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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Do US presidential elections matter to us?

The United States Presidential elections of 2016 is just over 18 months away. Which means it is still a good ways off, but some hopefuls have already come forward and others have expressed keen interest in running for the biggest most important job on the planet outside of being the Catholic Pope, the Chairman of the Republic of China or the European Union Commissioner.

In The Caribbean this apparently matters a great deal to some, even though to others the claim that it doesn't matter who the president of the USA is, American foreign policy doesn't change a great deal in favour of partnering nations unless there is some new and salient point for mutual assistance on certain matters. I lean more on the side of the latter!

Allow me to set the table for explaining the reason why I lean more towards a "bleh!" side of things: People in The Caribbean claim that US foreign policy has gotten worse over the last 15 years or so. Some of them may be too young to remember the Cold War period, or just flat out forgot what that meant. That period was a particularly tough time for smaller nation states that may have given the appearance of being Marxist or "left leaning" in their economic and political focus.

They also may be suffering from information gap to a large extent. Even ten years ago the amount of information from the media outlets and the information super-highway called the internet was not a part of the knowledge bundle. So, key dates, persons and issues were left in blind patches in history that one may have to research a little deeper on the matter, and use what was found in the context of the rational human behavioural patterns and expectations of today in order to make sense of the times back then and the trials of those who were not Western-European or North-American during the Cold War.

Be that as it may, persons are now stepping forward to become the new president of the USA and ultimately the leader of the "free world". Seems like a misnomer to use the term free world when most of us are being spied on, travel habits and plans altered since the attacks of 9-11 and that countries have clamped down on dissent in favour of more governmental intrusion. Yes, governmental intrusion: It isn't just your country!

The gauntlet has been thrown down very early in the campaign. Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, has officially entered the race. He is the only elected member of the US government to come forward formally to announce his direct intentions for the office, in addition to being the most prominent name to come forward thus far.

The other persons already out of the gate are inconsequential. In fact, they either border on radical outriders or are all out radicals on the ultra looney side of the political process and are loosely affiliated, if at all, with the two major parties in the USA: The Democratic Party and The Republican Party.

For example, perennial candidate and conspiracy theorist, Jeff Boss entered into the race for the Democratic Party first. Boss is a "9-11 truther", meaning that he believes that the US government was behind the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. Yup!

But, to be fair, as we have the "truthers" on the Democratic side of the fence, we have the "birthers" on the other, conservative and Republican side. The "birthers" are the ones that believed that US President Obama was not a naturally born citizen of America and hence was ineligible to be president.

Also on the Republican side of the candidates already out of the gate and sprinting, retired engineer and once a Prohibition Party candidate and also a perennial candidate has put his name in the mix. Yes, The Prohibition Party represents a small group of individuals wanting the alcohol laws repealed all the way back to the 1920's Prohibition era. Good luck with that!

So, as it stands now, along with Senator Cruz, we have a few other oddballs that make the race interesting. All we need is former New York Gubernatorial and Senatorial candidate in 2010 from The Rent Is Too Damn High Party (yes, this is the official name of the political party), Jimmy McMillan to enter the race and we would have a full fledged early campaign special. But, with all due respect to Mr. McMillan, he received over 40 thousand votes in the 2010 New York Gubernatorial election, and he did not finish hot last either. Just thought you should know that!

Since coming out of the gate however, Senator Cruz has faced major criticisms. The first mover (so to speak) out of the gate always gets the flack. The backlash he received is nothing we should be totally worried about. He is a sitting US Senator, so he is not a nitwit, he is not a dummy and he certainly has some political savvy about him.

What we never thought would happen to Senator Cruz was that he faced, and still is facing, a lot of pressure from his own political party. Statements from sources like Fox News and online media blog The American Conservative have labelled Senator Cruz as "weak" on foreign policy, and "thin" on legislative achievements. In all fairness, that did not stop president Obama. But it is in keeping with the experience mandate of the conservative right.

Be that as it may, a strong but understanding foreign policy record is all we in The Caribbean and Latin America really "should" care about. I put the word should in quotations because we may be focusing on the wrong thing for the wrong set of reasons.

To put it very bluntly: People that have been around the block at least once don't mind or care to any large extent who is elected as the next US president. Unless we have a particular fancy for someone's handling of certain matters (particularly internal economic matters) that we may be able to glean from and incorporate into our own economic policies, it really is welcome to the world, nice to meet you and when do we get the next instalments of freebies from you. Just about!

America's international trade policy may come into play to a certain degree, but only when certain crops may be affected, which to that extent, when the USA moves in concert with the European Union, there is very little one can do in the face of that.

However, any move America makes with regard to international trade that may affect certain commodities can be equally offset by America's tremendous generosity towards affected countries. Say what you will of them, America is still, by far, the largest aid and resource donor in the world taking into consideration the entire block of the European Union that accounts for 28 nation states. $32 billion in 2013 in development and resource aid doled out by America to the European Union's $87 billion in that same year as reported by the  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These figures also do not account for the multitudinous private sector groups, NGO's, civic organizations and faith based groups that have been a hallmark of America's international good-will and generosity.

Back to the topic, to this author in particular, I have seen just about enough of American foreign policy to know that it does not matter who the president of the USA is. The policy typically remains the same, or just about, with minor alterations for persons who the current administration favours to a significant extent.

Take for example former president GW Bush's liking for our former prime minister, Hubert A. Ingraham. Former prime minister Ingraham was able to visit Washington to meet with president Bush on two formal occasions, and God knows how many other times he was allowed access to top officials or go-between's in order to achieve whatever it was he was dealing with at the time.

However, any particular favourability with regard to national objectives in The Bahamas was not really seen. We did not see looser immigration regulations for students and persons wishing to travel to the United States. We did not see the banking laws in The Bahamas change with the tacit approval of the Bush administration, or a fresh wave of openings in our financial services industry. We did not see a sharp rise in tourists under the Bush administration, and neither was the US Embassy here particularly softer on it's tone with regard to crime and other seedy little items that may arise as a result of developing nation tom-foolery.

On the same token, all of the matters we were concerned with under the Bush administration can be said to remain the same, or just about, under the current Obama administration albeit tourism arrivals have accelerated to a significant level as a result of employment growth in America.

I don't know what this represents in your neck of the Caribbean, Central American and South American parts of the bushes, but take it as it is.

To be very candid about this American foreign policy issue, there is not a lot one can do about it. It is what it is as long as they are the Super Power. There is even less we can do about American domestic economic policy as well, when primarily this affects us just as much and to some extent more than American foreign policy directed towards our grouping.

So, with regard to the other potential candidates and hopefuls looking to take the reins of the world's toughest job, to me and many others it's just the same person with just a different tone of voice.

Whether it is the presumptive female candidate Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, or her internal Democratic Party rival and female Senator Elizabeth Warren (apparently president Obama's top choice to succeed him). Or, on the Republican side with the brother of the last Republican president, GW Bush in that of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, or another presumptive front runner, retired neurologist and an African American Republican hopeful, Dr. Ben Carson, for me it's all a matter of who's next.

Our main focus should be watching now and waiting then to watch more about what America does internally with regard to it's economy. That itself is something we can do and guard against with regard to buffering our respective economies from shocks as they will emanate from our big brother to the North.

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