Thursday, July 8, 2010

Antigua and Barbuda: Wrong track, wrong direction

Wrong track, wrong direction
by Dr Isaac Newton:

I read Peter Richards’ article ‘Antigua Threatens Sanctions Against the United States’ on Caribarena’s online news with intense interest. I distilled that PM Spencer is expressing a certain brand of ‘righteous anger’ over the United States’ (US) refusal to settle the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling with Antigua and Barbuda (A&B).

Dr Isaac Newton is an international leadership and change management consultant and political adviser who specialises in government and business relations, and sustainable development projects. Dr Newton works extensively in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, leadership, political, social, and faith-based issuesSpencer typically dwells on the egregious effect that the United States’ behavior has had on A&B’s economy. But he gives few considerations and realistic proposals of improving relations with the US. It is reasonable however, that Spencer should advocate that the US should respect voluntary codes of conduct consistent with international rules governing the WTO.

Amongst a thousand reasons, Spencer has one motivation to improve relations with the US. That is, A&B carriers the towering presence of Mount Obama—its highest peak, a tribute paid to President Obama by Spencer himself.

Overshadowed by years of failed negotiations, Spencer has arrived at a formidable impediment. He realizes that as a super power, the US is determined to protect its national interests with little regard for international monitoring and compliance verification of the WTO. The PM now is considering the option of imposing sanctions against the US.

The rational for Spencer’s decision is that the US has sustained its position through a prolonged process of sidestepping that offsets the nation’s progress, tantamount to abusing a small island state. There may be other complexities involved.

Yet, it is a discerning leader indeed who can make a wise choice between the ethics of a little axe cutting down a big tree, and the geo-politics of a M1A1 Abrams’ tank crushing a small rose.

Spencer’s decision is further compounded by a dangling political future at home. He awaits the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeals’ decision, and within a month may be compelled to go back to the polls with the likelihood of descending into the valley of the shadow of death.

Adding more pepper to the stew, the PM is currently presiding over a deadbeat economy--- which is fundamentally dictated by IMF’s dominant interests. The prevailing mood amongst a vast sector of the population suggests a general exodus. Sensing his tenure is on the brink, and that voters believe his leadership amounts to a travesty of public service, Spencer seems trapped between getting results and the dramatics of appearing tough. Folkloric wisdom cautions, “You don’t cut off your nose to fix your face.”

In this context, imposing sanctions against the US invites a yawn and a smile. It also represents a public autopsy that Spencer is unable to handle the uncertainty of his office with keen thoughtfulness. Perhaps the PM may prove naysayers wrong, but to date, he has not gotten his leadership act together fast enough to reach expected potential.

At best, sanctions against the US may evoke symbolic sympathy from Caricom as well as some members of the international community. I cannot see any benefits whatsoever, bestowed to A&B, anytime in our preferred future. A&B cannot afford to erode its hemispheric relations with and economic ties to the US.

Perhaps Spencer should consider the possibility of another attempt at soft negotiations, even if in the past, this strategy might have been met with subtle but fierce resistance. It is quite possible that the road to effective diplomacy supported by patience, fresh eyes, and a philosophy of finding common ground, can effect flourishing change.

What the PM needs right now is a strategic intelligence pathway that produces a win-win for Antigua and Barbuda and the US. But this requires possibility thinking that does not align with Spencer’s natural mode of political miscalculations.

Seen through critical lens, Spencer has become a captive to the dogma that desperate times call for desperate measures. But the pragmatics of this strategy applied to the WTO’s case, will not yield financial reward or diplomatic right-thinking. Both of these ingredients are needed for the country’s long-term prosperity.

Although I have completely given up on Spencer’s leadership credentials to turn the ship of state in the right direction, the nation needs well-practiced operational-skills to address this matter. But Spencer will have to ignore his string of advisors, whose failed ideas are now brilliantly evident in the trademark of colossal failures, intrinsic to his administration.

Mired in high-stakes politics where perceptions of eroding ethics and unfair treatment intersect to destroy democratic values and international trust, Spencer should see by some force of miraculous intervention, that evoking sanctions against the US, will not guarantee our national successes or lessen our regional challenges.

Ultimately, the PM can not afford to pretend to operate in a vacuum. Should he move towards sanctions, he will induce an aberration, far too costly for our nation to bear. Sanctions would not hurt the US. At best, influential countries, whose economies are linked to Wall Street, may frown at United States’ non-compliance posture. And nothing will happen, except that A&B will feel untold pain.

I hope Spencer will reconsider his odd temptation, and push the envelope in the pursuit of doing what is right for A&B. Or he will continue on the wrong track--- heading farther in the wrong direction.

July 8, 2010