Opportunities for Obama in the Americas

The Obama administration has gotten off to an exceptionally promising start in activating relations with other countries in the Americas. The president visited Canada and hosted Brazilian president Lula in Washington, Vice President Biden traveled to Chile and Costa Rica, and Secretary of State Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have all visited Mexico in the past two months. The president will attend the Summit of the Americas meeting in Trinidad and Tobago April 17–19 and is slated to call on President Felipe Calderón in Mexico City before the summit.

The president’s travel to Mexico and the summit provides a unique opportunity to underscore the central importance of the Western Hemisphere to the United States, a reality that is largely underappreciated. Starting with our North American neighbors and key trade and energy partners, Canada and Mexico, to our “third border” relationship with the Caribbean, the close linkages with Central America, and the broad array of variables at stake in our relations with the countries of South America, the region plays a vital role in the security, economic condition, and social fabric of the United States.

Public opinion in the Americas will welcome Obama’s presence at the summit; the president is enormously popular in the region. His participation will generate expectations, some of which cannot be met immediately, if at all. Nor can the president commit the U.S. Congress to major initiatives for the region that require appropriations. However, he can announce “deliverables” in the form of specific policy steps that advance the U.S. national interest and begin to repair the deteriorated image of the United States in the region.

The visit to Mexico will set the stage for the summit, highlighting variables in play in that bilateral relationship that will have important resonance with other countries in the hemisphere.

Peter DeShazo