of financial aid and rescheduling of debt.
The ultimate benefit for the national interest of the US, and combating violent crime and its vulnerability to transnational narcotics driven crime, is the economic stability and economic growth of the Caribbean.
It is to be hoped that an experienced and adroit politician as President Biden will find a way to modify American foreign policy, while contending with the inevitable constraints of domestic politics.
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