Robert Novak reports that the Democrats, who have squealed loudly over the supposedly unilateral foreign policy of George Bush, snubbed one of the few allies we have left in Latin America. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe returned to Bogota in shock as Democrats blocked trade agreements over old human-rights issues, while Hugo Chavez rallies the other nations to opposition against the US:
Colombia’s president, Alvaro Uribe, returned to Bogota this week in a state of shock. His three-day visit to Capitol Hill to win over Democrats in Congress was described by one American supporter as “catastrophic.” Colombian sources said Uribe was stunned by the ferocity of his Democratic opponents, and Vice President Francisco Santos publicly talked about cutting U.S.-Colombian ties.
Uribe got nothing from his meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders. Military aid remains stalled, overall assistance is reduced, and the vital U.S.-Colombian trade bill looks dead. Uribe is the first Colombian president to crack down on his country’s corrupt army officer hierarchy and to assault both right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing guerrillas, but last week he confronted Democrats wedded to outdated claims of civil rights abuses and rigidly protectionist dogma.
This is remarkable U.S. treatment for a rare friend in South America, where Venezuela’s leftist dictator, Hugo Chavez, can only exult in Uribe’s embarrassment as he builds an anti-American bloc of nations. A former congressional staffer, who in 1999 helped write Plan Colombia to combat narco-guerrillas, told me: “President Uribe may be the odd man out, and that’s no way to treat our best ally in South America.”
This recalls the foreign policy of Jimmy Carter, who famously threw the Shah under the bus and enabled the radical Islamist takeover of Iran. We have a real problem with Chavez in South America, and we should look for allies there to promote our interests. Colombia also has strategic importance in America’s efforts to stamp out narco-trafficking, and Uribe has risked much in assisting in that fight. One might believe that American politicians would at least treat such an ally with respect, but according to Novak, he received contempt.
How so? Al Gore had been scheduled to meet with Uribe at an environmental event in Miami on April 20th. Apparently, this was an event tied to Earthfest, a conference that Gore would normally run over his grandmother in a Prius to attend. Instead, Gore cancelled, claiming that Uribe had involvement with paramilitary forces over a decade ago, which Uribe denied. That apparently signalled the rest of the Democrats to dismiss Uribe and the strategic importance of Colombia to US policy in Latin America.
How bad was the damage? On Uribe’s return, his Vice President remarked that the failure to extend trade agreements showed Latin America how the US treats its allies, and that Colombia would probably have to re-evaluate its relationship to the US. Given that the US has enough pressure from a rising tide of Castro-style socialism in this hemisphere already, that would be a dangerous disaffection at a time we can least afford it.
Besides, everyone knows why the Democrats don’t want to extend trade agreements with the Colombians. The unions oppose free trade in this hemisphere and want to roll back NAFTA and CAFTA. For that matter, so does Duncan Hunter, but the Republican Congressman would know better than to deliberately antagonize a significant ally in a region where we have few enough as it is. If this demonstrates the kind of diplomacy we can expect in a Democratic administration, then Republicans have more reason than ever to look optimistically towards 2008.