As the US presidential election draws near, I keep wondering, “What does Mexico want out of its relationship with the United States?”
Since the beginning of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration, the results are consistent. When conflict arises between the two countries, Mexico agrees to what the US demands. Victory is declared by both sides and we all move on.
This has happened on migration, trade and most recently water.
It begs the question, what does Mexico want? Or better yet, how does the AMLO government define national interest in the bilateral relationship? The one message that has been clear is that Mexico doesn’t want conflict with the United States – at least not during a Donald Trump administration. Conflict avoidance is not a policy.
God only knows who will win the US presidential election. Pollsters tell us that it is likely to be former Vice President Joe Biden. I’m leery of betting the farm on polling after the 2016 election. Furthermore, there are too many possible scenarios for legal challenges to the election results. Add to that President Trump’s statements already calling into question the results before the election has even happened.
Now I have to take a deep calming breath.
Clearly there is a great deal of uncertainty about the political future of the United States. That is exactly why Mexico should be laying out its priorities for the US/Mexico relationship. The conflict avoidance policy pursued by the AMLO administration has brought Mexico into alignment with the Trump Administration. This has not gone unnoticed by those in the Biden camp. They see this practice as outlandish, and found AMLO’s trip to Washington in July, mid-pandemic, to be the offensive icing on the cake.
It is one thing to appear coerced into being non-confrontational with Trump, because Mexico has bigger domestic fish to fry and doesn’t need the burden of a confrontation with the United States. It is another thing to have an in-person press event, during both a pandemic and US election season, in which you praise the sitting President, even if it is around the signing of a trade agreement.
What are Mexico’s priorities for a new administration or a second Trump administration? Does Mexico want an immigration policy like that defined at the beginning of the AMLO administration, based on respect and opportunity for migrants in Mexican territory? Is Mexico satisfied with being a proxy for US border security? What about the rights of Mexican workers in the United States? Will Mexico push the US to take serious action against US arms trafficking into Mexico?
In foreign policy terms, the US election is a challenge for the AMLO administration. It might need to rethink its strategy. A Biden presidency could create the space for Mexico to embrace a set of policies more closely based on Mexico’s national interest, but that interest needs definition. Soon we will see if Mexico forges its own path, or if AMLO’s foreign policy goes down in history as “go along to get along.”
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson