This week'sEconomist has a timely article on U.S. trade relations with Central and South America. The Economist writes that the first- and second-best trade policies for the entire region are to 1) complete the Doha round and 2) resurrect the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement. The third-best option is to continue on the current path of bilateral agreements between the U.S. and Central and South American countries. For those countries "ambitious to expand their share of the biggest market for manufactured exports," the Economist says, bilateral deals are "the only game in town."
Proximity to this deeply unpopular President and his policies has become in itself a major factor in world affairs. Let's call it the Bush Effect. Throughout the world - and here at home - leaders allied with Bush has seen their political fortunes ebb, and leaders seen as opponents to this Administration's policies are gaining ground. What this means is the very presence of Bush in the White House is becoming a daunting national security challenge for the United States.
We've seen it here at home with the GOP, as their national repudiation in 2006 has left them with much less power and with their lowest levels of approval in a generation. We've seen it with Tony Blair, and the Spanish government who backed the Iraqi war. We've seen it in the rise of Putin and Chavez.
But even more dangerous is how leaders, countries and parties seen as "pro-Western" are losing ground to more extreme elements throughout the Muslim world. The installation of a Shiite government in Iraq has strenghtened the hand of Iran in the Gulf. Our allies in Palestine lost an election to a group we had declared to be terrorists, and now have had to flee half the country. Pro-Western forces in Lebanon have lost control of the nation's politics. We know what is happening in Iraq, though it is increasingly unclear who are allies are there these days. The Iranian government has its most radical leader since its revolution, one who replaced a leader much more oriented to the West. Karzhai's government in Afghanistan is teetering. And now our long time ally, General Musharrah in Pakistan, seems to be on the verge of collapse.
Two germane stories in the papers this am. The Times makes news with a great piece about our government's efforts to help salvage Musharraf. In the Post Robin Wright has a story that looks skeptically at the Administration's strategy towards Iran, which concludes with these thoughts about their latest move to brand the Revolutionary Guards terrorists:
Michael McFaul of Stanford University also urged more carrots. "If you want democratic regime change and to destabilize the regime, the best thing you could do is to make an offer about massive negotiations about everything -- human rights and state sponsorship in terrorism, as well as lifting [U.S.] sanctions and opening an embassy," he said. "Politically, this step doesn't help the administration undermine the regime -- it helps to consolidate the regime."
The Muslim world is in a very combustable place right now, and I have fear that the only thing this Administration can do - because of its ineptitude and the Bush Effect - is make matters much much worse.
Last week, at the end his visit to Peru to gain assurances that Peruvian officials would make necessary changes to Peru’s labor laws, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) announced that Congress will consider the U.S.-Peru FTA this fall. Mr. Rangel was joined on this trip by fellow Ways and Means members Sandy Levin (D-MI), Chairman of Trade Subcommittee, and Allyson Schwartz (D-PA).
We applaud this step forward taken by Mr. Rangel and his Democratic colleagues, as well as their due diligence in ensuring that Peru will adhere to core international labor and environmental standards as part of its trade pact with the United States.
Progress on the U.S.-Peru FTA signals a clear and strong commitment to the bipartisan consensus on trade reached in May between Congress and the Bush Administration. It is our hope that passage of U.S.-Peru FTA will open the door to possible Congressional consideration of the other FTAs in the queue – Panama, Colombia, and Korea. We think these agreements, with all their negotiated flaws, will offer Mr. Rangel yet another opportunity to show important leadership on furthering a U.S. trade agenda that is both fair and progressive.
And indeed, a recent study by the Pew Research Center reveals that Americans are ambiguous on trade liberalization, which suggests that greater progress on trade might be well received. According to the study, 44 percent of Americans believe that free trade has been good for the United States, but on an individual level, Americans are split on whether trade has helped (35 percent) or hurt (36 percent) their personal financial situation.
In 2006, driven by a great degree by the immigration debate, Hispanics fled the Republican Party. From 2004 to 2006 the national Hispanic vote moved close to 20 points, going from 59/40 Kerry/Bush to 70/30 D/R. And turnout was up 33% from 2002. This part of the American electorate has become energized, and much more anti-Republican.
Remember that we've seen this happen before. In California, Pete Wilson and the GOP took on Hispanics and turned a swing state into a blue and progressive one. Hispanics responded to the GOP attacks by registering and voting in huge numbers for Democrats. In the first election after the GOP attacks the effect was modest. The impact came in the 2nd election, and the ones after.
The question about the anger Hispanics across the nation now feel towards the GOP was whether or not it would sustain, and if so, what impact it might have. For it is hard to see a viable electoral college map for the GOP that doesn't contain the heavily Hispanic swing states of AZ, CO, FL, NM and NV. Take these 5 states away and it starts to become hard how to see the GOP wins in 2008. A continued big swing of Hispanics in 2008 could deny this states to the GOP, and mark the way the GOP has handled the immigration issue as one of the greatest strategic blunders of modern politics.
Well, over the weekend, we saw a story that shows this degradation of the Republican brand with Hispanics continues apace. Peter Wallsten of the LATimes published a remarkable piece showing that those newly eligible citizens registering to vote in South Florida, a place where most Hispanics are Republican, are becoming Democrats:
MIAMI BEACH — As a Cuban who fled Fidel Castro's communist rule for a new life in the U.S., Julio Izquierdo would seem a natural Republican voter — a sure bet to adopt the same political lineage that has long guided most of his countrymen who resettled in South Florida.
But moments after taking his oath this week to become a U.S. citizen and registering to vote, the grocery store employee said he felt no such allegiances.
"I don't know whether Bush is a Democrat or a Republican, but whatever he is, I'm voting the other way," Izquierdo, 20, said Thursday as he waited for a taxi after a mass naturalization ceremony at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Izquierdo said he did not like President Bush's handling of the Iraq war and was miffed at politicians, most of them Republican, who seem to dislike immigrants.
That sentiment, expressed by several of the 6,000 new citizens who took their oaths Thursday in group ceremonies that take place regularly in immigrant-heavy cities nationwide, underscored the troubled environment facing the GOP in the buildup to next year's presidential election.
Surveys show that among Latino voters — a bloc Bush had hoped to woo into the Republican camp — negative views about the party are growing amid a bitter debate over immigration policy.
Republicans in Congress have led the fight against a controversial Senate bill that would provide a pathway for millions of illegal immigrants to eventually become citizens. All but one of the GOP's leading White House hopefuls oppose the measure.
Many Latino leaders, including Republicans, have said the tone of some critics in attacking the bill has been culturally insensitive. They say that has alienated some Latinos from the GOP....
Read on my friends. This is one of the most important stories in politics today.
The title of thisRoll Call article speaks for itself, as bi-partisanship seems to be defining the process for passing comprehensive immigration reform this year. Referring to the contrast between current and past discussions on immigration reform, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) noted:
“Last year was about staking out what you wouldn’t do” on immigration, while lawmakers now are aggressively working to find bipartisan common ground this session, said Graham.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) agreed, saying that he is “more hopeful than anytime in the recent past” that a comprehensive reform bill could pass.
Ever the office of optimism, an aide to House Minority Leader John Boehner said “Republicans will support an immigration bill that secures the border first and foremost, and does not grant amnesty to illegals.”
I must respectfully refer that aide to my previous post on thisWashington Post editorial, which predicted comments like those from Rep. Boehner's aide and refutes them, allowing the Minority Leader (and other Republicans) to vote for the bill:
Before the bill's citizenship provisions kick in, stringent new standards on workplace enforcement and border security would have to be satisfied. They include a major build-up in personnel and technology monitoring the nation's border.
Conservatives opposed to citizenship for illegal immigrants are fond of pillorying it as "amnesty." This bill provides nothing of the sort. In addition to requiring lawful reentry to the country, it would entail immigrants paying a $2,000 fine and any back taxes they owe, clearing a security and background check, learning English and civics, compiling a felony-free record, and submitting proof of past employment. Only after six years and after satisfying those requirements could workers apply for permanent residency status, which could lead to citizenship.
Time to pass this now.
(IMPORTANT NOTE: You need a subscription to Roll Call to view the article.)
Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued the following statement today regarding the bipartisan Congressional delegation trip (CODEL) of U.S. Senators he led to South America. The delegation visited Bolivia, Ecuador, and Perú, from December 27 through January 2. Following are excerpts from his remarks as prepared for delivery on the Senate floor earlier today. All six senators who participated in the CODEL gave speeches on the Senate floor this morning on their visit to South America.
“Madame President, like my colleagues, I am very pleased to discuss our recent CODEL to the Andean region of South America. I am grateful to Senators Conrad, Gregg, Salazar, Bennett and Durbin for taking the time to join me and speak on the floor today about this important trip.
“With America’s attention focused on the Middle East, South America does not get the attention that it deserves, particularly the three countries we visited – Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru.
“There is no doubt that there are serious problems in the region. There is also no question that the Bush Administration has neglected the region, and its lack of a comprehensive policy has contributed to this current trend towards the left. Venezuela and Cuba have been filling this vacuum left by the Administration. But I do not think we should be deterred by this trend. We have much to gain through increased engagement with South America – and much to lose if we retreat from our obligations to the region. We can and must do more.
“On our trip, we had productive meetings with the leaders of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. Most importantly, we came away from our visit with an appreciation for the people of these three important nations, and an awareness of the key issues confronting them.
“Going forward, we must remember that the U.S. and South America will continue to have its ups and downs. But all relationships do. The six of us took this trip because we know that existing relationships must be cultivated and tended to in order to keep them healthy and strong.
“There is so much more we can do here at home. Our delegation intends to meet with the Secretary of State in the coming weeks to relay to her the small things the U.S. Government can do to improve our position in the region. For example, I believe:
* We should be doing more with IMET assistance, which in addition to the training program, proves so valuable to developing longstanding relationships between military officers the United States and the IMET beneficiary;
* We need to increase the USAID budgets for these nations. We learned that Ecuador’s aid budget will be cut considerably, and I believe that is a mistake. One thing we learned is how far a few U.S. dollars can go;
* We also need to do more micro-lending to support the counter-drug efforts of the Andean region, in order to keep cocaine off the streets of the United States. I was disturbed to learn that the State Department is contemplating significant cuts to the Andean Counter-drug Program. That too would be a serious mistake, and I plan on raising the issue with the Secretary of State.
* Finally, I think it is important to extend the trade preferences for Ecuador and Bolivia. I also know that Peru is eager to get its Free Trade Agreement finalized, and this is something that Congress needs to address in the coming year.
“Through increased trade, more robust aid and exchange programs, and stronger diplomacy to this region, the United States can help lift many people out of poverty and improve economic conditions, which would have a significant impact on illegal immigration to the United States. We would also help counteract the region’s shift to the left. In short, Mr. President, the people of this region want stronger ties with the United States, and that’s what we should aim to deliver.”