CAFTA: A New Front in the War on Terror?

Strange things happened two nights ago before the House passed the CAFTA trade agreement. And even if one ignores the coercive way in which Republicans kept the vote open more than an hour, or the backroom bargains the administration made to get wavering representative on board, there is still something bizarre about the way President Bush himself promoted the bill. In a personal appearance before the vote began, the president stressed a novel point: CAFTA is a front in the war on terror. As the Washington Post put it:

Underscoring the importance that Bush attaches to the pact, he put his prestige on the line by making a rare appearance with Vice President Cheney at the weekly closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference. Bush spoke for an hour, lawmakers said, stressing the national security implications of CAFTA, which are rooted in the concern that growing anti-American sentiment in Latin America would flourish if the United States refused to open its markets wider to the nations that negotiated the pact.

“Mothers and fathers in El Salvador love their children as much as we love our children here,” Bush said, stressing the need to look out for the young democracies in “our neighborhood,” according to lawmakers. He also noted that four of the six countries — the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua — have assisted the U.S. military effort in Iraq.

Setting aside the dubious claim that open markets lead to better relations (after all, isn’t the highly visible presence of US economic interests in the Middle East one of the things that Islamic fundamentalists have a problem with?), there is something very troubling about the last line in the above quote. Is the moral of the story, “put your lives on the line, and then reap the economic benefits”? Do we trade only with the nations that fall in line with our military interests?

— Conor Clarke