As we approach, enter, and engage a New Year, we would be well advised to reflect upon and remember a verity that gets lost sometimes in the maelstrom of this nation's involvement in war. It is limited and somewhat unusual, to be sure, when compared with America's great all-out conflicts of the twentieth century. The three years of fighting in the Middle East constitutes a very real, large-scale armed conflict nonetheless.
The actuality referred to that tends to get lost is the fact that the United States, and Americans in general, have concerns about parts of the world other than Iraq and Afghanistan, as important as is our current focus on those countries. And we may well recollect that Americans follow problems on the international scene other than the overall War Against Terrorism, as vital to the nation's future as defeating the foe in that struggle is. There remain a multitude of other issues with international implications that continue to require serious thought and, in some cases, a national dialogue. Examples are the Kyoto Protocol, originally signed by 160 nations in 1997; the recent Central American Free Trade Agreement and its implementation; amending the Immigration and Nationality Act; Tsunami relief and reconstruction efforts, not to speak of the problems raised by America's own Katrina disaster; budgetary overruns and defense spending. The list goes on.
Further, there is no shortage of regional and perhaps in particular bilateral U. S. relations with certain other countries that will require attention. The strains engendered by continued American involvement in Iraq have alienated a large number of traditional American friends, notably in Europe. And bilateral relations not particularly affected by involvement in Iraq in many cases remain problematic for one reason or another. Examples: the Sudan, Nepal, Nigeria, Venezuela.
Ah, Venezuela! Mention of that nation reminds that U. S. interaction with Latin America, not often mentioned by anyone anywhere these days, given the focus on the Middle East, has long suffered from the syndrome of being taken for granted nearly all of the time (except sporadically for Cuba). The region provides two perfect examples of nations that suffer from a lack of attention by Washington, to the detriment of U. S. interests in the region. I refer to Venezuela's and Bolivia's new political leadership.
In Venezuela, an avowed radical, the rabble rouser Hugo Chávez Frias, is in office, and in Bolivia, a coca farmer named Evo Morales, a reputed extremist of the left, is due to take office as president in January.
To take the Bolivian case first as one example of a problematic situation that could cause Washington trouble: That tin-rich but otherwise impoverished nation high in the Andes has had over the years some surprisingly able top leaders, at least beginning with Victor Paz Estenssoro (1907-2001), a three-time president, followed later by the popular René Barrientos Ortuño (1919-1969). A leftist coca farmer in the La Paz presidential palace will be a far cry from those leaders.
The former Venezuelan military figure and avowedly anti-U. S. Chávez follows by some years the respected Rómulo Betancourt (1908-81), twice president for a total of eight years. Installation of the former constitutes a sea change in leadership in that oil-rich but troubled nation.
Both of these instances of new leadership in Latin America point up the possibility of headaches for Washington other than problems in the Middle East. Clearly these potential difficulties are not now anywhere near on a par with problems in Iraq and that region. But these two Latin nations could prove troublesome and they merit more focused attention as the nation ends one year and begins another.
May the New Year bring, as to all of our readers, success to those charged with the responsibility of directing American diplomacy!
Editor Henry E. Mattox