The United States and Mexico are now both led by headstrong populist presidents at a time when relations look like a street fight.
Despite the controversies that are garnering headlines, Pres. Donald J. Trump and Mexico’s President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador have several things in common. Unfortunately, none of them are going to steer these two away from an international brawl.
Both men are long-standing opponents of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. As one might expect, their criticisms of NAFTA are world’s apart. Both world leaders are considered nationalists, unlike the globalist regimes in the European Union.
As one might expect from leaders widely viewed as “men of the people,” they are known for being strong willed and goal oriented. These kindred traits are far more likely to spark increased hostility and deeper divides between the neighboring countries as trade and border security deals are hashed out.
The imminent showdown between the pair could resemble a heavyweight prize fight.
Trump and Obrador Touch Gloves
In similar fashion to Pres. Trump’s first-contact with other world leaders, the tone was reported as friendly and productive. They had a “good conversation.” Pres. Trump congratulated Obrador in the same fashion he has other leaders, right before the gloves came off.
In the run-up to the 2016, Pres. Trump hurled a variety of challenges Mexico’s way, claiming he’d build a wall and make them pay for it. Those jabs have helped devolve the relationship between the two countries.
When Pres. Trump threw down the gauntlet to renegotiate NAFTA, he repeatedly pointed to Mexico basically stealing American manufacturing jobs. The war of words has boiled over numerous times. The incoming Obrador feels that NAFTA hurt his base voters by flooding the country with American grain.
“The only candidate who was truly successful positioning himself as an agent of change was AMLO,” former PAN party foreign minister Jorge Castaneda reportedly said. Castaneda’s gone on the record saying that Obrador won the election because of increased violence and corruption, as well as a sluggish economy.
“In the last twenty-odd years, this includes the government I served in, the economy has not grown more than two and a half percent per year,” Castaneda reportedly said. “Mexicans are not finding deep well-paying jobs, not seeing their living standards improved, not extracting people from poverty, we’re not reducing levels of inequality which are among the highest levels in the world.”
President-elect Obrador has gone on the record saying that NAFTA forced farmers off their land and he too has taken shots at the trade deal.
Expect Presidents to Exchange Low Blows
So-called political experts are warning that President-elect Obrador can be hotly driven by pride. This isn’t good news when dealing with Pres. Trump’s constant Twitter punches.
Experience tells us that negotiations will get heated between the two parties, and Pres. Trump will rip off a bare-knuckled tweet. The response — experts warn — will be the incoming Mexican leader digging in his heels and turning to unreasonable and perhaps irrational international relations.
President-elect Obrador already blames a flood of U.S. grain for turning honest farmers into opioid growers and the Mexican leader has few above-board negotiating options.
“Out of all the candidates, [President-elect Obrador] is probably the least enthusiastic about the bilateral relationship with the U.S., but he recognizes that the relationship with the U.S. is fundamentally important,” Duncan Wood of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center reportedly said. “His election is going to make life more complicated for the United States, let’s put it like that.”
The two countries share a roughly 2,000-mile border. Mexico ranks as the second-largest Latin American economy, and the United States’ third-largest trading partner. Despite these factors, Mexico has little financial leverage over the United States. What the newly-elected president has in terms of a defense are two things: illegal immigration and drugs.
When things get heated — and they will — Mexico’s new leader will have little choice but to use low blows by manipulating illegal immigration and the drug trade.
“There are going to be so many opportunities for this to go wrong,” Wood reportedly said. “If there are too many provocations, if there are too many insults against Mexico, López Obrador will not be able to just sit back and take it. His character shows that he will respond, and that could lead us down a dark path.”
~ Liberty Planet