A moment for careful reflection
Few people understand how great the dailypressures are on a Prime Minister or President. Instead they mostly observe thepublic persona, see their leaders in the context of tribal politics, and are variouslyentertained or exercised by the media coverage of what is said, done or ignored.
Irrespective, as holders of high office,all Heads of Government are required to consider and take decisions that arelikely to affect a country and its citizen’s well-being for years or evendecades ahead. They are expected to respond with wisdom and judgement to eventsat all hours, and have a view on everything from the banal to the veryserious.
So challenging is this responsibilitythat, for example, a senior figure in Washington told me just months afterPresident Obama took office in 2008 that the President – who she and herhusband knew well – was prematurelybecoming grey haired, because of the pressure and responsibility.
In this context 2017 is likely to be amongthe most strategically challenging that Caribbean leaders and senior ministers responsiblefor more than domestic policy will have faced since independence or the USintervention/invasion of Grenada.
This is because the global order that emergedafter the second world war and at the end of the cold war is about to beupended and despite objections, consigned to history.
This is not only because of the radicallydifferent thinking of the incoming US President and those he is appointing, orthe changes in Europe that will follow the UK electorate’s decision to leavethe EU, but also for reasons of the political and economic repositioning now takingplace globally. These include the internationally assertive and mediatory role thatRussia is pursuing, the emergence of China as a global economic and militarypower to rival the US, its rejection by the new US Administration, and likely realignmentsand confrontations in the Middle East and East Asia.
In this process and its uncertainoutcome, there will likely also be a rapid reorientation of thinking about futurerelations with the Americas by nations from Canada to Japan and Taiwan, as theytoo seek to rebalance their alliances and influence in the context of widerchange.
As history has demonstrated, the nationsof the Caribbean and Central America are located at a critical strategiccrossroads for every major power, implying that the region is unlikely toescape future tension or taking sides.
This suggests that in the coming monthsevery nation in the Americas will a need to reassess how their core concerns ata national and region level should best be prosecuted as international relationshipschange.
Finding responses will be far from easy,not least because of the ambiguity – possibly intentional – of the Presidentelect’s seemingly viscerally driven pronouncements, and the absence of any detailon how the incoming US Administration and Congress intends reconciling thecontradictions.
That said, there is much that can bedone to prepare and to achieve a better understanding of the ideas and concernsthat will drive events.
A good starting point is a short paper byDr Evan Ellis, published by the US Strategic Studies Institute where he is a respectedresearch Professor of Latin American Studies.The paper, ‘Strategic Insights: Thinking Strategically About LatinAmerica and the Caribbean’, looks at the importance of the Caribbean Basin tothe US, raises important questions about the implications of its potential adversaries’presence in the region, and makes suggestions as to how future US policy mightbe adapted.
Another would be to explore inWashington through political friends and its many think tanks, the implicationsof Donald Trump’s prepared remarks in Mexico City at the end of August 2016 afterhe had met with the Mexican President.
Then, Mr Trump appeared to indicate aninterest in an economic agenda for the Americas. He said that one of the goals he wishes toshare will be to “keep manufacturing wealth in our hemisphere”. “When jobsleave Mexico, the US, or Central America, and go overseas, it increases povertyand pressure on social services as well as pressures on cross-border migration”,he observed. Elsewhere in his remarks, he said that Mexico and the US “havetremendous competition from China and from all over the world. Keep it in ourhemisphere”.
A third would be to consider those whohave most influenced the thinking of President Putin and the impact this hashad on the neo-conservatives and others around Mr Trump who embrace the idea ofa grand bargain with Russia on a new global balance, and the creation of spheresof influence.
In this, the thinking of the lateRussian historian and anthropologist, Lev Gumilev, is particularly significant asit speaks to the new Russian nationalism and revanchism. Over simplified, histheory of ‘passionarnost’ involves a belief that each nation has the ability tomake and create history and that any simplification to fit some predetermined conclusionleads to its distortion. Or, in Mr Putin’s referenced interpretation in 2012: “Whowill take the lead and who will remain on the periphery and inevitably losetheir independence will depend not only on the economic potential but primarilyon the will of each nation, on its inner energy”.
Other avenues would be to study China’srecent new policy paper on Latin America; the earlier published writings ofsome of Mr Trump’s appointees, whose views are little changed on issues fromclimate change, to Cuba, Venezuela and financial regulation; and as bizarre asit may seem, to cautiously consider what is being said by Breitbart News, theonline publication previously controlled by Mr Trump’s Chief Strategist, SteveBannon.
More immediately, there are many wellinformed diplomats in the region able not just to reflect on their owncountries thinking on some of these issues, but also able in private tointerpret the regional implications of the possible actions of others on the basisof realpolitik.
None of this is intended to be pessimistic.Rather it is to express the hope that those in the Caribbean who steergovernment, are in opposition, in business and academia, willuse a little of the normally quiet month of January to try to understand betternot only the thinking and motivations of a world in which internationalrelationships may change rapidly, but also to consider how the region might adjustto the new global equation.
David Jessop is a consultant to the CaribbeanCouncil and can be contacted at
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