Stop dissing Obama’s trip to Latin America


Although I am sympathetic to what President Obama has been trying to do in Libya — he was right to act to prevent a potential slaughter in Benghazi and also right to build a broad anti-Gaddafi coalition — there are certainly legitimate grounds on which to challenge his choices.

In particular, as my colleague Gene Robinson argues, it’s fair to ask for greater clarity when it comes to “the rationale, goals, tactics and strategy of the U.S.-led military intervention in Libya.”

But there is one argument that is not legitimate: The claim that Obama should have cancelled his trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador to deal with the Libya crisis. The truth is that our foreign policy needs to be paying more attention to Latin America, not less.

Brazil, in particular, is a rising power and could become a strong voice for democracy in the world. In recent years, both Brazil and Chile have provided models for how to combine markets and the quest for greater social justice. And Obama’s visit to the tomb of Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador was, as the Web site El Faro rightly put it, “extraordinary.”

Romero was a martyr to justice, gunned down by right-wing death squads in 1980. Obama sent a powerful signal by going there — and Romero richly deserves our gratitude and honor.

If anything, American foreign policy is too crisis-driven, and strengthening our ties to Latin America is essential to our national interest. So let’s have our debate about Libya without trashing the president for doing the right thing.

E.J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column and on the PostPartisan blog. He is also a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, a government professor at Georgetown University and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio, ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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