Betting and losing

One of my teachers, Roy Macridis, used to say that public policy, in particular that relative to foreign policy, should be evaluated not for its objectives, but for its consequences. The theme that especially grieved him was the war in Vietnam, concerning which his pithy affirmation was that the U.S. had achieved exactly the opposite of what it had proposed. I have no doubt that many governments confront similar situations in their daily operations: each program, strategy, speech, or decision is contemplated in the light of the information available, the biases of those participating or advising in the decision making process, and the objectives pursued. Once the decision is made on what to do and how to do it, what remains is to grapple with the consequences. Many projects achieve their purpose, others fail. Some end up being counterproductive.

President Calderón’s State visit to Washington a few months ago took place in the context of a profound cleavage in the American society about its future. On that occasion, the president was harsh in his judgment of the two most controversial issues in the nations’ bilateral relationship: immigration and the sale of arms in the U.S. for use by the narcomafias in Mexico. In both themes, President Calderón did not limit himself to the Mexican perspective, but rather undertook the delivery of a strong critique of the U.S. in these matters. With regard to immigration, the president proposed the need for a joint solution, but, after attesting to his respect for U.S. laws, he devoted himself to criticizing them. In the weapons theme, he not only did not limit himself to exacting from the U.S. government its commitment to halt the exportation of arms to Mexico, but additionally he warned them of the risk for the U.S. itself in continuing to sell high-caliber weapons for internal consumption in that nation.

It is difficult to understand the motivation of crossing the line between foreign policy and what constitutes an intromission into the domestic legal realm. Independent of what the law says, a foreigner should always be prudent with respect to voicing his/her opinion on the foreign policy of the other country, and even more so when the foreigner is a head of State. I suppose that there are two possible explanations for this lapsus: one, that is was a conscious decision, with full knowledge of the potential consequences, and the other, that he and his advisors never imagined or measured them. Now that the midterm elections have taken place, it is time to gauge the potential costs.

Speculating on this modus operandi, it is possible that it derived from a maximilistic moral position in which the objective was to make the weight felt of the implications of U.S. policies on Mexico, or perhaps, in a more simplistic fashion, the true audience to which the speeches were directed was not the immediate one, but to that of public opinion in Mexico. Were it due to either of these two possibilities, the question is what for? What is the possible benefit of proceeding to the extent of alienating half the hosts to whom, as well, he is proposing a long-term alliance, all of these disregarding the possibility that the Republicans might eventually end up having a greater role in governing?

Independently of whether the governmental strategy consisted of intentionally causing special disapproval on the part of the Republican legislators and the “Tea Party” movement, or whether it comprised a deep-seated lack of understanding of what has evolved in the US in recent years, the tangible fact is that, several months after the fact, the strategy has now proven to have been a mistake. What Mexico needs is a strong and viable relationship with the government and people of the US in order to deal with the complex problems that stem from the shared border.  Nothing is gained by alienating the voters or politicians in the ascent.

Some analysts have been arguing for months that the crucial moment of the Tea Party ascent coincided with President Calderón’s visit. It is impressive to observe the number of advertisements, YouTube videos, and speeches that employ the president’s words, images and the voice, as an instrument to pummel their rivals and, on the way, President Obama. As one analyst notes, “the Democrats in Congress applauded him, but at the level of the man-in-the-street, the words of the Mexican president came across as those of a cold, ungrateful, and hypocritical preacher reprimanding his congregation. In other words, justifiably or not, he angered the Americans.”

As my teacher would say, it is time to grapple with the consequences. Whatever the objective to be pursued of that visit, the consequences have been extraordinarily costly and could further grow, because all of this has strengthened the notion that Mexico has become a domestic political affair, which leads to blaming Mexicans as the cause of many of the ills that Americans are suffering.

As the old Chinese proverb goes, crises are also moments of opportunity. Mexico has become the bad guy of the U.S. movie, a circumstance that affects all facets of our interaction with that country. If the tide does not turn, the costs would amass in very specific forms, above all in much grimmer measures along the border and in rejection of new migratory legislation, or, considerably worse, in the adoption of legislation so uncompromising that the upshot would be closing the doors, not only to future migrants, but also predominantly to those already there. The time is ripe to launch a strategy to win over the minds of the Americans for the benefit of Mexico and Mexicans.

What Mexico has to do in the U.S. has been sufficiently evident for a long time. Mexico has been a serious and responsible partner, has devoted itself to confronting themes and problems that affect both neighbor nations, and has proposed to contribute to solving common problems in ways that years ago were pure heresy in our country. Today, however, the circumstances demand a decided activism, a decision to embark upon a strategy of the legitimization of Mexico and what is Mexican. With great vision, Luis de la Calle has spoken of the possibility of casting a Mexican actor as a physician on one of the most popular programs on U.S. television, or promoting two cities, such as San Diego and Tijuana, to jointly organize the Olympic Games. The issue is to change the collective U.S. imaginary for the image of the Mexican to be that of a hard-working and responsible person who wants a better life. Better a true image than endless bickering that leads nowhere.