The North American Idea is one man’s version of the “European Idea,” also known as the European Union – the result of multi-national social, economic and political integration of a disparate people. The authors of the recent Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) task force report, North America: Time for a New Focus, point to the last serious effort “to deepen North American ties,” which occurred during the George W. Bush administration with the formation of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP). North America: Time for a New Focus is an attempt to resuscitate this globalist vision well in advance of the 2016 presidential election in the apparent hope of influencing the victor to pick up the gauntlet and undertake the challenge anew. Quite fittingly, this comprehensive task force report is dedicated to the memory of its key member, “Robert A. Pastor, a visionary champion of the North American idea.”
Mr. Pastor, was arguably the chief architect and proponent of a North American Union, or a North American Community, as he preferred to call it. Pastor was a university professor, latterly at American University in Washington, DC, a Latin America policy specialist who served in the Carter White House at the National Security Council, where his legacy, to the chagrin of conservatives in the 1970s, was ratification of the Panama Canal treaties. His more lasting legacy, however, may be yet to come – that of a North American Union – a gradual process that doesn’t happen overnight but one that takes decades. In fact, while this process is already underway, its resolution, although not a certainty, may stretch well into the 21st Century. While the process has stalled somewhat, it has lasted over two decades already. North America: Time for a New Focus provides the reinvigorated road map to achieving Pastor’s vision.
A look back
Consequently, Robert Pastor’s 2011 book The North American Idea: A Vision of a Continental Future remains an eye-opening culmination of a life’s work that is well worth reading, particularly in tandem with CFR’s North America: Time for a New Focus. In the book, Pastor describes his vision and reveals how far the U.S., Mexico and Canada have integrated since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed in 1992. Pastor blames America for many of Mexico’s and Canada’s problems. He recommends impossible, utopian solutions for further integration that come directly from a left-wing agenda, instructing citizens of all three countries to self-identify as “North Americans.”
NAFTA eliminated tariffs among the three countries. But there has not been significant progress on further integration since its passage due to several factors. Primarily, as a result of 9-11, security measures were greatly enhanced at America’s borders beginning in 2001 and actually served to derail President George W. Bush’s plans for closer ties with Mexico. Secondly, Americans went on a “buy American” campaign when the 2008 recession began at the close of Bush administration. Finally, not all partner countries are eager to move forward. Canada has been even more resistant than the U.S. to integration with Mexico.
The author points out numerous examples of Canadian lack of interest and cooperation, but reserves his wrath primarily for the U.S., faulting America for not only the lack of progress on integration but for causing illegal immigration, the drug cartels, and Mexico’s economic woes. This question is typical of his rhetoric throughout the book, “Is the United States also a part – perhaps even a substantial cause – of these problems?” He takes the side of Mexico and Canada, observing that they see the U.S. as “arrogant, coercive or disinterested.”
The sovereignty zealots
Pastor opens the book rather angrily, taking potshots at critics who have disagreed with his vision. He derisively refers to those who oppose his radical vision as “sovereignty zealots.”
He repeats over and over again, in many different ways until it becomes tiresome, that the three nations could lower their costs by merging everything from border security to manufacturing to how they react to continental-side crises. He laments that the costs to trade imposed by increased border security have negated the savings from removing tariffs among the countries.
While this may be true, it naively overlooks the problems that would arise in return. The Mexican drug cartels, illegal immigration and terrorism have made it extremely difficult to open the borders among the three countries. Pastor derides the U.S. for creating the Department of Homeland Security after 9-11, but then casually mentions that Canada and Mexico followed suit and created their own counterparts to DHS.
The Mexican government has been corrupt since its inception in 1821, only improving slightly with the last two presidents – as Pastor admits in his book – the 2012 election of Enrique Pena Nieto notwithstanding. Mexico City gives PEMEX, the Mexican oil company, a monopoly on energy production and distribution, yet takes so much of its profits that PEMEX cannot explore for new oil fields, and existing sources will dry up by 2015 – that hasn’t happened yet. Years of drug cartels running rampant has transformed the country into a much more complicated project to fix than simply loosening up the borders and undermining U.S. sovereignty with a new government that serves the interests of the Mexican government, as much as it does U.S. interests.
Pastor offers no suggestions for overcoming objections within each country’s governments. Canada has “rejected virtually every North American initiative.” Even Mexico’s support for further integration ebbs and flows. Conservatives in the three nations aren’t the only ones who oppose integration; some of the loudest objections have come from the far left and the unions. Pastor admits, “there are more divided views within and among the three countries on the issues of immigration, currency, foreign policy, banking and culture,” suggesting strong push back to the essential elements that would be required for full continental integration in order to achieve a North American Union.
Further, Pastor resents the U.S. for increasing its trade with China, asserting that America should be expanding trade with Mexico instead. His theory is that if the U.S. can improve Mexico, so Mexicans want to stay in their own country, it will reduce illegal immigration and the drug cartels. He naively thinks that the U.S. – which is already heavily leveraged with debt – can afford to take a huge hit financially by trading more heavily with Mexico instead of China, and by providing Mexico with cash assistance, known as a “cohesion fund.” He wants the U.S. to contribute $8 billion per year to build this North American Community.
Pastor has harsh words for his country for unilaterally increasing border security, because the increased backup at the border hurt the economies of Mexico and Canada. Yet, he lightly dismisses similar actions by Canada. In 2009, Canada imposed a VISA upon Mexicans entering the country, in order to decrease the numbers applying for asylum.
He writes like a typical ivory tower college professor, using grandiose language and proposing vague solutions. He asserts that the word “sovereignty” has many meanings and its definition has changed over time, in order to reduce the impact of the argument that integration would destroy sovereignty. He exaggerates and cherrypicks statistics and surveys to bolster his arguments. One such survey out of Canada found that a whopping 45 percent of U.S. citizens want a common market or economic union like Europe. If this was even close to accurate, there wouldn’t be both Republicans and Democrats opposing further integration. Yet, Pastor insists it’s just a tiny minority of “sovereignty zealots” who are able to stop progress of his vision. To the contrary, even the Democrats have turned against NAFTA and its expansion. In 2008, Obama and Hillary ran presidential campaigns that opposed NAFTA.
His naivete is incredible sometimes. He complains that half of the American employees in the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver are law enforcement. Apparently, the fact that U.S. embassies are frequent targets of terrorists, and that terrorists have sought to use Canada to enter the U.S., should be of no concern.
Oddly, Pastor provides plenty of evidence against his own North American vision – which he then ignores. He admits that NAFTA shrank manufacturing jobs in the U.S. from over 17 million to 11.6 million, and that it “contributed to widening income disparities.” After 9-11, things got even worse under NAFTA. Illegal immigration increased, because most of the jobs Mexico created were in the Maquiladoras near the border. Workers from southern Mexico stayed long enough to figure out how to work in a foreign factory, then conveniently crossed the border. The drug cartels “grew and became more dangerous.” Contrary to his portrayal of the U.S. as a greedy nation that mistreats Mexicans, he cites a study which found that Mexicans trust Americans more than the people of any other country or even themselves. Another study, by the Pew Center, found that 95 percent of Mexicans who applied for an ID (matricula) already had jobs when they left Mexico, clear evidence they’re not leaving Mexico to find jobs.
Occasionally, Pastor gets it right. He acknowledges that guest worker programs do not benefit the home county; “remittances should be viewed as transnational welfare payments for dependent families.” He believes that Americans should be permitted to cross the border to obtain cheaper medical care and medications in Mexico and Canada.
CFR and the ‘Security and Prosperity Partnership’ Redux
The last high point for North American integration efforts came in 2005, when the three nations’ leaders met at a summit in Waco, Texas, and formed the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). It came on the heels of an earlier Council of Foreign Relations task force report that Pastor was also involved with, called Building a North American Community. The SPP brought about a backlash from conservatives, who started introducing legislation denouncing a North American Union and a NAFTA Superhighway.
President George W. Bush met with the leaders of Mexico and Canada more times than any other U.S. president, but Pastor notes he got little accomplished. Pastor believes that Bush wanted good relations with Mexico, but didn’t really understand or care about implementing the details.
Pastor emphasizes that his vision is not for a North American Union that would resemble the merged economies of the European Union; he foresees a looser-knit confederation that he refers to as a “North American Community.” However, original proponents were pushing for a full union. They were forced to back away from that due to the political backlash. At best, he is playing a game of semantics; at worst, he is being duplicitous, because out of the other side of his mouth, he says in his book that integration “should be more than a free trade area or simple partnership.” It should be remembered that the EU began somewhat modestly as the European Coal and Steel Community from 1945 to 1957 before it grew into today’s European Union.
The most redeeming part of Pastor’s book is the history he provides of the three nations. His experience working with and visiting Mexico enables him to explain how it got to its condition today, providing revealing anecdotes about the clashes between the natives and the Europeans. While the Spanish and Portuguese came as violent conquerors to Mexico and South America, the British came to Virginia and Massachusetts in the 1600s as settlers. This explains Mexico’s rougher beginnings. America was named accidentally after the wrong conqueror, and it wasn’t even its original name, “Turtle Island” which the natives called it. Canada didn’t fully sever its ties with England until 1967, when it finally adopted its own national flag. Canada was originally settled by British loyalists who disagreed with the American Revolution. Consequently, author Martin Lipset writes that Canadians seek “peace, order and good government.” They are “more class-aware, elitist, law-abiding, statist and … group oriented” than are the Americans.
Today, more than 18,000 U.S. companies have operations in Mexico. While Mexico has a serious crime problem due to the cartels – there were more drug-related murders in Mexico than casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2009 – it isn’t even close to as high as the homicide rates in El Salvador and Honduras. Mexico’s homicide rate is 14 per 100,000, paltry compared to 71 and 67 per 100,000 in El Salvador and Honduras, respectively. Mexico employs around 900,000 criminally active gang members in over 2,500 U.S. cities and towns. Yet, Pastor complains that Mexico was insulted when the U.S. built up the border fence in recent years. The Federal Highway Administration reports that one-third of the major roads in the U.S. are in substandard condition, which was a “significant factor” in 43,000 traffic fatalities each year. Clearly, the U.S. doesn’t have enough money to fix its own roads, much less fund a NAFTA Superhighway envisioned by Pastor.
The last half of the book is dry; full of pontificating and utopian rhetoric. There are so many supranational organizations mentioned or proposed, such as the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a reader’s eyes will start to glaze over.
Pastor’s vision for the U.S. is scary. He says America in the 21st Century “needs to demonstrate that it is ready to follow, not just lead.” Today, that has a familiar ring to it and, in a blatant case of massive wealth transfer, he wants the U.S. to turn over large amounts of money to Mexico to solve its problems – money the U.S. doesn’t have – to solve problems caused primarily by Mexico. Pastor’s vision is an untenable, unaffordable, utopian vision that will never work and will ultimately destroy U.S. sovereignty. Unfortunately, thanks to CFR’s independent task force report 71 rolled out on October 1, 2014, North American integration is poised to make another run at our sovereignty; this time in memoriam.