Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Vital Event of Immense Insignificance

Calderón's visits to Washington --and, I can only imagine, pretty much any head of state's visit to Washington-- always seems to provoke comments either along the lines of, This is a big chance to address some critical issues and bury the hatchet, or, less frequently, This is a chance to celebrate the relationship and enjoy the dividends of years of cooperation. I've probably written similar stuff for visits past, though I'd prefer not to go back and reexamine. This time, however, my reaction is kind of like George Orwell's old line about what an honest book reviewer should write 90 percent of the time: the visit provokes no reaction in me whatsoever. I don't think any big change will be announced, and I also think that the relationship is safe enough that nothing that's happened in the past few months (WikiLeaks, Zapata's death, Calderón's candid interview with El Universal, et cetera) will sink it.

But even assuming that a genuine and prolonged spat is possible, it's worth considering what that would really mean. After the Fox-Bush dust-up over Iraq, how did things change? There were fewer official visits for a while, but the fundamentals tying the two nations together --the border, NAFTA and trade, the millions of Mexicans in the US and the million or so Americans living in Mexico, et cetera-- were completely unaffected. It's hard to imagine a counterfactual in which Fox supports the invasion, the cooling never happens, and the relationship is markedly different today. The reason is that in contrast to, say, the US relationship with Israel, which is basically government support by choice that could theoretically disappear because of official differences, the US would basically the Mexican relationship with the US is not channeled through the relations among the leaders. Somewhat understandably, those of us whose writing about Mexico focuses on the leaders tend to forget that.

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