It’s only a matter of hours now before Air Force One touches down on Norman Manley International Airport and out comes its main occupant, Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States of America who will for the first time step on Jamaican Soil. There has been much ado about the impending presidential visit ever since it was first announced, and not all the press has been positive either. For example there were talks about the current government using the visit to score political points while the opposition continues to fume about their non-inclusion as well as complaints regarding the amount of money being lavishly spent by the government to host the second US President to ever visit our island (the first being Ronald Regan in 1983) when that same government has been insisting for the longest while that it has no cash to do anything.
This post is not about any of these side stories however, interesting as they are, instead the Jamaican Tory chooses to focus on the elephant in the room (or perhaps that should be donkey in the room, given that Obama is a democrat), why is President Obama really coming here?. Contrary to what some might think, Obama is not coming here to endorse some campaign agenda for one party or the other nor is his arrival a stunt about black solidarity or even about showing any sort of special favour extended to Jamaica. Let’s face it as unpleasant as it might be to say, the US has great significance to Jamaican foreign policy makers but as far as the big boys in the White House and on Capitol Hill are concerned, Jamaica is hardly their highest priority. Being scholar in the field of diplomacy one thing I learnt long ago was that altruism doesn't work in international politics it’s all about interest and who can exercise the most clout in the international system to maximize their own gain. Anybody who believes that the President is coming here out of any special love for Jamaica will be sadly disappointed. The United States Government isn't that naïve nor are they blind, they feel threatened and quite frankly one cannot blame them. Everything that has been going on from the rise of groups such as ALBA to rival the dominant economic order of the continent under US hegemony to the aggressive stance it has taken on the Venezuelan government and even it’s talks of normalisation of it’s relations with Cuba are all driven by one thing , fear. Fear of what exactly?, I’ll tell you in two simple words : China and Russia.
I know some of my readers must wondering where am I going with this, after all the US is directly north of us while Russia and China are half a world away, so what does that have to do with us? That however is precisely the point, The US has always claimed that the Americas is their sphere of influence and have done much to increase their hegemonic power in this region and the rest of the world. They however have seen that hold over the continent shifting from a US centric one to a sino-centric one.It might come as a shock to many but the US of A is no longer Jamaica’s largest trading partner, China is (see Jamaica Observer August 23, 2013 for confirmation) and other Caribbean countries are soon to follow. The People's Republic of China is also the leader of the BRICS countries of newly industrialising countries which is an organisation dedicated to rewriting the rules governing the world international economic order, so that it suits them rather than the traditional powerhouses of North America, Western Europe and Japan . China is currently expanding it’s reach over the entire globe slowly but surely, trying to present itself as an alternative to the US model, according to them whereas the Americans like to impose sanctions and come in to set up shop, merely for exploitation, China comes in as a genuine friend to help develop one’s infrastructure in order to aid one’s economy and would never impose measures interfering with local politics, or at least that is what they have us believe. The reality however is far from cut and dry and in truth being under Chinese economic domination is not so very different from a US one as in the end all states are driven by their own selfish interest as Machiavelli told us a long time ago.
That of course begs the question, where does Russia factor into all this?, but seriously though, think about it, the Russians have no greater friend than the Chinese and vice versa is it any wonder then that the US is trying to isolate both given it's current tensions with Russia over it's handling of the Crimea issue? And besides Russia has plenty of friends in our region, Cuba (who will soon be open for business), Venezuela and even small island states like St Lucia and St Vincent are on cordial terms with them. If Obama’s recent actions towards Cuba and Venezuela are anything to go by, not to mention his nuclear deal with Iran, it is quite clear that this is a very calculated move one meant to insulate the competition. It’s little wonder that Obama’s visit to Jamaica will include a meeting with all CARICOM heads of government and final preparation for the summit of the Americas to be held in Panama, this is the US’ way of telling it’s rivals to butt out in a manner reminiscent of the Munroe doctrine as it will have no would be hegemon coming to replace it the region that it deems as its “backyard”
One thing I learnt about US foreign policy over the years, it is filled with rhetoric concerning either economy or security or both, having already spoken about economy let’s touch on security. I have not yet forgotten that shocking story by the US military which claims that some Jamaicans were stupid enough to actually join ISIS (or ISIL), a gang of criminals who dared to usurped the mantle of the caliphate (that legitimately belonged to the deposed House of Osman) as a means of spreading their acts of barbarism, I truly find that hard to believe. Sure Jamaica has criminals of it’s own but It’s doubtful whether any them are suicidal maniacs dumb enough to die for “Allah” but if still the argument must have been convincing enough to warrant a presidential visit then so be it, that only serves to lend greater credence to my argument, the US will never allow any sort of threat real or imagined to operate so close to it’s borders hence Obama’s arrival will serve as means to remind Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean who is boss and who holds all the cards in the deck.
With all this being said, regardless of my constant criticism of the US (it’s nothing personal, just the monarchist in me) I really do wish the President a good journey and that he enjoys that good old Jamaican hospitality that we so love to give our visitors. I however am in no delusion as to what the US endgame here, it’s policy has always been clear, to make sure to continue propagate the notion that the US is the greatest nation on earth (irrespective of blatant evidence to the contrary) and thus Obama’s visit is little more than a sign to the rivals of the "colossus of the north" that Uncle Sam still has a pivotal interest in the region where it is situated.