Columns

Is Obama or Romney better for the Caribbean?

SIR RONALD SANDERS

Sunday, October 21, 2012    

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SUCH is the continuing power of the United States that all over the world, governments and organisations are concerned about what a US presidency of either incumbent Barack Obama or hopeful Mitt Romney will mean to them.

After four years as president, the world already knows what kind of foreign policy Obama would seek to implement. It will be forceful in defence of what Obama sees as the interests of the United States, and while it will try to work with other governments and through the United Nations Security Council, it will not stop short of taking unilateral action against any country that it believes poses a threat to the United States. It will also continue to advance a programme of promoting human rights and civil liberties in countries where it is felt such rights and liberties are stifled and democracy is suppressed.

In this regard, a new Obama Administration will continue to take a tough line with Iran for as long as it is convinced that the Iranian Government is working toward building a nuclear capability that could be used against Israel and maybe further afield. Regrettably, it will also continue its drone warfare in Pakistan and Afghanistan where hundreds of innocent people are being killed as 'collateral damage' as the US Government hunts persons believed to be terrorists associated with al-Qaeda.

Syria may also be ratcheted up the foreign policy priorities as efforts intensify to bring an end to both the relentless killing of civilians in clashes between the Assad regime and opposition forces, and the burdensome flood of refugees to neighbouring states.

On the global economic front, relations with China will continue to be a major preoccupation as the US Government tries to mitigate the challenges it faces from what it portrays as China's unfair trade advantages arising from subsidised production and an undervalued currency.

The Obama Administration will undoubtedly continue its strategy of negotiation with China and complaints to the dispute settlement body of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Mitt Romney has given the world a flavour of the kind of foreign policy he will pursue in several speeches he made during his campaign. There is no doubt that in the Middle East, although he says he will "recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel", he will favour Israel's interest above all others.

As he said, "the world must never see any daylight between our two nations". He will also militarise the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region by restoring the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces, and he will be even tougher on Iran than Obama has been by imposing new sanctions. Further, he will challenge Russia by expanding themilitary capacity of the US, and he will seek to strengthen the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) so that all of its 28 members devote two per cent of their GDP to security spending (only three do so now).

With regard to China, Romney has made it clear that on the trade front he will "confront China's cheating" and he will "maintain appropriate military capabilities to discourage any aggressive or coercive behaviour by China against its neighbours (including Taiwan)".

The choices, therefore, appear to be between the Romney method of a more militaristic and aggressive US Government globally that seeks to place American power as the foundation of an international system, and the Obama approach that will use American power to defend American interests but would be willing to secure consensus as the basis for the functioning of the international order.

It would seem that the world would be a less confrontational place under Obama than under Romney.

With regard to the Caribbean, it is already known that the Obama presidency has not been helpful to the region and in some ways it has been harmful, particularly in the financial services sector, in climate change, and in a lack of responsiveness to development needs.

The Caribbean's financial services have been hurt, both by the labelling of many of them as "tax havens" and by the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) which extends US jurisdiction into the Caribbean with a heavy compliance cost to Caribbean financial institutions. It is impacting government revenues and curtailing savings in banks by Caribbean nationals who are also nationals or residents of the United States.

As regards climate change, during the Rio+20 Conference last June, the US refused to affirm an earlier commitment to transfer technology to developing countries. It equally refused to reaffirm any commitment to providing new and additional financial resources.

Obama's help to the region has been primarily on curbing drug trafficking. But this is as much -- if not more -- in America' s interests as the region's. The focus on interdiction and not on providing resources for education, job creation, and poverty alleviation is not tackling the region's fundamental problems.

Under Romney, there is unlikely to be any change in the Obama policies toward the Caribbean -- except maybe in the strictures on the financial services sector, since Romney himself is a beneficiary of financial vehicles in the Cayman Islands.

Policies toward Cuba and Venezuela would appear to be the biggest difference in policy approaches between Obama and Romney. Romney has made it clear that he will return to tight sanctions against Cuba and he will not allow Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Castro's Cuba to "lead a virulently anti-American 'Bolivarian' movement across Latin America that seeks to undermine institutions of democratic governance and economic opportunity". He has also said he wants "market-based economic relationships".

Against this background, there is not much in the presidency of Obama or Romney for the Caribbean specifically. But the world would be less contentious with America at least trying multilateral solutions before unilateral coercion.

Ronald Sanders is a consultant and former Caribbean diplomat

Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com

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