Is This How We Improve Our Image Abroad?

John Fund writes on the Democrats’ opposition to free trade with Colombia. In a time when both Democratic candidates are promising to improve our foreign relations, both are flunking this key test of leadership.

Colombia is a democratic ally fighting off a vicious Marxist insurgency being aided by the autocratic regime of Hugo Chávez. President Alvaro Uribe is fighting to keep his country from becoming a tool of Chávez’s hegemonic ambitions and trying to prevent narcotics from funding terrorism. He has done a great deal to stop the violence that has ravaged Colombia—the murder rate has dropped precipitously under his leadership, and the Marxist FARC guerillas have been unable to destabilize the government and turn Colombia into a Communist puppet state.

Yet the Democratic Party has decided to turn against Colombia—for reasons that reek of politics rather than substance:

President Uribe made clear how disappointed he was that the Democratic front-runner had chosen domestic politics over geopolitical stability: “I deplore the fact that Sen. Obama . . . should be unaware of Colombia’s efforts,” he said in a statement. “I think it is for political calculations that he is making a statement that does not correspond to Colombia’s reality.”

The simple truth is that the opposition to the trade agreement–from the Democratic presidential contenders to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi–has nothing to do with reality. Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, admitted as much recently: “It’s not the substance on the ground–it’s the politics in the air.”

The reality is that Colombia is not a threat to American workers. The free trade agreement submitted for ratification lowers trade barriers on both sides and gives US manufacturers greater access to Colombia’s markets. 90% of good coming from Colombia are already imported duty-free. The argument that this bill would be injurious to the interests of American workers has absolutely no basis—nor do the attacks against President Uribe accusing him of attacking union organizers in Colombia.

The Democratic Party has developed a knee-jerk reaction to anything that resembles free trade—and for a party that claims the “progressive” mantle that sort of isolationism is a throwback to the days of nativist protectionism. What’s worse is that it compromises the Democrats’ promises that they will “restore America’s reputation” abroad—exactly why should anyone trust us if we’re willing to slander one of our strongest regional allies in Latin America?

If the Democrats’ rhetoric on international relations was more than empty words, they would be working to ensure that President Uribe is not threatened by his neighbors and would be pledging to support his democratic government. Instead, both candidates are engaged in a war of words against an American ally. That is hardly the way to go about restoring our image abroad.

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