You know what? It might be for the best that President Trump isn’t going to the Summit of the Americas in Peru. His disdain for the region is clear — even his former secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, couldn’t be bothered to go to a meeting of the Organization of American States last year. We doubt that the president is well-steeped in the pertinent issues in which he would have to be conversant. He has no confirmed secretary of State, and the State Department is in disarray — none of which makes dealing with the morass in Syria, his excuse — a weak one — for backing out of the Summit, any easier, especially with a new, hawkish national security adviser.
The good news is that, along with Vice President Mike Pence, Florida’s junior senator, Marco Rubio, will attend the Summit. Though the Editorial Board has its differences with him, when it comes to Latin America, Rubio actually knows stuff. He already knows many of the nations’ leaders. He’s committed to democracy in the Americas. There’ll be no American-made drama. He won’t embarrass us.
The White House announced on Tuesday that Trump will skip the eighth Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru this week. Other presidents have honored such international commitments while handling crisis situations. Indeed, the deadly chemical attack allegedly carried out by the Syrian government demands the president’s attention, especially since he is considering a military response. However, a truly capable president could remain apprised of and monitor the situation in Damascus and spend two days in the Peruvian capital without the world collapsing.
Now, Trump becomes the first U.S. president not to participate in a Summit of the Americas, a premier event for the region created in 1994. There is no getting around it. His absence is a rebuff, especially considering the frequent attacks he has lobbed at Latin Americans, beginning with his early campaign claim that many Mexican immigrants were drug traffickers and rapists.
And Trump remains obsessively committed to building a wall on the Mexican border to keep out undocumented Latin American migrants, who, the president says, bring drugs and crime. He ignores that fact that the undocumented have lower incarceration rates here than U.S. citizens. A few days ago, Trump announced that he will militarize the U.S.-Mexican-border with the deployment of thousands of National Guard troops, all in response to a migration crisis that does not exist.
Unlike his recent predecessors, Trump never visited Latin America in his first year in the White House. That, too, sounds like contempt.
Trump is forfeiting the chance to stand firm, and stand tall, against the authoritarian rule of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and adopt a more forceful position against the regime. The existing U.S. sanctions indeed send the right message, but decisions made in partnership with Latin American leaders would have sent a powerful message to Caracas. But never mind.
Trump should have attended the Summit, personally met the leaders of the continent, shared opinions with them and allayed fears that his radical politics and aggressive comments have aroused.
Now, it is up to Rubio to bolster the aura, if not the reality, of strong U.S. leadership in the region, already undercut by Trump’s dismissive decision not to attend the Summit. Make no mistake, China already is filling the gaps in Latin America, left by unpredictable White House policies on issues such as international trade treaties. Meanwhile, Trump threatens protectionist moves that will isolate the United States.