On Sunday, Colombia elected Juan Manuel Santos to succeed Alvaro Uribe as its president. This is very good news. Santos is an ally of Uribe and, as I noted here, Uribe is a staunch friend of the United States and a thorn in the side of Venezuela’s dictator, Hugo Chavez. Even more importantly, he is perhaps the most successful president in modern Latin American history. In the words of the Washington Post editorial board,
[Uribe] beefed up Colombia’s army and economy, and smashed the terrorist FARC movement; murders have fallen by 45 percent and kidnappings by 90 percent during his eight years in office. Though most Colombians wanted him to remain in power, he bowed to a Supreme Court ruling against a referendum on a third term — which means that unlike Mr. Chávez, he will leave behind a strong democratic system.
Yet it is far from clear that the Obama administration will embrace Santos. It certainly did not embrace Uribe. As the Post’s board of editors observes, Obama has treated Uribe with “arms-length disdain.” For example, he is recommending a reduction in aid to Colombia and, along with congressional Democrats, has kept the free-trade agreement negotiated with Colombia by the Bush administration on ice.
Obama’s treatment of Uribe’s Colombia is a particularly curious example of a phenomenon we’ve been writing about since the first months of the Obama administration – his mistreatment of allies. The most obvious examples, Great Britain and Israel, are perhaps the least perplexing ones, given Obama’s ideology. Great Britain is a former colonial power and Israel is the current bête noire of the left.
Other instances are more puzzling. India for example, was a prime object of British colonialism. It’s not clear to me what portion of leftist orthodoxy places India in the dock. Yet, after being romanced by the Bush administration, India has received ambivalent treatment from Obama.
For its part, Colombia’s credentials as a victim – of brutal Spanish imperialism, civil wars, epidemics, military rule, and drug cartels – are difficult to surpass. And with a population that is approximately 20 percent Afro-Colombian, Colombia is thought to have the third largest number of black residents among Western Hemisphere countries (behind only the U.S. and Brazil).
As far as I can see, there is only one thing that unites Britain, Israel, India, and Colombia (along with certain former Soviet bloc counties like Poland towards which Obama has also demonstrated ambivalence) – their friendship with the United States. Thus, I think we should presume that Obama’s contemptuous approach to these countries is a reflection of his profound misgivings about his own country. To him, it may well seem that any nation seeking close ties with an entity as deeply flawed as the United States is not worthy of respect.