To this day, Bernard Lewis’s quip on the United States in the Middle East still rings true: “America is harmless as an enemy but treacherous as a friend.” In light of the recent visit of Argentinian president-elect Javier Milei to Washington, the question arising from Lewis’s observation also applies to Latin America.
While the usual suspects in the media are spinning into overdrive about the supposedly far-Right and Trump-admiring Milei, he also happens to be the most unapologetically pro-American and pro-Western politician to emerge from South America in decades. Although Milei did not meet President Biden in person, he did have appointments with some of his senior aides including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and lunch with former US president Bill Clinton.
Given the significant sway the Clintons still have within the Democrat Party, the latter was a shrewd strategic move by the new leader of Argentina. It is unlikely that the anarcho-capitalist and former economist is a particular fan of either Clinton or Biden, but he knows who is currently in charge in Washington.
Milei was carried into office on a wave of enthusiasm in a country with significant problems in both its economy and social structure. Not only is Argentina the largest debtor nation to the International Monetary Fund, it also has an inflation rate closing in on 150%, with 40% of the population living in poverty and a possible recession on the horizon. Milei will need strong international allies to turn the ship around, especially since expectations are incredibly high. If he cannot produce some early successes, the tide of public opinion might turn against him very quickly.
There are, however, also good reasons for Washington to see Milei endure. Whatever eccentricities Milei has demonstrated during his campaign, from promising to abolish Argentina’s Central Bank (a pledge he renewed after his election) to replacing the Argentine Peso with the US Dollar (a pledge he has moved away from), having a staunch ally in South America’s second largest country after Brazil should be greeted with enthusiasm in the US.
After the diplomatic blunder of supporting the anti-Western Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, one can only hope that the Biden administration has learned its lesson. Shortly after Lula took office, he accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of being co-responsible for the Russian invasion, while simultaneously promoting closer relations to the other Brics members, including a push for ending the global dominance of the US Dollar.
Milei, on the other hand, promises to overhaul the entire foreign policy of Argentina, including the abandonment of any ambition to join Brics or create a new Latin American currency with Brazil. At a time of heightened geopolitical tensions, the US should welcome Argentina’s aspirations of closer ties to it and becoming a bulwark against China and Russia in Latin America.