US-Mexico relations have clearly had a rough time in 2010. Mexico’s seeming inability to deal with the increased violence south of the border plus the disruptive and unfortunate so-called Wikileaks has made many policy-makers pause on both sides of the border.
These Wikileaks have become a serious diplomatic embarrassment to the US world-wide. But in the case of Mexico they may have created even greater tensions given the timing. Official and personal assessments in diplomatic reporting are never meant for public disclosure. Yet everyone knows that diplomats carry out their duty by reporting situations as they see them. Hence, awkward situations are created when revelations of this reporting plainly embarrass both the US and Mexico. But the underlying problem is that relations are managed by both sides in an equally clumsy if not maladroit manner.
The Mexicans rely primarily on their nationalistic Foreign Ministry (SRE). This limits other actors or constituencies from having a more substantial role. Whereas on the US side even though Mexico is a NAFTA country, the bi-lateral relationship is still managed like the rest of Latin America: too often as an afterthought. European policy in Washington is guided by the historical gravity of the Trans-Atlantic ties and their constituencies (DoD, Treasury, the banks, the Council on Foreign Relations, academia et al). Middle East policy is primarily driven by the pro-Israeli lobby and the energy sector. Africa policy is largely formulated with plenty of NGOs and the Black Congressional Caucus input. Asia policy is guided by the US Navy (DoD), Treasury, Walmart, the banks, the high tech economy and the trade sector. Whereas, US Latin American policy, by and large a constituency orphan (except for the glandular Calle Ocho crowd and the equally emotional anti-narcotics and anti-immigrant groups) is in the virtual hands of the State Department bureaucracy. It does not attract the influential and powerful top-cover of the other regions’ constituencies. Hence, without daily guidance from on top (the White House, Wall Street, the energy sector or powerful ethnic lobbies) the State Department bureaucratic mattress mice policy-handlers are cautious, timid, risk averse, invariably resort to lecturing the Latins on the virtues of America, insensitively imparting adult supervision and placing careers first over policy (hence more responsive to the GOP members of Congress because they do threaten careers unlike the Democrats). Therefore , the WikiLeaks stories have become a real validation of Mexican (Latin) suspicions of the US lack of serious purpose or attention and only episodically engaged. Consistent and serious policy treatment by the US will only come about when the Latin Americans begin to cultivate domestic heavy hitters in the US to become their constituents or supporters. The Mexican-American community and Latinos in general are notably missing in action in any foreign policy formulation. As for the Latin Americans and especially the Mexicans, the lesson to be learned is that only weak powers largely depend on the foreign ministry of a great power for problem resolution. It is difficult to foresee how the out years will significantly improve.