November 23, 2014
Beyond Marco Rubio and the WSJ
Hardly anybody of any influence in Washington defends CFK’s administration
In recent weeks the Argentine government has faced a barrage of criticism from both politicians and press in the United States. This time the ferocity of the onslaught was not limited to Tea Party allies like the Florida Senator Marco Rubio or the fiery columnists of The Wall Street Journal. Not very far from such rhetoric were media generally considered progressive in the US such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. Fareed Zakaria, one of the most liberal pundits in the US media mainstream, considered last January on CNN that Argentina was “becoming a dictatorship,” not without preceding this sweeping generalization with the gaffe of saying that Evita (1919-1952) was the “populist widow of Perón” (1895-1974). Why not try checking up your facts once in a while?
As for Rubio, what you see is what you get. Elected senator in 2010 on the crest of the ultra-right Tea Party wave, he caters to his constituency and is definitely a dark horse for the 2016 Republican primaries. Among the proposals of this son of Cubans was an “English only” clause as a criterion for accepting immigrants and he, of course, opposes granting basic rights to the children of immigrants without papers (i.e. Mexicans). Such is the senator who thinks that there is no democracy here — we rest our case.
Nevertheless, during Thursday’s Senate hearings, the veteran Senator Bob Menéndez (Democrat-New Jersey), in theory at the opposite end of the political spectrum to the Florida Republican, was no more merciful to Argentina than Rubio. Among the cards he played during the grilling of Barack Obama’s prospective future ambassador, Noah Mamet, was the protection of the Clarín Group (which thus showed its long arm).
The scenario is that hardly anybody of any influence in Washington or in any of the major European capitals, ranging from the centre-left to the far right, defends the stance of the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration, which clearly constitutes a problem demanding a review of foreign policy toward the First World.
For a start, the Argentine government needs to understand who they are dealing with when defining policy toward the US — less based on outbursts of spleen and seeking to play the role of victim, and not being carried away by provocations such as that overacted performance by Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman in heading out to Ezeiza airport to block in person US military equipment three years ago.
Such fiery rhetoric might eventually pay off with the local electorate — that remains to be seen — or might be necessary as an occasional strategy but it can never be enough. Bad manners, although far from being primordial in foreign policy, feed the fires of passionate analysts with an ax to grind and, above all, serve up ammunition on a silver platter to some with interests contrary to the country. The consequences cease to be rhetorical.
At a detached distance from the headlines and the television cameras, the most lucid US diplomats understand the game. “There are a range of comments on a range of issues that are made every day around the country. So I would just point them to our view here,” the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki answered about the hearing on Argentina last Friday.
Even with his preconceptions, the last US Ambassador to Buenos Aires with a solid State Department background, E. Anthony Wayne, repeatedly sent dispatches to Washington alerting them to pay more attention to what Kirchnerism was doing than how. And he thus managed to calm the waters every time one side or the other tossed oil on the flames. But Wayne has been gone for years and Néstor Kirchner died in 2010.
Obviously the hub of a bilateral relationship between a great power at the centre of world affairs and a medium power on its periphery does not run on the basis of good manners. To give a very pertinent example, who could deny the weight of the “vulture fund” owner and Republican financier Paul Singer?
Nevertheless, the foreign policy of governments must deal with interests, extremists and lobbyists, building bridges between élites which are not necessarily on opposite sides and finding opportunities for business and mutual benefit.
That is why Kirchnerism should start asking itself some serious questions about the causes and effects of Buenos Aires and Caracas being virtually synonymous to certain influential US circles. There are similarities with the Venezuelan process with its defects and virtues, with advantages and disadvantages for the traditions created by Hugo Chávez and Néstor Kirchner but access to serious information would permit the differences and distinguishing features between the two countries to be detected with relative ease. What is damaging for any country is, partly through an inept foreign policy, to have to take what is known in the US as a “bum rap” as a scapegoat — who knows on whose behalf and whose interests it might serve?
Finally, a paragraph on the Argentine opposition, both in its media and political manifestations. Even those who could never identify with the rightwing tone of the critiques of Rubio or The Wall Street Journal spot an opportunity to bring grist to their mills, thus showing themselves to lack even the most minimal capacity to analyze the US reality with which they will have to deal with as from the day they reach the Pink House. In conclusion, there is a discouraging panorama between the government and the opposition with one as bad as the other — a right pair.
This article was amended on 11 February 2014 to correct Senator Marco Rubio's quote.