Daniel Henninger reminds us that the president’s photo-op with Hugo Chavez did two unfortunate things: provide the tin-pot dictator with the legitimacy he craves and undermine the democratic opponents struggling to hold on in Venezuela, and under other unsavory regimes around the globe. He writes:
The Obama people seem to believe that talking top guy to top guy is the yellow brick road to progress. Why do they think that? They say Ronald Reagan negotiated over nuclear arsenals at Reykjavik. But virtually all desirable regime change in our time — Soviet Communism, South Africa, the Philippines — has come mainly from below, from the West protecting and supporting people in opposition to autocrats.
The origin of the change-from-below movement was the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which ratified the legitimacy of self-determination. There was no stronger supporter of this liberal turn than AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland. Where is his like today in the Democratic Party or its unions? Where is the left-wing blogosphere when the pro-democracy prisoners of Cuba, Iran and Syria need them? It’s ranting about Bush “war criminals.”
We’ve had a total role-reversal on the subject of human rights. The Left clamored for the appointment of Chas Freeman, who supported dictatorial thugs wherever he could find them. The brigades of liberal bloggers repeatedly demanded that we abandon Iraq before the surge could achieve success, leaving the country to wallow in genocidal violence. The same crew wouldn’t dream of insisting on any discussion of human rights as part of the now defunct six-party talks with North Korea. One wonders how they lost their nerve or came to care so little for those fighting for freedom and civil liberties. That sort of thing used to be in fashion at Georgetown and San Francisco cocktail parties. No longer so.
Remember Obama’s insistence that he will “lead by example”? The example he is providing is that dictators, rather than dissidents, deserve America’s attention and courtesy. This example establishes a precedent of dictators being able to carry out the charade of respectability, yucking it up with the president of the United States without fear of rebuke or embarrassment. As they used to say, the whole world is watching.