President Obama is set to meet President Peña Nieto in Mexico on May 2 to discuss the state of binational relations and ways to extend the generally amicable partnership that has been building over the past two decades.
Widely respected Mexico scholars Peter Smith (Latin America Studies professor at UC-San Diego) and Andrew Selee (founder and director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center) address the dynamics of the U.S.-Mexico partnership in a new edited volume, Mexico and the United States: The Politics of Partnership (Lynne Rienner, 2013).
The book comes with the many problems of edited volumes: uninspired (dull) writing, stale analysis, absent themes (social networks, globalizing culture, implications of structural economic integration of production across three nations, border policy, changing political dynamics in Mexico, etc.) and halting and half-formed attempts at integrated analysis.
The politically correct format of having coauthors for each chapter – Mexican and U.S. – has the predictable effect of blunting provocative points of view and conclusions about the obstacles and prospects of partnership.
There is a formulaic, dull unity to the book, and I searched unsuccessfully for a few examples of inspired analysis, elegantly presented insights, and anything memorable.
Several of the chapters do serve as helpful summaries of the current conditions and trends in the topics addressed, notably the chapter by Luis Astorga and David Shirk on “Drugs, Crime and Violence; and the “Protecting the Environment?” chapter by Roberto Sánchez-Rodríguez and Stephen Mumme. But for observers of binational relations and these themes, there is nothing new. Perhaps this serves – and was cynically designed – as a book to assign undergraduate students. Certainly, it is not a notable contribution to our understanding of binational relations and the incipient policy debate about the future of the U.S.-Mexico partnership.
The concluding chapter by Smith and Selee is distinguished only by its dry language, insipid tone, predictable summations, and uninspired vision. In their concluding sentence, these leading thinkers about U.S. –Mexico leave us with this synthesis of their vision of the path forward: “The basic requirement for both Mexico and the United States is the exertion of political will. That would lay the foundation for a truly meaningful partnership.” Good thinking, boys.
Perhaps what we need, as well, is new leadership in U.S.-Mexico studies – scholars, thinkers, and visionaries who would seek out rigorous (and contentious if need be) policy dialog and who would bring to the table a more grounded understanding of Mexico, the border, and binational aspirations. Not, what, in contrast, apparently issues from polite partnership talk in DC conferences and at trendy Coyoacán and Roma cafés in Mexico City.
Otherwise, a book about such a timely and important topic might as well be assigned to a computer capable of compiling and integrating the previous writings and presentations of these contributors and editors.