It’s standard practice by a functional State Department and White House. After a high-level trip or meeting, the two institutions typically issue a press release or the State Department or the White House hold a public meeting or conference call to give a “read out of the meeting.” After the meeting of Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray no such public information was issued. We don’t know what they talked about. A make-up presidential visit to Washington, DC? Immigration? President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports? NAFTA re-negotiation? NCAA March Madness brackets? Those delicious taco bowls at Trump Tower? No word.
It’s just another reason why a professional bureaucracy and the routine of its operation matter. Yes, matters of expertise, experience and prudence are already being discounted and demeaned in the current environment. But there’s also the basic issue of transparency and democratic accountability. Sure, press releases and briefings don’t reveal everything that was discussed and they are an effort at spin control, but at least the public and media can get a sense of the agenda of the meeting and some—though likely not all—of the discussions. From Kushner’s meeting with Peña Nieto and Videgaray—both from one of the U.S.’s closest allies—we have nada.
Worse, the willful bureaucratic freeze-out and personal silence from the White House, plays to the worst tendencies of Mexican government’s secrecy and lack of accountability. Mexican independent senator Martha Tagle recently issued a public statement demanding to know what was discussed at the high level meetings. The senator declared that defending Mexican national interests in diplomacy—especially vis à vis the United States—requires “a person who has the vision and commitment to ensure that these [conversations] don’t become a cheap, crude coin for negotiations” in which Mexican interests on issues of immigration and security are given away.
It’s a fair point. Mexico and the governing Partido Institucional Revolucionario (PRI) have a long, sordid history of obfuscation and lack of transparency. The Mexican Congress and its citizens have the right to know the content and even some of the conclusions of those high-level conversations. Now it seems that even the White House, in its personalization of diplomacy, has enabled that insidious, non-democratic tradition.
U.S. and Mexican citizens have a right to know the content of the discussions Kushner had in Mexico. It’s an essential component of conducting diplomacy in a democracy. It may be something that may not be in the DNA of the Mexican government—and the PRI, in particular—but it is when diplomacy is run through official channels by professionals. Were special deals cut? Will there be a Mexican-U.S. presidential meeting? Will Trump finally admit that he can’t get the Mexicans to pay for the wall as promised? Do these leaders think the University of Virginia will be eliminated in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament? As an alumnus of UVa but also as a U.S. citizen I deserve to know.