U.S. President Barack Obama is trying to play "Nothing To See Here" in foreign policy. Just after declaring that the White House organized a coalition to start a military action in Libya, he was landing with his family - wife, Michelle, daughters, Sasha and Malia, and mother-in-law, Marian Robinson - in Brazil, one of the five nations that abstained in the vote of a UN resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya – and thereby bestowing a reward for behavior that was "unhelpful," to say the least.
Obama went for a five-day Latin American Tour that will be bringing him to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, at a time when the Middle East is burning, Further, Libya is massacring facing a massacre; a civil war might start in the Ivory Coast, and an earthquake, a tsunami and collapsing nuclear reactors have hit Japan, leaving the country at risk of a radioactive meltdown. The trip to Latin America, however, was planned to strengthen economic and political relations, and also as a way to confront the anti-American propaganda that mainly the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba are trying to spread over the continent.
Obama tried to charge his first visit to Latin America with symbolism; it marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of the 1961 Kennedy administration's "Alliance for Progress," aimed at establishing economic cooperation between South America and the U.S. The program was seen as a failure already in the '70s, based especially on the worsening of socio-economic indicators throughout the 60s. Policies set by the Alliance for Progress were in fact a total fiasco. The region's annual economic growth went from 1% to between 0.6 to 1%, well below the goal set by the Alliance.
However, even though Obama seems keen to exhume the Alliance for Progress, in his first trip to the region, the US President did not include in his agenda a visit to Washington's main ally in Latin America: Colombia, a country with which the United States has effectively worked in the fight against drug trafficking activities and terrorism. Colombia, which borders with Venezuela, keeps being threatened by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - known by its Spanish abbreviation, FARC – a Marxist-Leninist group that carries out extortion, kidnappings and drug trafficking.
The reason behind President Obama's avoiding a visit to Colombia is no surprise. Five years ago, the United States negotiated free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, another top White House ally. In the last two State of the Union addresses, Obama said that his administration will pursue the free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, but did not set any timetable to have the pact ratified. The Washington Times reports that at a hearing on Capitol Hill, "senators from both parties practically begged the White House to submit the trade accords - but U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk hemmed and hawed about how they weren't quite ready just yet." However, Montana's U.S. Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat, seems to do not agree with the Obama Administration and said: "The time is here. The time is now. In fact, the time has passed to ratify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. It has long passed. We are losing market share hand over fist".
This unjustified delay is not only undermining relations with US top allies in Latin America, but also has a direct impact on the US economy: As explained by Sen. Baucus, since Obama has not yet submitted the agreement to Congress for approval, Montana farmers and businesses have difficulty competing with businesses from other countries that have free trade agreements with Colombia. Specifically, Canada has passed an FTA with Colombia, set to enter into force in the next few months. If the U.S. still has not approved its agreement when that happens, America is likely to lose the entire Colombian wheat market.
In the meantime, while Obama was in Brazil, French jets were deployed over Libya. The US President, who is also the US Commander in Chief, was absent also at the Paris talks, where military options against Libya were decided, while he was heading to Latin America. His absence left a void -- and the impression of a weakness of the US -- in its foreign policy. White House and Pentagon officials said the President's trip could not have been cancelled. "It is imperative that the United States not disengage from these regions [Latin America]," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, told reporters. "When we disengage, our ability to advance partnerships that serve our interest suffers."
The interests of the US seem to suffer anyway, thanks to the Obama administration. The international community perceives that the US left the mantle of the Free World leadership to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is now leading the battle against Gaddafi's dictatorship. Gaddafi himself seems to consider Obama as a dwarf in foreign policy by sending him an eccentric letter, in which he addresses the US President as his "son," hence putting him underneath him: "To our son, his Excellency, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama. I have said to you before, that even if Libya and the United States of America enter into a war, God forbid, you will always remain a son. Your picture will not be changed."