After two years on the job, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson has announced that she will retire on May 5, 2018 — the latest in a growing list of career diplomats to step down under Donald Trump.
Jacobson has worked in Latin America diplomacy for three decades, including in the Obama administration’s effort to reopen the U.S. embassy in Cuba. She is an undisputed Mexico expert, highly regarded for her deft touch in smoothing ruffled Mexican feathers after undiplomatic presidential tweets. Her love of Mexican culture has endeared her to the nation.
Many analysts see this seasoned diplomat’s departure as a devastating blow to U.S.-Mexico relations, which have grown tense under President Trump. His administration has sought to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, deport thousands of Mexican citizens living in the U.S. and repel “bad hombres” with a border wall.
The White House’s recent announcement that the U.S. will impose tariffs on steel imports — including on its NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico — have spurred calls for retaliation south of the border.
We have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada. NAFTA, which is under renegotiation right now, has been a bad deal for U.S.A. Massive relocation of companies & jobs. Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed. Also, Canada must..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2018
Yes, these two neighbors are more at odds than I’ve ever seen in a quarter century of analyzing, teaching and writing on U.S.-Mexico relations. But I wager the bilateral relationship will survive Jacobson’s departure.
Both countries need each other
Mexico and the U.S. are key commercial partners, trading US$1.5 billion in goods and services every day. Together, the two countries did more than $556 billion in business last year. Mexico is the first or second export market for 28 U.S. states and the single largest market for U.S. corn exports. Mexico is also the third main supplier of imported goods and services to the U.S.
The United States and Mexico also produce things together. Thanks to NAFTA, the U.S.-Mexico border doesn’t matter in product supply chains: An automobile may cross it as many as eight times in the manufacturing process. No other country in the world, with the possible exception of Canada, is as tightly integrated with the U.S. economy.
In other words, the U.S.-Mexico relationship will survive Jacobson’s resignation in part because markets in both countries depend on it.
A star team
Full disclosure: Roberta Jacobson is a personal friend of mine. So I can attest that she has ensured that her departure will not derail diplomatic relations.
Jacobson, a smart leader, recruited a talented team to work with her in Mexico City, led by her Deputy Chief of Mission William Duncan. Duncan, who previously served a tour in Mexico City as the embassy political officer, has been on the ground there since 2015.
Having previously worked on the international drug trade in Bogota, Colombia, he is also well-versed on counter-narcotics — always a focal point of the U.S.-Mexico relationship.
My sources say Duncan and other key foreign service officers will remain after Jacobson leaves. That should ensure the effective daily management of what is, in my assessment, America’s most complex but underappreciated bilateral relationship.
Business and bureaucracy to the rescue
I’m also heartened by the knowledge that the U.S. and Mexico are bound by generation of bilateral collaboration and mutual understanding. Government officials from both sides of the border have a long tradition of meeting frequently to manage such diverse policy challenges as trade, security, immigration and public health.
That won’t change with Jacobson’s departure. Tedious as it sounds, bureaucracy can ensure that calm persists beneath the surface when quarreling presidents roil international waters.
In my opinion, reports that the Trump administration will nominate Ed Whitacre to replace Jacobson are reassuring, too. A former AT&T and General Motors executive who brought the bankrupt auto manufacturer back from the brink, Whitacre should intimately comprehend the economic importance of the bilateral relationship. And, by all accounts, he is pro-NAFTA.
The 76-year-old previously partnered with the Mexican telecoms billionaire Carlos Slim, and he served on the board of Exxon Mobil back when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was CEO. I suspect Whitacre, who is a born Texan, understands the realities of U.S.-Mexico relations better than the White House.
Trump’s dismal Mexico polling
Despite these positive signs, I do worry for the future.
I know that Ambassador Jacobson resigned in large part because she, like many of her State Department colleagues, was frustrated working in an administration that does not value the insights and advice of its best diplomats. Over the past year, Tillerson’s agency has lost dozens of mid-level officials and senior diplomats, including North Korea envoy Joseph Yun and Security Chief Bill Miller.
The gutting of the country’s diplomatic corps has, in my assessment, degraded the State Department’s ability to do its critical job, which is advising the White House and Congress on the essential nuances in U.S. foreign policy.
This has already damaged American influence worldwide and in Mexico. Two years ago, 66 percent of Mexicans viewed the United States favorably, according to Pew surveys. Today, two-thirds of Mexicans see the U.S. negatively. Just 5 percent have confidence in President Trump.
A wild card south of the border
Mexican politics may also complicate future relations. President Enrique Peña Nieto has mostly refused to respond to public pressure to return Trump’s broadsides against his country because his administration sees cooperation as key to a successful NAFTA renegotiation. His restraint has offended Mexicans.
Mexico’s next presidential election is July 1. The leading contender, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is both far less patient and much more nationalist than Peña Nieto. As president, he may well see political advantage in distancing Mexico from Trump and the U.S.
The complexity of the enduring but endangered U.S.-Mexico relationship demands that the U.S. put its best diplomatic foot forward. With luck, Jacobson’s team will continue to do that under Whitacre’s leadership.
Pamela K. Starr, Associate Professor of International Relations, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Trending News on PVDN
- Popocatépetl Volcano Exhibits Increased Activity; Yellow Phase 3 Alert Continues PUERTO VALLARTA (PVDN) - In the past 24 hours, heightened activity was recorded from Mexico's Popocatépetl volcano, with an alarming 315 exhalations detected, accompanied by water vapor, other volcanic gases, and ash, according to the Scientific Advisory Committee (CCA) of the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC). Monitoring systems in place around the active stratovolcano also…
- ‘Kingdoms of Mexico’ Distinction Launches to Boost Tourist Destinations With European Influences Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - Miguel Torruco Marqués, the head of the Ministry of Tourism (Sectur), introduced the new 'Kingdoms of Mexico' distinction, a major initiative designed to enhance the appeal of Mexico's tourist communities on an international level. The announcement came during a presentation attended by the governors of Tlaxcala, Lorena Cuéllar Cisneros; Baja California,…
- Puerto Vallarta Set to Celebrate 105th Anniversary as Municipality and 55th as a City with Grand Festivities PUERTO VALLARTA - The coastal paradise of Puerto Vallarta is poised to celebrate two landmark anniversaries: the 105th anniversary of its recognition as a municipality and the 55th anniversary of its elevation to city status, with a grand commemoration on May 31, 2023. The celebrations have been meticulously planned by the municipal government led by…
- Popocatépetl Volcano Resumes Activity; Authorities Maintain Alert Status PUERTO VALLARTA (PVDN) - After a period of relative calm last week, Mexico's Popocatépetl volcano resumed minor activity on Friday night and through Saturday night, as reported by the National Civil Protection Coordination (CNPC). This comes following significant explosions last weekend that put nearby communities on high alert. The resumed activity was characterized by minor…
- Two More Puerto Vallarta Beaches Are Awarded Blue Flags Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - In the upcoming 2023-2024 season, Puerto Vallarta is set to host six beaches awarded with the Blue Flag accreditation, an esteemed international recognition for high environmental and quality standards. The Blue Flag committee has reconfirmed the status for four previously certified beaches while conferring this prestigious title to two new beaches…
- LGBTIQ+ Community Member Disappears At Puerto Vallarta Pride PUERTO VALLARTA - A member of the local LGBTIQ+ community has gone missing under mysterious circumstances, inciting deep concern within the community and calls for immediate action from local authorities. Rubén Michel Castro Guizar, 32, a deaf individual, was last seen on the night of Thursday, May 25th, attending the Vallarta Pride march. His disappearance…
- SEAPAL Vallarta Launches New Vallarta II Tank to Reinforce Drinking Water Supply PUERTO VALLARTA (PVDN) - SEAPAL Vallarta, the local water management authority, announced the successful integration and activation of the new Vallarta II Tank to its drinking water distribution system on Tuesday, May 30. This strategic addition is expected to enhance the availability of water in Vallarta homes, a pressing issue in the wake of the…
- Shocking Case of Animal Abuse in Mexico: Man Throws Dog into Boiling Fry Oil PUERTO VALLARTA (PVDN) - A disturbing incident of animal abuse has sent shockwaves throughout Mexico, as a man allegedly threw a dog into a pot of boiling oil, resulting in the animal's tragic death. Authorities have detained the suspect for the assault on the dog and have issued an additional arrest warrant on charges of…
- Trans Fats Ban in Mexico Will Prohibit the Sale of Cookies, Chips, Pizzas, and More in September Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - The Chamber of Deputies in Mexico has taken a critical step in the battle against heart disease, approving a decree that reforms the General Health Law to restrict the use of trans fats and oils. The move is predicted to save more than 13,000 lives per year, with these substances currently…
- Mothers Searching For Their Missing Children Uncover Presumed Clandesant Grave in Puerto Vallarta PUERTO VALLARTA (PVDN) - A team of mothers seeking their missing children made a chilling discovery on the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta Saturday afternoon: a skeleton, fragments of bones, and several indications pointing towards a potential site of illegal body disposal. The area of discovery, located near the road to Viejo el Veladero, close to…