The Mexican Press Debates Mexico’s Security Council Vote on Iraq

Mexico’s Dilemma

Mexican President Vicente Fox listens to U.S. President George Bush speak
Presidents George Bush and Vicente Fox in Monterrey, Mexico (Photo: Stephen Jaffe/AFP).

The clock is ticking on a new U.N. Iraq resolution. Mexico, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, is one of the countries in a serious dilemma. Washington needs a “yes” from Mexico, particularly if permanent members France, Russia, and China do not veto the U.S.-sponsored resolution, as they have hinted they might.

Mexico has long prided itself on its foreign policy of non-intervention, but some in Mexico say times have changed, and sitting on the fence is no longer possible. Mexican President Vicente Fox has described Mexico’s relationship with the United States as “the most important Mexico has.” Nearly 90 percent of Mexican exports go to the United States. Millions of Mexican citizens live in the United States. With Bush reiterating his “you’re either with us or against us” stance, it will be difficult for President Fox to vote against the Anglo-U.S. resolution—even though polls indicate that Mexicans are overwhelmingly opposed to the war.

Some analysts believe Fox is wavering from his initially strong position to the war in response to increasing U.S. pressure. In recent weeks, Fox’s rhetoric has shifted from opposition to the war to calls for Iraqi disarmament and consensus on the Security Council.

We review the debate in the Mexican press:

Ana María Salazar, El Universal (centrist), Feb. 28: The surveys are clear, and political parties have overwhelmingly expressed the same sentiment: In general, Mexicans do not support the attack on Iraq planned by our neighbors. A vote in favor of the United States will carry an extremely high domestic price for President Fox. In order for Fox to be willing to assume the domestic political costs, he needs arguments and actions that will make it possible for him to justify a decision to support the United States, demonstrating benefits for the country.

Adolfo Sánchez Rebolledo, La Jornada (left-wing), March 6: No one in her right mind wants a confrontation, even peaceful or diplomatic, with the United States. Certainly no one has any desire to suffer the punishment that Mexico will surely receive if its vote in the United Nations is against the war. But Mexico has no other option if it truly wants to defend its long-term interests. Supporting a peaceful resolution to the conflict with Iraq or another other conflict would keep the idea that the existing global order can and should be less unfair than it has become alive. Joining the militarist adventure of the U.S. government would be the sign of a deep national defeat, the worst concession to the persistent integrationists who fail to understand why Mexico is not just one more star on the U.S. flag.

Enrique Krauze, Proceso (independent newsmagazine), Feb. 23: The central point is this: Mexico must not hide behind a doctrine from another time and circumstance. Mexico cannot act as if it doesn’t have any interests. It does have interests—urgent ones that concern the concrete lives of Mexicans within and outside of our borders. And it is in just this regard that we find an alternative. It consists of saying “yes,” but in exchange for the United States’ commitment to resolving the basic problems of bilateral relations: a comprehensive immigration agreement and fair treatment in the area of agriculture [U.S. farm subsidies and trade policies make it difficult for Mexican farmers to survive]. In other words: We need to learn to negotiate, to charge a fair price, and to obtain what’s fair in exchange. There’s nothing strange about proceeding in this manner: It’s a practice as old as diplomacy.

José Antonio Crespo, El Universal (centrist), Feb. 27: Bush’s ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, recommended that Mexico act “on the basis of its own interests and its responsibility to the international community.” I totally agree. Upholding international law and organization constitutes the best defense of militarily weak nations like Mexico, and that is what is congruent with our national interests. It is not in our interest to be a neighbor to a superpower that does whatever it wants to do, without institutional contention, without adhering to international law, and which instead attempts to rewrite international law according to its desires and whims. So it is in Mexico’s own interests—it is Mexico’s international responsibility—to strengthen multilateralism, since the world community is not benefited by the limitless hegemony of a military power that can provoke a disastrous war at any time. This has been reflected in the many peace demonstrations around the world. Moreover, war is not in our best interests, since the resulting economic recession will be devastating for us, and probably for the United States as well.

Rafael Fernández de Castro, Proceso (independent newsmagazine), March 2: Two factors make it difficult to determine the costs of voting against Washington. The first is the interdependent nature of U.S.-Mexican relations, or, in other words, their mutual dependence. So anything Washington might do to retaliate against Mexico for a “no” vote would also affect the United States. But we also can’t forget that the relationship is asymmetrical. Mexico depends much more on the United States than vice versa. Take the case of trade: While more than 80 percent of our exports go to the United States, only 10 percent of U.S. exports are destined for Mexico. The second factor is that the [U.S.-Mexican] bilateral agenda has been on hold since Sept. 11, 2001. So we are already suffering the consequences of Washington’s obsession with international terrorism, and now with getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Could it get any worse? Of course, but it’s clear to me that it wouldn’t be without a certain price to be paid by the United States as well.

­­­­­­­­­­­­Denise Dresser, Reforma (pro-business), March 3: The world has changed. And while Mexico would prefer to maintain the principles of its foreign policy, it has no other choice but to rethink them. Those principles were formulated when Mexico had not placed its bet on the integration of North America; when it had not taken into account the diminishing of the border with the United States; when it was not concerned about the fate of those who decided to cross that border. Today, cooling our diplomatic relations with the United States will not foster closer trade relations. The act of resurrecting old antagonisms does not correspond to new realities. We are no longer distant neighbors. NAFTA changed that.…With reference to Iraq, multilateralism will be used theatrically, as a curtain to hide the fact that the United States can do whatever it wants to do, whenever and wherever it chooses. The function of the Security Council will be to provide legitimacy, through the support of nine countries for the decision already made by one country. Mexico would prefer that this not be the case. Millions of people would prefer that this not be the case.

Agustín Gutiérrez Canet, Siempre! (left-wing magazine), March 2: Some pragmatic voices are calling for Mexico to unconditionally support the United States, without measuring the consequences for the international system. Mexico doesn’t have nuclear weapons; it’s not an economic power. Its only strength lies in international law. Breaking with this system, with the forced imposition by one country, represents a threat for Mexico’s national security, by placing the country in a vulnerable position susceptible to the whims of an authoritative, aggressive power.

La Jornada (left-wing), March 4: Mexico’s federal authorities must have sufficient serenity to understand that despite all the blackmail attempts, ominous messages, and threats, our country is too important to Washington —in economic, political and strategic terms— for the Bush administration to be engaging in acts of retaliation capable of significantly altering bilateral relations. They should also have the…vision to take the position that a war against Iraq is inconsistent with our interests and contrary to our principles, and that the resolute defense of peaceful solutions will, in the long run, bring many more benefits for the country than submitting to U.S. bellicose delirium.

Jaime Sánchez Susarrey, Reforma (pro-business), March 1: Basing our vote on Mexico’s pacifist tradition would be naive. The coordinates of our foreign policy—the Estrada Doctrine and defensive diplomacy—were radically changed with our accession to the Security Council. Was it an error [to seek the Security Council post]? Of course it was. But what’s done is done and the only choice is to accept the consequences. To maintain a pacifist vocation per se, we would have had to remain outside the international vortex. In that case, no one would have been concerned about Mexico’s point of view, nor would any pressure have been exerted. And so, the turn that the Mexican government’s position is taking is not only understandable, but indispensable. We should not—for the sake of idyllic rhetoric—enter into conflict with Washington.

Alejandro Herrera, Vértigo (left-wing magazine), March 2: All the options for Mexico represent risks. If it votes against the United States, it will cool relations with neighbors, partners, and friends that Fox has been promoting since the beginning of his term. If it votes in favor of the United States, an extremely high price will be paid, since the majority of Mexicans would condemn using military force, and [the Fox administration] would be punished at the voting booths in upcoming July elections. If it abstains, it will in any case be interpreted as a vote against the United States.