Some of y’all — those who carry grudges — will recall that one of my reasons for endorsing John McCain in 2008 was that he supported the Colombian Free Trade Agreement. This caused some Obamaphiles to freak out, it just seemed so esoteric to them.
But to me, it was important to cite. First, the large portion of my childhood spent in South America causes me to care more about that part of the world than do most people in this country. I find Yankee indifference to the rest of the hemisphere pretty appalling, frankly. One reason I got into reading British publications years ago was that they actually covered news events in Latin America. Most media in this country do not, for the simple reason that their readers and viewers aren’t interested.
I also saw this as a little-discussed microcosm of a difference in judgment and decision-making with regard to foreign policy in general, one that for me made McCain look better.
Anyway, spin forward more than four years, and I’m pleased to read this piece by Joe Biden in The Wall Street Journal, headlined “The Americas Ascendant.” It begins:
Last week, during a five-day trip through Latin America and the Caribbean, I visited a cut-flower farm outside Bogota, Colombia, an hour’s drive from downtown that would have been impossibly dangerous 10 years ago. Along the way I passed office parks, movie theaters and subdivisions, interspersed with small ranches and family businesses. At the flower farm, one-quarter of the workers are female heads of households. The carnations and roses they were clipping would arrive in U.S. stores within days, duty free.
What I saw on the flower farm was just one sign of the economic blossoming in the year since a U.S. free-trade agreement with Colombia went into force. Over that period, American exports to the country are up 20%…
Yeah, and we could have been enjoying that increase in trade years earlier, had not Sens. Obama and Clinton opposed it, to the gratification of Big Labor.
But hey, welcome aboard. I’m glad the administration gets it now.
I thought it particularly interesting that the vice president focused on the cut-flower trade. So did Nicholas Kristof in an April 24, 2008, piece that had helped focus my attention on the need for the agreement. It began:
For seven years, Democrats have rightfully complained that President Bush has gratuitously antagonized the world, exasperating our allies and eroding America’s standing and influence.
But now the Democrats are doing the same thing on trade. In Latin America, it is Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton who are seen as the go-it-alone cowboys, by opposing the United States’ free-trade agreement with Colombia….
That piece, too, focused on the cut-flower industry in Colombia. The headline was “Better Roses Than Cocaine.” Indeed.
The vice president today writes,
There is enormous potential—economically, politically and socially—for the U.S. in its relations with countries of the Western Hemisphere. And so the Obama administration has launched the most sustained period of U.S. engagement with the Americas in a long, long time—including the president’s travel to Mexico and Costa Rica last month; my own recent trip to Colombia, Trinidad, and Brazil; Secretary of State Kerry’s participation in the Organization of American States’ annual meeting in Guatemala; the president of Chile’s visit to Washington this week and a planned visit to Washington by the president of Peru. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff arrives in Washington in October for the first state visit of the second term.
As leaders across the region work to lift their citizens out of poverty and to diversify their economies from commodity-led growth, the U.S. believes that the greatest promise—for Americans and for our neighbors—lies in deeper economic integration and openness.growth, the U.S. believes that the greatest promise—for Americans and for our neighbors—lies in deeper economic integration and openness.
I agree. And welcome aboard, Mr. Obama.