GOP Contenders and Mexico: Amateur Hour at the Rio Grande

Republican presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump (L) looks on as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz speaks during the Republican P
Republican presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump (L) looks on as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Diplomacy is a craft that requires knowledge of both historical forces that define our relationships with other nations and an understanding of the dynamic forces impacting a nation in the present. A diplomat's worldview cannot be tied to the past when we live in a world where major nations from a generation ago, such as the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia, no longer exist.

When it comes to Mexico, however, the Republican front-runners are clueless amateurs. Their view of Mexico, which shares a nearly 2,000-mile border with four U.S. states, appears shaped more by 1960s Clint Eastwood movies then anything resembling reality.

Donald Trump clings to a cartoonish image that is a half-century old of a nation that is a cauldron of banditos directed by a corrupt government to pour across the border to traffic narcotics, rape, commit mayhem and spread disease in El Norte. Trump stresses that "the Mexican government is not our friend."

Not our friend? Guess again Donald. Mexico is the second largest buyer of U.S. goods and sustains approximately six million American jobs. In addition, far from pouring across the border, since 2009 more Mexicans are leaving the United States than coming across the border. Those that do cross the border into the U.S., however, have a substantially lower crime rate than other demographic groups.

Senator Ted Cruz, who is neck and neck with Trump in Iowa, has embraced "the Donald's" anti-immigration rants. To his credit, Senator Marco Rubio has denounced Trump's rhetoric on Mexico as "offensive and inaccurate," but he and Cruz have laid their own claim to the diplomacy dunce cap by putting a hold on a final Senate vote to approve Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson to be the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico (despite bi-partisan support for the nominee), over her role in implementing President Obama's easing of the failed 55-year Cuba embargo.

As President Obama explained, "The Cold War has been over for a long time. And I'm not interested in having battles frankly that started before I was born."

Senators Cruz and Rubio (who are both Cuban-American) not only want to cling to the last vestige of the Cold War, but to do so at the expense of our greatest ally in Latin America.

As a result, since July 2015 we have not had an ambassador to our third-largest trading partner in which over 2.5 million Americans either live or are visiting on any given day. This delay comes at a very dangerous time, as the U.S. ambassador works with the Mexican government in coordinating joint efforts on national security, law enforcement and commercial matters and in pushing for reforms in the Mexican criminal justice system to free it from the grip of narco cartels.

In addition, this is a critical time in Mexico as the government is under increasing pressure over (i) its mishandling of the investigation into the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in Iguala (especially after an Organization of American States report refuting the government's explanation of the disappearance) and (ii) its failure to prosecute assassinations of journalists (ninety percent of which go unresolved). In August, journalist Rueben Espinosa became the 13th journalist from the state of Veracruz to be killed since 2011.

The United States is trying to push Mexico to address these human rights issues, as Mexico's lack of progress in human rights led the State Department to withhold $5 million in aid. Before his tenure ended, Ambassador Anthony Wayne spoke out over the "alarming levels of impunity" in crimes against reporters in Mexico. Yet now the U.S. voice in Mexico is silenced and its ability to push Mexico limited because of two Senators' desire to cling to a Cold War embargo that was counter-productive and denounced by our allies.

This is no small matter, since Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto has a disapproval rating of 57 percent and any unrest in Mexico will have an impact on the U.S. economy. Think about it, Senators Cruz and Rubio believe that an island nation with an economy that is slightly larger than that of the state of West Virginia is more important than a nation that is the world's twelfth largest economy.

If the GOP front-runners have such a cartoonish view of an ally with whom we share a border and cling to a world that ceased to exist over a generation ago, how can we trust them to manage our affairs on a global level? The answer is simple, we cannot.