Friday, June 14, 2024

Opinion: 10 days that shook Mexican foreign policy

Our country undoubtedly faces enormous public policy challenges – some of them existential – as well as an inevitable debate about the vision of the Mexican state on the road to next year’s presidential elections. 

As is the case in most countries (except at particular historical moments), foreign policy will not define how Mexicans end up voting at the polls. But it does have an essential impact on Mexico’s well-being, prosperity, security, and national interests.

That is why what we have witnessed these past weeks is alarming. 

Mexico’s aimless foreign policy  

There were 10 days in September in which President López Obrador once again turned his back on the world, ignored foreign policy, and gave the finger to both the rules-based international system and to international relations. His is a foreign policy adrift, with the unavoidable consequence of sending Mexico’s world credibility hurtling towards rock bottom.

First, the President did not attend (once again) a key summit of a mechanism to which Mexico belongs – the G20, in India – and missed his fifth United Nations General Assembly in a row. There will be no shortage of supporters of the 4T (López Obrador’s “fourth transformation” movement) who will argue: What difference does it make? Nothing happens in these forums.

López Obrador himself has taken to affirming the same in his increasingly contentious rhetoric against the U.N. But let’s see what actually did happen at two of these forums. 

At the G20, the chess game of global governance is being decided as other groups coalesce, such as the expanded BRICS.

And both at this summit and in the U.N. General Assembly, what sometimes matters more than anything else are the bilateral meetings of leaders that take place in parallel. The absence of the Mexican head of state means that our country lost opportunities for dialogue.

What is López Obrador’s international vision?

The last month seems to have come full circle in our country’s current international vision, with Mexico’s return to the G-77, an international forum that we abandoned as irrelevant in 1994 when we joined the OECD, and with a photo-op of the Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary with her Russian counterpart in New York. Body language says a lot about the utter tone-deafness in this government when it comes to foreign policy and current events.

The cluelessness with which our president operates culminated in reversing himself, announcing that despite having previously confirmed his attendance, he wouldn’t be attending the APEC Summit in San Francisco in November (he since has pulled a U-turn on this, affirming a couple of weeks ago that he has reconsidered and would, after all, participate). The reason he gave at the time? The participation of Peru, a country with which “we have no relations”, according to López Obrador, though the two countries continue to have diplomatic relations. 

This last invective leads us to the cherry on the cake of these shocking 10 days of foreign policy blunders.

Is López Obrador provoking the U.S.?

It is not entirely clear whether the real reason for López Obrador’s about face regarding the APEC Summit had to do with Peruvian participation, or if in reality, this is nothing more than a smokescreen to cover up the fact that U.S. diplomats may have at the time nixed a bilateral meeting between López Obrador and Biden on the sidelines of the summit. This is perhaps not surprising in the context of the shameful and unjustifiable decision to permit a Russian contingent to participate in the Independence Day parade on Sept. 16.

The president claims that critics have made “a lot of fuss” over the Russian presence in the parade. But let’s take a step back.

There is no doubt that the parade was an endorsement of authoritarian regimes with the contingents – Nicaraguan, Cuban, Venezuelan – that marched in it. But the Russian issue is a separate one: it is a provocation, international bravado directed against our main trading partner and neighbor, and against the European Union and the nations that have supported Ukraine in confronting and repelling the Russian aggression. 

Since the last time Russia participated in a National Independence military parade during the bicentennial of our independence in 2010, Moscow has twice – in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea, and now in 2022 with the attack on the rest of Ukraine – violated international law and the U.N. charter, invading without justification and in a premeditated manner an independent and sovereign nation. And for good measure, Putin has an arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russian troops on Ukrainian soil.

This latest cascade of mistakes is like a torpedo below the waterline of Mexico’s reputation and credibility in the main diplomatic capitals of the world. 

What these 10 fateful days of Mexican diplomacy – or the lack thereof  – have shown is a president and an administration without a moral compass and a geopolitical north star. Above all, this reveals that this particular “style” of stale, clumsy presidential diplomacy does take its toll on our country. 

Biden will ensure that the relationship with Mexico is not derailed at a time when migratory flows to the U.S. are once again increasing in a vertiginous – and electorally dangerous – manner. But in a US presidential campaign where the GOP and GOP presidential contenders are resorting to Mexico-bashing as if the country were a piñata, perceptions can become reality.

With Lopez Obrador’s evisceration of security, intelligence and law-enforcement cooperation with the U.S., his narrative that fentanyl is not produced in Mexico and that it is “not Mexico’s problem”, and now – in the immediate aftermath of the horrific terrorist attack by Hamas against Israelis – his refusal to condemn Hamas and call it what it is, a terrorist organization, the president is stirring up hurricanes in the relationship with the U.S., with members of Congress of both parties, and with public opinion in general.

If we take into account that in a summer survey of U.S. voters who identify themselves as Republicans, 46% (compared to 18% in 2021) say Mexico is “perceived” as an “enemy” of the U.S., and that in a new poll out last week, a strong majority of people in the United States believe that the U.S. and Mexico have equal responsibility for stopping illegal immigration and drug trafficking, yet only 16% see Mexico as a “close ally”, I can’t tell you what images of Russian soldiers in the Zócalo will do to our major trading partner’s perceptions of Mexico, in the run-up to a presidential election.

This article was originally published in El Universal newspaper.

Arturo Sarukhan has had a distinguished education and career, serving as Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S. (2007-2013), and in additional advisory roles in both Mexico and the U.S. Currently based in Washington, D.C., he writes about international issues for various media outlets and is a regular opinion columnist published on Mexico News Daily.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mexico News Daily, its owner or its employees.

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