“Events, my dear boy, events,” responded Harold McMillan to a young journalist when asked what had been the toughest part of his job as Prime Minister of England.
These words must be resounding in the mind of President Barack Obama as he prepares for his European trip this week. Indeed, the strategically selected, European venues were the perfect gathering points to deal in an effective manner with two U.S. strategic interests: controlling Iran’s nuclear might and advancing the now forgotten US-EU free trade agreement.
But stars seemed to have aligned against these carefully planned designs to favor a back to the future approach to Cold War. As Russia proceeds to the annexation of Crimea, which President Vladimir Putin took by surprise, the U.S. and Europe need now to figure out whether Russian expansionism will be satisfied.
Because it might well happen that in Putin’s mind Crimea is the appetizer in a four-course meal that might include Moldova and other Baltic states or provinces within the Baltic Nations. The choices are not beautiful at all. Confrontation of this messianic leader could open a Pandora’s Box of low-intensity conflicts and a potential energy blackout. Appeasement might lead to the need to organize the world into gated communities with a selected and recognized steward watching over each one. The world would turn into a collection of condominiums where China would reign in the Far Asia; India in Central Asia; Russia in Eurasia; the United States presumably in Latin America and Europe.
Needless to say that life would be simpler as the U.N. Security Council would not need any rotating members; the multilateral financial institutions would not have to waste their time with voting members who are in default like Argentina and managed trade would rule the day.
But this scenario definitively was not the photo-op material dreamed by the White House when planning for this trip. In fact, the condominium approach to organize the world was precisely what the U.S. fought tooth and nail ever since 1945 on the grounds that it curtailed freedom and trade. In Brussels, the free trade agreement discussions will be as obvious as the route taken by Malaysian Airlines 370 after its radar went mute. This is not the best turn of events for a president that has made a point of indicating his desires to concentrate on domestic policy during his remaining three years in office.
But the European trip includes another stop that so far had been seen as great photo-op for the president. The visit to Pope Francis provides Obama with an opportunity to discuss one of his favorite issues in world affairs: fighting poverty. But it so happens that there is the small issue of Venezuela where a student protest has unveiled the Cuban colonization of that country and enormous influence of five others in Latin America.
And although none of these countries poses a national security threat to the U.S., the evolution of this trend needs to be brought to a halt. Indeed, Latin America — besides being the most important trading partner to the U.S. after Europe — is also the rejuvenating factor to the U.S. workforce. So far, the ongoing race staged by many Latin American countries toward consolidating a middle-class status is creating conditions conducive to a significant century-wide industrial redeployment in the U.S. Should 21st century socialism take hold, half the continent will succumb to poverty.
Thus, the Venezuelan divide needs to be addressed inside and outside that country. And this is where Francis could play a significant role. His subtle but effective stand against the ferocious Argentinean dictators and his non-confrontational but inclusive approach to liberation theology made him an uncontested adviser on Latin American to many pontiffs. This wealth of knowledge could be effectively put to use to resolve the Venezuelan crisis. If so, the trip would be fully worthwhile. At least in terms of the U.S. national interest.