Foreign Policy: President Obama has picked, tourist-like, three random countries for his first showy trip to South America. By contrast, Rep. Michele Bachmann, who just got back, demonstrated what a serious policy visit is.
These days it seems like all of Washington wants to visit Latin America, an economically booming region with fiscal policies that have kept it out of recession. But purposes of the trips vary widely.
From March 19 to 23, President Obama will pay his first visit to Central and South America, with stops to include Brazil, Chile and El Salvador.
He is going late, more than two years into his presidency, and with what is largely a charity agenda, something none of these countries needs. There will be green energy for all, technology transfers to Brazil, archival releases from Chile's past and encouragement of more remittances from illegal immigrants in the U.S. to El Salvador -- all "to forge new alliances across the Americas."
Obama might be more believable if he paid attention to America's oldest and closest ally, Colombia, a nation that didn't make his cut. Or our third-largest trading partner, Mexico, whose president will have to make do with a White House visit sometime before Obama leaves office. But he'd rather take on the small things.
Make no mistake Brazil, Chile and El Salvador are fine democracies and will make for pretty pictures. But compared with the allies he's avoiding, there's no urgent business. Almost any other three countries in the hemisphere could fill slots for his agenda. Call it chocolate-box diplomacy, since Obama just happened to pick these three.
The absurdity of it becomes clear when a contrast is offered to what a serious foreign policy trip looks like.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., together with four other congressmen on the House select committee on intelligence, returned last week from Mexico and Colombia, two places bound by major trade and military ties with urgent matters still not being addressed.
"We focused first on Mexico, because of the pressure on our border," Bachmann told IBD on her return. "The northern (Mexican) states are close to being failed states. Cartels are so large and violent they are becoming more of a threat than the Colombian cartels of 1990s."
Mexico, she insisted, is our top priority south of our border. "That violence is spilling over to the U.S., harming our citizens, our security in our homes, our law enforcement agents and business interests. We see potential for a negative impact."
As for Colombia, "it's very important to maintain interest" because of the country's substantial progress in a drug war that is not yet finished. "It's a success story, and it has proved to be a positive force for Mexico. We want to encourage that."
Trade is the key to sealing the victory in Colombia, she said, yet the direct beneficiary would be the U.S.
"We spoke of economic interests, particularly for our manufacturers and in the agricultural industry -- which face very high trade barriers there," Bachmann said.
"The U.S. could benefit greatly by passing the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement," she continued. "The U.S. stands to lose 380,000 jobs if it fails to implement its trade agreements. China and other nations are coming in at a fast pace, eclipsing the U.S. trade presence in Colombia. If we fail to implement it, Argentina and China will take our markets."
Michele Bachmann is often maligned by the left as a lightweight in the same abusive way as Sarah Palin.
But the relative seriousness of the Latin trips suggests the real lightweight is in the White House.