State Department Must Avoid Being Perceived as Pushovers

Thursday, October 9, 2014
Surely, the most important foreign policy lesson that President Obama has learned while in office is that the United States must always stand by its word, commitments and principles.

It's the source of the apparently endless criticism he's receiving -- from Democrats and Republicans alike.

The U.S. simply cannot continue to re-draw "red-lines". Otherwise, the credibility of the nation comes into question -- weakening the trust of our allies and emboldening the aggressiveness of our foes.

We become perceived as pushovers.

This doesn't only apply to Russia and the Middle East. It applies to Latin America as well.

Take the case of Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal, the former military intelligence chief wanted by the United States for narcotics trafficking.

U.S. prosecutors and law enforcement agencies took a huge gamble by having Carvajal arrested in Aruba under a U.S. warrant.

Yet, within a few days, U.S. diplomats were blindsided and Carvajal was headed back to Caracas unscathed.

Let's be clear, U.S. diplomats tried their absolute best to convince the Dutch and Aruban authorities otherwise -- but they miscalculated.

And were perceived as pushovers.

Now we have the case of next year's Summit of the Americas, where Cuba's cohorts insist on Castro's attendance -- and the region's democrats are too intimidated (and unincentivized) to resist.  

What's at stake here is the 2001 "democracy clause" of the Quebec Summit and the Inter-American Democratic Charter -- the greatest accomplishments in hemispheric diplomacy since the end of the Cold War.

To the State Department's credit, they have -- thus far -- been forceful in defending these commitments.

Here's State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on September 3rd, 2013:

"[O]ur view is that at the 2001 Summit of the Americas, all participating governments agreed to consensus that 'The maintenance and strengthening of the rule of law and strict respect for the democratic system are at the same time a goal and a shared commitment and are an essential condition of our presence at this and future summits.' So we should not undermine commitments previously made, but should instead encourage – and this is certainly our effort – the democratic changes necessary for Cuba to meet the basic qualifications."

Then, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, emphasized on September 27th, 2013:

"I think we have made clear that we believe the summit process is committed to democratic governance and we think that the governments that are sitting at that table ought to be committed to the summit principles, which include democratic governance."

Unfortunately, not clear enough.

Upon arriving in Panama yesterday, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, John Feeley, apparently sought to play down the significance of Cuba's participation by comparing the Summit of the Americas to Sunday brunch:

"It's not so important the guests at the table but the meal that's served," Feeley told the media.

John Feeley is a good man, who honorably serves his country.

So hopefully, this was just an inartful quote.

But it may very well be the State Department's new position on the Summit.

If so, it would only propagate the existing notion that the U.S. doesn't stand by its word, commitments and principles.

In other words, that we are pushovers.