Adios and Happy Trails

For folks who follow U.S. policy toward the Americas, this week we learned of a White House personnel change related and the Western Hemisphere.  Mr. Dan Restrepo was leaving and would be replaced by Mr. Ricardo Zuñiga, a career foreign service officer.

The National Security Council staff includes individuals who cover different parts of the world and issues. For Latin America, that person since President Obama was sworn in has been Mr. Restrepo. I do not know Mr. Restrepo. I know of him. He may be a fine person, however, the one time we did meet — a radio interview during the 2008 presidential cycle — let’s just say it was anything but cordial. It was the first and only exchange.

I am not sure these people took the region seriously. Consider this remark by Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough — an otherwise very capable and top-notch foreign policy advisor:

“No one has done more in support of the president’s agenda to build trust and deepen our relations with the Western Hemisphere than Dan … [he] made history in April 2009 as the first person to speak Spanish from the White House podium.”

Huh? Speaking Spanish from the Blue Goose? Why is that important? It says a great deal about what is important to the Obama Administration. Optics and propaganda, mainly for domestic consumption by Spanish-speaking Americans (of which I happen to be one, however, I get my news mainly from English-speaking outlets, as do an overwhelming majority of Americans of Hispanic descent). It is obnoxious. Republicans do it as well – the Spanish pandering. It needs to stop.

Working at the White House is not for the faint of heart. The hours are long and sacrifices must be made. We wish Mr. Restrepo good luck in whatever he sets out to do. As for Mr. Zuñiga, let’s hope he steers the President in a more focused direction.

The last three and half years leave much to be desired with regards to U.S-Hemispheric matters. From Honduras to Havana and beyond, it has been a disaster with respect to U.S. interests and they have set back our agenda for many years to come.

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