(U-WIRE) MADISON, Wis. – It is hard to believe that anything would be on the president’s mind these days besides the business of patching up his disastrous war in addition to trying to calm the uproarious domino effect of failure that has followed it (see: Walter Reed, Scooter Libby, etc.). Yet as Mr. Bush arrives in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday morning to embark on the longest tour of Latin America in his presidency, I’m convinced that he has actually been taking a little time out of his days of late to think about something else for a change: himself.
With just a little more than 22 months left in office, Mr. Bush has officially entered “legacy season.” And for those of you unfamiliar with this presidential phase, it is that rare and coveted period when a second-term president gives up on earning support at home (good idea, George) and tries to gain favorable standing with the history books by chalking up easy policy victories abroad.
Yet for this president, victories at home or abroad are few and far between, and none of them has been easy.
Billed as a “tour against extremism” in the region, the most recent obstacle to Mr. Bush’s success is none other than the president of a country with only one-tenth the population of the United States and with a per-capita GDP that ranks 90th in the world – Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez Fr’as.
During the time of Bush’s neglect to the region, which is to say his whole presidency, Mr. Chavez has built up support from Bolivia to Nicaragua and gained increasing popularity among other aspiring leftists who are eager to hop on the Chavez bandwagon, which I hear is full of oil and burning American flags.
Yet aside from Mr. Chavez’s explosive personality, many are arguing that his policies have actually served a benevolent purpose by finally bringing some much-needed attention to the region. With Mr. Chavez nationalizing an increasing number of industries in Venezuela, being approved by his senate to “rule by decree” for the next 18 months and continuing to move toward authoritative rule during what he calls the “era of maximum revolution” – the attention of Mr. Bush has finally been caught and has brought him to Latin America with a Texas grin and a sack full of cash.
The New York Times even published an editorial Wednesday titled “Thanks to Mr. Chavez” that explained why no matter the reason for Bush’s increased attention to the area, it was still a step toward assisting a region in neglect. The Wall Street Journal also published the statistic that the president has almost doubled aid to Latin America since taking office, now up to $1.6 billion annually.
And maybe, as some are suggesting, Mr. Bush is following through on the attention he promised to pay to the region when he was running for office in 2000. As reported by The New York Times, Mr. Bush said, “Should I become president, I will look south, not as an afterthought, but as a fundamental commitment.”
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this benevolent fantasy is actually just that – a fantasy and nothing more. This is not a tour aimed at assisting a region in dire need of stability; it is a tour aimed at assisting a president in dire need of help with his legacy.
As reported by The New York Times, the annual $1.6 billion will be significantly cut in the next fiscal year. Even so, it remains billions behind that of other Western nations and even further behind the aid given by Mr. Chavez himself. These depleted funds will also continue to be primarily targeted at drug trafficking in Columbia and the Mexican border, at military cooperation among leftist governments and in direct neglect of aiding Latin America in the areas it most needs assistance – structural development, education and health care.
From Brazil to Uruguay, Columbia, Guatemala and finally Mexico, Mr. Bush will indeed stand up to Mr. Chavez on some imagined ideological stage. And, in the meantime, he will indeed let down a region full of people with real, pressing needs.
Call me a broken record or call this a failed presidency, but once again, Mr. Bush: too little, too late.