Commentary Magazine


Topic: Daniel Ortega

“I Feel My Pain”

Obama’s rather atrocious performance yesterday got me thinking. Bill Clinton, when he was in office, was considered by his critics (and some of his admirers) to be among the most self-indulgent presidents in memory. His dalliance with an intern nearly brought down his presidency. He was in all respects — from food to incessant lateness to a phony tear at Ron Brown’s funeral –undisciplined and self-absorbed. But he can’t hold a candle to Obama.

Clinton at least understood the basic equation in politics: the elected pol demonstrates concern for the citizenry (“I feel your pain”) and in return gets the cheers and support of the voters. Obama feels his own pain. Or as he said yesterday about the Democratic losses, “I feel bad.” Excuse me, but why do we care? He has just — to pick up on his favorite car metaphor — wrecked the family vehicle. I don’t think that deserves our empathy. It didn’t just happen to him; he is the source of the political catastrophe that has descended upon the Democratic Party.

Obama, at minor and major points in his career, has made it all about himself. The cult of personality dominated his campaign. He turned on Rev. Wright when Wright questioned Obama’s sincerity. He based his foreign policy on the egocentric notion that his mere presence would change historic, substantive disputes between the parties (i.e., Israel wants peace and the Palestinians want no Israel) and transform a radical Islamic regime. He became offended when Daniel Ortega brought up America’s role in the Bay of the Pigs. (Obama declared he had an alibi — he was a child.) He has painted critics as enemies and refused to recognize the legitimate grievances of the electorate and his own party. The loss is a function of the voters’ ignorance and misperceptions; the solution is more Obama in the heartland. You see the pattern.

No one gets to the Oval Office being a shrinking violet. But there is ego and then there is ego. To be a successful president — frankly to be successful at anything — you need to have some appreciation of your own limitations and of your place in the grand scheme of things. Obama lacks both, and hence, the ability to self-reflect and correct course. His outward demeanor — first annoyed and now sullen — and his disinclination to address the root of his failings (i.e., an agenda at odds with the disposition of the electorate) do not bode well for an Obama comeback.

Obama’s rather atrocious performance yesterday got me thinking. Bill Clinton, when he was in office, was considered by his critics (and some of his admirers) to be among the most self-indulgent presidents in memory. His dalliance with an intern nearly brought down his presidency. He was in all respects — from food to incessant lateness to a phony tear at Ron Brown’s funeral –undisciplined and self-absorbed. But he can’t hold a candle to Obama.

Clinton at least understood the basic equation in politics: the elected pol demonstrates concern for the citizenry (“I feel your pain”) and in return gets the cheers and support of the voters. Obama feels his own pain. Or as he said yesterday about the Democratic losses, “I feel bad.” Excuse me, but why do we care? He has just — to pick up on his favorite car metaphor — wrecked the family vehicle. I don’t think that deserves our empathy. It didn’t just happen to him; he is the source of the political catastrophe that has descended upon the Democratic Party.

Obama, at minor and major points in his career, has made it all about himself. The cult of personality dominated his campaign. He turned on Rev. Wright when Wright questioned Obama’s sincerity. He based his foreign policy on the egocentric notion that his mere presence would change historic, substantive disputes between the parties (i.e., Israel wants peace and the Palestinians want no Israel) and transform a radical Islamic regime. He became offended when Daniel Ortega brought up America’s role in the Bay of the Pigs. (Obama declared he had an alibi — he was a child.) He has painted critics as enemies and refused to recognize the legitimate grievances of the electorate and his own party. The loss is a function of the voters’ ignorance and misperceptions; the solution is more Obama in the heartland. You see the pattern.

No one gets to the Oval Office being a shrinking violet. But there is ego and then there is ego. To be a successful president — frankly to be successful at anything — you need to have some appreciation of your own limitations and of your place in the grand scheme of things. Obama lacks both, and hence, the ability to self-reflect and correct course. His outward demeanor — first annoyed and now sullen — and his disinclination to address the root of his failings (i.e., an agenda at odds with the disposition of the electorate) do not bode well for an Obama comeback.

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Obama Emotionless Except When It’s Personal

Last November, which seems like a lifetime ago, in the context of anti-terror measures, a sharp observer spotted a common thread that connected Obama to his attorney general. Of Eric Holder, she remarked:

The dispassion, the self-reverence, the blindness of the man, are marvelous to behold, and so perfectly reflect the president he so perfectly serves. “Neutral and detached” people shall “understand the reasons why” he made those decisions, shall see he has left “the politics out of it,” and shall recognize what’s right–something the rest of us, benighted and bellicose souls that we are, have never managed to do with respect to the disposition of those committing mass murders of Americans in their ongoing war against our civilization.

It is more true today in the wake of excising “jihadist” and “Islamic fundamentalist” from our lexicon. Indeed, it extends to every area of governance.  The public doesn’t appreciate the gift of ObamaCare. The voters fail to understand that “costs” (that would be taxes) are needed to enact a massive cap-and-trade scheme. The Jews don’t comprehend that Obama has their interests at heart — go self-reflect, he instructs them. And he tut-tuts Jewish leaders who don’t “get” how his master plan for peace in the Middle East is unfolding. He judges, evaluates, and criticizes us — remaining above the fray.

Even Maureen Dowd stumbles upon the truth: “President Obama’s bloodless quality about people and events, the emotional detachment that his aides said allowed him to see things more clearly, has instead obscured his vision.” (And rendered him ineffective and increasingly unlikable.) Robert Reich similarly edges to the core problem:

The man who electrified the nation with his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 2004 put it to sleep tonight. … [H]e failed tonight to rise to the occasion. Is it because he’s not getting good advice, or because he’s psychologically incapable of expressing the moral outrage the nation feels?

When Obama drops the mask of detachment and reveals true emotion, it is for himself. What spurred the angry denunciation of Rev. Wright? Wright’s personal attack on him. What gets his goat? The media, which impose a 24/7 news cycle on him. What gets his blood boiling? The “insult” he perceives to him when Israel dared to announce a building project while his VP was visiting. Why was Obama annoyed with Daniel Ortega? He implied that Obama was responsible for the Bay of Pigs when he was but a child.

So we have a curious president — cold and distant when it comes to dangers from foreign foes, economic catastrophe, and environmental disaster, which wreck havoc on our lives, but filled with outrage at the slightest offense to himself. Now Bill Clinton was and is a renowned self-pitier. But at least he had the political smarts and acting skills (and to be fair, a real emotional connection to his fellow citizens) to project empathy and to tell us that he felt our pain. Obama can’t muster that. The lion’s share of his concern and emotional energy is reserved for himself. As his presidency comes crashing down around him, his self-concern will grow, the yelps of self-pity will intensify, and the complaints about dull-witted Americans and duplicitous opponents will multiply.

Last November, which seems like a lifetime ago, in the context of anti-terror measures, a sharp observer spotted a common thread that connected Obama to his attorney general. Of Eric Holder, she remarked:

The dispassion, the self-reverence, the blindness of the man, are marvelous to behold, and so perfectly reflect the president he so perfectly serves. “Neutral and detached” people shall “understand the reasons why” he made those decisions, shall see he has left “the politics out of it,” and shall recognize what’s right–something the rest of us, benighted and bellicose souls that we are, have never managed to do with respect to the disposition of those committing mass murders of Americans in their ongoing war against our civilization.

It is more true today in the wake of excising “jihadist” and “Islamic fundamentalist” from our lexicon. Indeed, it extends to every area of governance.  The public doesn’t appreciate the gift of ObamaCare. The voters fail to understand that “costs” (that would be taxes) are needed to enact a massive cap-and-trade scheme. The Jews don’t comprehend that Obama has their interests at heart — go self-reflect, he instructs them. And he tut-tuts Jewish leaders who don’t “get” how his master plan for peace in the Middle East is unfolding. He judges, evaluates, and criticizes us — remaining above the fray.

Even Maureen Dowd stumbles upon the truth: “President Obama’s bloodless quality about people and events, the emotional detachment that his aides said allowed him to see things more clearly, has instead obscured his vision.” (And rendered him ineffective and increasingly unlikable.) Robert Reich similarly edges to the core problem:

The man who electrified the nation with his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 2004 put it to sleep tonight. … [H]e failed tonight to rise to the occasion. Is it because he’s not getting good advice, or because he’s psychologically incapable of expressing the moral outrage the nation feels?

When Obama drops the mask of detachment and reveals true emotion, it is for himself. What spurred the angry denunciation of Rev. Wright? Wright’s personal attack on him. What gets his goat? The media, which impose a 24/7 news cycle on him. What gets his blood boiling? The “insult” he perceives to him when Israel dared to announce a building project while his VP was visiting. Why was Obama annoyed with Daniel Ortega? He implied that Obama was responsible for the Bay of Pigs when he was but a child.

So we have a curious president — cold and distant when it comes to dangers from foreign foes, economic catastrophe, and environmental disaster, which wreck havoc on our lives, but filled with outrage at the slightest offense to himself. Now Bill Clinton was and is a renowned self-pitier. But at least he had the political smarts and acting skills (and to be fair, a real emotional connection to his fellow citizens) to project empathy and to tell us that he felt our pain. Obama can’t muster that. The lion’s share of his concern and emotional energy is reserved for himself. As his presidency comes crashing down around him, his self-concern will grow, the yelps of self-pity will intensify, and the complaints about dull-witted Americans and duplicitous opponents will multiply.

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The Friends You Keep

Among the many negatives for Barack Obama from the debate is the increased focus on his connections to unsavory characters. The Bill Ayers connection has been reported before, but the debate last night certainly helped bring it to national attention. The New York Sun, for example, reports:

[Ayers] and Mr. Obama served together on the nine-member board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago nonprofit, for three years beginning in 1999, and they have also appeared jointly on two academic panels, one in 1997 and another in 2001. Mr. Ayers, who was never convicted in the Weather Underground bombings, is now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Sun (and others) also have noted that Ayers, an unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist, made a small contribution to Obama’s campaign.

Perhaps just as troubling for Obama as his domestic friends are the international supporters he is collecting. Yesterday, Hamas gave him the thumbs up. Previously, Daniel Ortega said that he likes what he sees, labeling Obama a “revolutionary phenomenon.” FARC is banking on an Obama presidency to nix U.S. aid to Colombia and shut down the free trade deal. Fidel Castro also sent word that he likes the Dream Ticket.

Is Obama responsible for the grab-bag of terrorists and dictators backing him? Well, he hasn’t given them the impression he would make their jobs harder. By suggesting he will meet with dictators without preconditions, he holds out the possibility that they too can get some “dignity promotion.” And he still hasn’t given these groups and individuals any indication that their support is unwelcome. It’s odd in the extreme that he (or his campaign) hasn’t already repudiated these pledges of support. But if he won’t return Bill Ayers’s donation or renounce Reverend Wright, why would he distance himself from thugs abroad? He just doesn’t do repudiation.

Among the many negatives for Barack Obama from the debate is the increased focus on his connections to unsavory characters. The Bill Ayers connection has been reported before, but the debate last night certainly helped bring it to national attention. The New York Sun, for example, reports:

[Ayers] and Mr. Obama served together on the nine-member board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago nonprofit, for three years beginning in 1999, and they have also appeared jointly on two academic panels, one in 1997 and another in 2001. Mr. Ayers, who was never convicted in the Weather Underground bombings, is now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Sun (and others) also have noted that Ayers, an unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist, made a small contribution to Obama’s campaign.

Perhaps just as troubling for Obama as his domestic friends are the international supporters he is collecting. Yesterday, Hamas gave him the thumbs up. Previously, Daniel Ortega said that he likes what he sees, labeling Obama a “revolutionary phenomenon.” FARC is banking on an Obama presidency to nix U.S. aid to Colombia and shut down the free trade deal. Fidel Castro also sent word that he likes the Dream Ticket.

Is Obama responsible for the grab-bag of terrorists and dictators backing him? Well, he hasn’t given them the impression he would make their jobs harder. By suggesting he will meet with dictators without preconditions, he holds out the possibility that they too can get some “dignity promotion.” And he still hasn’t given these groups and individuals any indication that their support is unwelcome. It’s odd in the extreme that he (or his campaign) hasn’t already repudiated these pledges of support. But if he won’t return Bill Ayers’s donation or renounce Reverend Wright, why would he distance himself from thugs abroad? He just doesn’t do repudiation.

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The Religious Left

For the last quarter-century, the MSM has focused almost all of its coverage on faith on the religious Right. One of the consequences of all the attention being given to the hate-filled sermons by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is that it will draw attention to the religious Left in America.

It strikes me that the religious Left commits some of the same fundamental errors as the religious Right did during its heyday: too closely associating Christianity with politics; implying that a proper reading of the Bible will easily translate into a partisan agenda; tending to belittle and demonize political opponents. Both Pat Robertson’s and Jim Wallis’s willingness to vulgarize their Christian faith in order to advance their political agendas has been problematic for both sides.

But where the religious Left has set itself apart is in its stand on political issues. It was wrong, profoundly wrong, in its views on the nature and threat of Soviet communism; on its enchantment with “liberation theology” and Marxist dictators like Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega; in its unmitigated hostility toward capitalism; in its one-sided criticisms of Israel; in its opposition to welfare reform. The list goes on. And as Reverend Wright has reminded us, there is a very deep, almost bottomless, hatred for America that runs through the hard Left and among some on the religious Left.

For decades, all the media glare has been on the short-comings of the Robertsons and Falwells. Fair enough: they are deeply flawed figures. But it’s long past time to concentrate attention on the words and mindset of those on the hard religious Left–people who attempt to pretty up the noxious views of Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky in the garb of religious faith and “social justice.”

If Jeremiah Wright’s ugly sermons highlight for Americans what the Left is preaching from its pulpits–and what they need to be held accountable for–that will be all to the good.

For the last quarter-century, the MSM has focused almost all of its coverage on faith on the religious Right. One of the consequences of all the attention being given to the hate-filled sermons by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is that it will draw attention to the religious Left in America.

It strikes me that the religious Left commits some of the same fundamental errors as the religious Right did during its heyday: too closely associating Christianity with politics; implying that a proper reading of the Bible will easily translate into a partisan agenda; tending to belittle and demonize political opponents. Both Pat Robertson’s and Jim Wallis’s willingness to vulgarize their Christian faith in order to advance their political agendas has been problematic for both sides.

But where the religious Left has set itself apart is in its stand on political issues. It was wrong, profoundly wrong, in its views on the nature and threat of Soviet communism; on its enchantment with “liberation theology” and Marxist dictators like Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega; in its unmitigated hostility toward capitalism; in its one-sided criticisms of Israel; in its opposition to welfare reform. The list goes on. And as Reverend Wright has reminded us, there is a very deep, almost bottomless, hatred for America that runs through the hard Left and among some on the religious Left.

For decades, all the media glare has been on the short-comings of the Robertsons and Falwells. Fair enough: they are deeply flawed figures. But it’s long past time to concentrate attention on the words and mindset of those on the hard religious Left–people who attempt to pretty up the noxious views of Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky in the garb of religious faith and “social justice.”

If Jeremiah Wright’s ugly sermons highlight for Americans what the Left is preaching from its pulpits–and what they need to be held accountable for–that will be all to the good.

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With Friends Like These…

Not to beat up on Steve Clemons, but the conclusion to his post on the news about Castro leaves me perplexed:

One interesting US presidential race tidbit involves Fidel Castro–who is know [sic] quite dismissive of and sparring with John McCain over McCain’s accusations that Cuban agents engaged in torture in Vietnam. However, before this spat, Castro said that the “unbeatable” US presidential ticket would have both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on it.

Something to consider. . .

What, pray tell, is there to consider? Other than firming up its support base amongst readers of The Nation or the American Prospect, an endorsement from Fidel Castro would not exactly be a net plus for a Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton ticket. But hey, Obama already has Daniel Ortega on his side, so what’s another Latin American caudillo?

Not to beat up on Steve Clemons, but the conclusion to his post on the news about Castro leaves me perplexed:

One interesting US presidential race tidbit involves Fidel Castro–who is know [sic] quite dismissive of and sparring with John McCain over McCain’s accusations that Cuban agents engaged in torture in Vietnam. However, before this spat, Castro said that the “unbeatable” US presidential ticket would have both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on it.

Something to consider. . .

What, pray tell, is there to consider? Other than firming up its support base amongst readers of The Nation or the American Prospect, an endorsement from Fidel Castro would not exactly be a net plus for a Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton ticket. But hey, Obama already has Daniel Ortega on his side, so what’s another Latin American caudillo?

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The Oil-for-Bananas Summit

Yesterday, in the southern Cuban city of Cienfuegos, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez opened the Petrocaribe Summit. The day-long gathering attracted about a dozen Latin American and Caribbean heads of state, including Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. Raul Castro, who is effectively running Cuba for his ailing brother, was there as well. American allies also showed up.

And it’s not hard to see why the meeting was well attended. Chavez, who sits on top of the world’s largest oil reserves outside the Middle East, was offering energy on easy terms. At present, Venezuela ships almost 100,000 barrels of subsidized oil a day to Cuba. Cuba pays for the oil by stationing thousands of its doctors in Venezuela, where they provide free care for the poor. Chavez, at the summit, wanted to extend the barter arrangement to other nations by accepting local products such as bananas and sugar.

The barter option—“a new mechanism” in the words of Chavez’s Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez—is already available to members of Petrocaribe, the Venezuela-funded energy alliance founded in 2005, but it does not appear to be widely used. That doesn’t mean Chavez’s “brothers” in the region have not been taking advantage of his largesse. In about a year, they have accumulated debts of almost $1.2 billion to Venezuela. Chavez thinks the debt will grow to $4.6 billion by 2010. At present, Petrocaribe members can defer payment of 40 percent of their oil bill and take as long as 25 years to pay Caracas with 1 percent interest when the price of crude exceeds $40 a barrel. Is it any wonder that even Honduras, a traditional friend to Washington, became the alliance’s seventeenth member yesterday? Guatemala may also want in.

“We have begun to create a new geopolitics of oil that is not at the service of the interests of imperialism and big capitalists,” the Venezuelan leader said yesterday. Unfortunately for him, subsidized arrangements do not last, and that is all Chavez is offering to his neighbors. The American vision of trade binding the region together is sustainable, but it is failing for a multitude of reasons. One of them is Boss Hugo, who blasted Washington. “Free trade doesn’t exist,” he said as he asked his fellow leaders to resist the failed “dictatorship of world capitalism.” Chavez may sound like a buffoon, but whether we like it or not, he is challenging the notions that underpin the West. It is time for President Bush—and the candidates seeking to replace him—to focus on the region that borders our own.

Yesterday, in the southern Cuban city of Cienfuegos, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez opened the Petrocaribe Summit. The day-long gathering attracted about a dozen Latin American and Caribbean heads of state, including Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. Raul Castro, who is effectively running Cuba for his ailing brother, was there as well. American allies also showed up.

And it’s not hard to see why the meeting was well attended. Chavez, who sits on top of the world’s largest oil reserves outside the Middle East, was offering energy on easy terms. At present, Venezuela ships almost 100,000 barrels of subsidized oil a day to Cuba. Cuba pays for the oil by stationing thousands of its doctors in Venezuela, where they provide free care for the poor. Chavez, at the summit, wanted to extend the barter arrangement to other nations by accepting local products such as bananas and sugar.

The barter option—“a new mechanism” in the words of Chavez’s Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez—is already available to members of Petrocaribe, the Venezuela-funded energy alliance founded in 2005, but it does not appear to be widely used. That doesn’t mean Chavez’s “brothers” in the region have not been taking advantage of his largesse. In about a year, they have accumulated debts of almost $1.2 billion to Venezuela. Chavez thinks the debt will grow to $4.6 billion by 2010. At present, Petrocaribe members can defer payment of 40 percent of their oil bill and take as long as 25 years to pay Caracas with 1 percent interest when the price of crude exceeds $40 a barrel. Is it any wonder that even Honduras, a traditional friend to Washington, became the alliance’s seventeenth member yesterday? Guatemala may also want in.

“We have begun to create a new geopolitics of oil that is not at the service of the interests of imperialism and big capitalists,” the Venezuelan leader said yesterday. Unfortunately for him, subsidized arrangements do not last, and that is all Chavez is offering to his neighbors. The American vision of trade binding the region together is sustainable, but it is failing for a multitude of reasons. One of them is Boss Hugo, who blasted Washington. “Free trade doesn’t exist,” he said as he asked his fellow leaders to resist the failed “dictatorship of world capitalism.” Chavez may sound like a buffoon, but whether we like it or not, he is challenging the notions that underpin the West. It is time for President Bush—and the candidates seeking to replace him—to focus on the region that borders our own.

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Iran in Latin America

On Sunday, Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, met with Ezzatollah Zarghami, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami’s visit is just one of a series from lower-level Iranian officials, who have fanned out across Latin America in search of friends. In recent years, Tehran has worked hard to strengthen contacts in the region—and it has accomplished much while Washington has neglected the countries south of its border. The world is full of threats, and Washington is paradoxically ignoring the ones closest to the American homeland. Says Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins, “Since there has been no coherent United States policy toward Latin America, there’s a window of opportunity for the Iranians to come fill the vacuum.”

Tehran has missed no opportunities to do so. In addition to building relations with Ortega’s Sandinistas, Iran has nurtured ties with new leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. And of course there is the combination of Iran and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, what Tehran calls the “axis of unity.” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also reaching out to moderate Latin American governments, most notably Brazil’s. “Iran is trying to create a geopolitical balance with the United States,” according to Bill Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.

Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News reported how the mullahs in Tehran intend to achieve this “balance.” Friendly Latin American governments are giving the Iranians bases of operation in their countries to carry out covert activities. Iran-supported Hizballah, through front organizations, already operates in the region, and the presence of even more Iranians will undoubtedly enhance its capabilities. Americans, unfortunately, can expect Tehran-supported terrorism: Argentina, contending that Iran was behind bombings in Buenos Aires of Israeli and Jewish community targets, last month obtained Interpol approval for arrest warrants against five Iranians.

There is nothing left to the Monroe Doctrine. If the Bush administration is not going to abandon Latin America to Iran and that country’s terrorist allies, then it will have to tie the region to America in some fashion. At this moment, the fastest way to do so is to erect a network of free trade deals. Yet these agreements are controversial in Washington. Although President Bush signed the FTA with Peru on Friday, similar ones with Colombia and Panama are languishing in Congress. There are many problems with Washington’s free trade agreements with less developed economies, but Ortega’s meetings with junior Iranians like Zarghami suggest that this might be the time to consider dropping technical quibbles and to start looking at the bigger picture.

On Sunday, Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, met with Ezzatollah Zarghami, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami’s visit is just one of a series from lower-level Iranian officials, who have fanned out across Latin America in search of friends. In recent years, Tehran has worked hard to strengthen contacts in the region—and it has accomplished much while Washington has neglected the countries south of its border. The world is full of threats, and Washington is paradoxically ignoring the ones closest to the American homeland. Says Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins, “Since there has been no coherent United States policy toward Latin America, there’s a window of opportunity for the Iranians to come fill the vacuum.”

Tehran has missed no opportunities to do so. In addition to building relations with Ortega’s Sandinistas, Iran has nurtured ties with new leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. And of course there is the combination of Iran and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, what Tehran calls the “axis of unity.” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also reaching out to moderate Latin American governments, most notably Brazil’s. “Iran is trying to create a geopolitical balance with the United States,” according to Bill Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.

Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News reported how the mullahs in Tehran intend to achieve this “balance.” Friendly Latin American governments are giving the Iranians bases of operation in their countries to carry out covert activities. Iran-supported Hizballah, through front organizations, already operates in the region, and the presence of even more Iranians will undoubtedly enhance its capabilities. Americans, unfortunately, can expect Tehran-supported terrorism: Argentina, contending that Iran was behind bombings in Buenos Aires of Israeli and Jewish community targets, last month obtained Interpol approval for arrest warrants against five Iranians.

There is nothing left to the Monroe Doctrine. If the Bush administration is not going to abandon Latin America to Iran and that country’s terrorist allies, then it will have to tie the region to America in some fashion. At this moment, the fastest way to do so is to erect a network of free trade deals. Yet these agreements are controversial in Washington. Although President Bush signed the FTA with Peru on Friday, similar ones with Colombia and Panama are languishing in Congress. There are many problems with Washington’s free trade agreements with less developed economies, but Ortega’s meetings with junior Iranians like Zarghami suggest that this might be the time to consider dropping technical quibbles and to start looking at the bigger picture.

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Fidel’s Favorite

Fidel Castro, who has long been too ill to appear in public, apparently is healthy enough to share his thoughts with us. His most recent contribution to the global political dialogue came yesterday in an editorial in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s mouthpiece. He grabbed headlines in America by handicapping its 2008 presidential election—he thinks Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are “seemingly invincible.” But Fidel’s most interesting thoughts are his evaluations of past American presidents.

Castro’s favorite? That would be “James Carter,” as Cuba’s ailing revolutionary calls him. El Maximo Lider gives a number of reasons why he chose the Georgia Democrat. He notes that Carter “was not an accomplice to the brutal terrorism against Cuba” and that he promoted a maritime agreement with Cuba. Yet he did not mention the most important reason. Castro is most likely so fond of the 39th President because he delegitimized the American embargo of Cuba—but he did not end it.

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Fidel Castro, who has long been too ill to appear in public, apparently is healthy enough to share his thoughts with us. His most recent contribution to the global political dialogue came yesterday in an editorial in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s mouthpiece. He grabbed headlines in America by handicapping its 2008 presidential election—he thinks Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are “seemingly invincible.” But Fidel’s most interesting thoughts are his evaluations of past American presidents.

Castro’s favorite? That would be “James Carter,” as Cuba’s ailing revolutionary calls him. El Maximo Lider gives a number of reasons why he chose the Georgia Democrat. He notes that Carter “was not an accomplice to the brutal terrorism against Cuba” and that he promoted a maritime agreement with Cuba. Yet he did not mention the most important reason. Castro is most likely so fond of the 39th President because he delegitimized the American embargo of Cuba—but he did not end it.

For Castro, that would be the Daily Double. He has made a career of blaming the embargo for Cuba’s ills, but has always acted up whenever it looked as if Congress actually might get rid of it. Carter is not only our worst ex-president, as Joshua Muravchik has labeled him, he is possibly (in competition with James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson) our worst serving leader as well. But as wrong-headed as he has been on most everything, Carter understands something that has somehow eluded recent commanders-in-chief: the embargo in its present form serves Castro’s interests more than it does ours.

Today, Castro is viewed more as a pest than a threat. Yet despite his illness he is providing inspiration to a whole new generation of leftists in Latin America, from Hugo Chavez to Evo Morales to Daniel Ortega. So, now is an excellent time for Washington to summon the political will and do something effective: either tighten the embargo or get rid of it entirely. We are reaching the point at which, if we fail to take decisive action, we may soon look south and find a new Red Sea.

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