Commentary Magazine


Topic: Latin America

Standing up to the Obami

This report tip-toes around the facts related to how Honduras ousted Manuel Zelaya and achieved remarkable success in thwarting the Obami bullies. The report prefers to characterize it an as “elite” victory:

The story of how the second-poorest country in the hemisphere defied a superpower involves smooth-talking U.S. lobbyists and a handful of congressional Republicans. Perhaps most of all, it features a Honduran elite terrified that their country was being hijacked by someone they considered an erratic leftist.

But that’s not quite right. In fact, the support for Zelaya’s ousting came from the Honduran Congress, military, supreme court, business community, and the Catholic church. It was, at the very least, the victory of a wide and broad “elite.” Nor is there any evidence that Zelaya stood with non-elites. He stood with Hugo Chavez against virtually every institution and segment of Honduran society. Nor was this a “coup” in the way the term has historically been used in Latin America. The report grudgingly concedes as much:

Still, it was hardly an old-style Latin American coup. The soldiers were acting on a secret Supreme Court arrest warrant charging Zelaya with abuse of power. Legislators replaced him with a civilian. As promised, the de facto government proceeded with regularly scheduled presidential elections in November.

Ironically, the Honduran interim government wound up isolating the Obami — not the other way around. They smartly made their case to Republicans in Congress (“They won support from a handful of Republicans, who held up diplomatic appointments, weakening the State Department’s Latin America team”) and pushed forward with the only feasible solution — free and fair elections. Eventually the Obami were forced to back down: “As the crisis dragged on, U.S. diplomats got both sides to agree in October to allow the Honduran Congress to decide on Zelaya’s restoration. Until the end, Washington publicly supported his return. But after many delays, lawmakers finally voted Wednesday — no.”

There is a lesson there for small democracies. If they abide by democratic principles, sustain a united front domestically, and refuse to accede to the arrogance of Foggy Bottom and the White House, they can control their own destiny. (Hmm, seems to also have worked out in Israel.) That it should require such a Herculean effort to resist the strong-arming tactics of the United States is sobering and distressing.

This report tip-toes around the facts related to how Honduras ousted Manuel Zelaya and achieved remarkable success in thwarting the Obami bullies. The report prefers to characterize it an as “elite” victory:

The story of how the second-poorest country in the hemisphere defied a superpower involves smooth-talking U.S. lobbyists and a handful of congressional Republicans. Perhaps most of all, it features a Honduran elite terrified that their country was being hijacked by someone they considered an erratic leftist.

But that’s not quite right. In fact, the support for Zelaya’s ousting came from the Honduran Congress, military, supreme court, business community, and the Catholic church. It was, at the very least, the victory of a wide and broad “elite.” Nor is there any evidence that Zelaya stood with non-elites. He stood with Hugo Chavez against virtually every institution and segment of Honduran society. Nor was this a “coup” in the way the term has historically been used in Latin America. The report grudgingly concedes as much:

Still, it was hardly an old-style Latin American coup. The soldiers were acting on a secret Supreme Court arrest warrant charging Zelaya with abuse of power. Legislators replaced him with a civilian. As promised, the de facto government proceeded with regularly scheduled presidential elections in November.

Ironically, the Honduran interim government wound up isolating the Obami — not the other way around. They smartly made their case to Republicans in Congress (“They won support from a handful of Republicans, who held up diplomatic appointments, weakening the State Department’s Latin America team”) and pushed forward with the only feasible solution — free and fair elections. Eventually the Obami were forced to back down: “As the crisis dragged on, U.S. diplomats got both sides to agree in October to allow the Honduran Congress to decide on Zelaya’s restoration. Until the end, Washington publicly supported his return. But after many delays, lawmakers finally voted Wednesday — no.”

There is a lesson there for small democracies. If they abide by democratic principles, sustain a united front domestically, and refuse to accede to the arrogance of Foggy Bottom and the White House, they can control their own destiny. (Hmm, seems to also have worked out in Israel.) That it should require such a Herculean effort to resist the strong-arming tactics of the United States is sobering and distressing.

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Grudgingly on the Side of Democracy

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of — the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of — the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

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The Panama Precedent

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made several welcome changes to his ministry’s priority list, with perhaps the most noteworthy being the section on bilateral relationships. Strengthening ties with Arab states, which was at the top of that section under his predecessor, Tzipi Livni, is now at the bottom. Instead, Lieberman assigned priority to strengthening ties with the hitherto neglected regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

From a cost-benefit standpoint, this is a smart move. No Arab state is going to be anything but hostile in the foreseeable future. And while it is obviously preferable for states like Saudi Arabia to remain at their present hostility level rather than to escalate to Iran’s level, any investment beyond the minimum needed to ensure this much is just wasted time and effort.

In contrast, few non-Muslim states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are inherently hostile to Israel; hence an investment of time and effort might well improve relations. And while most of these countries have little clout, they could nevertheless do much to boost Israel’s global image.

To understand why, consider this month’s UN General Assembly vote endorsing the Goldstone Report. The resolution passed 118-18-44, with another 16 countries not voting. That is a lopsided condemnation of Israel.

But of the 16 countries that skipped the vote, all were from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Of the 44 abstainers, 18 were from these regions (most were European). And of the 118 who voted in favor, almost half belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference; most of the rest were non-Muslim states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America (plus five European states). Thus the vote could clearly have been made much less lopsided by flipping some of these states from “yes” to “abstention” and others from “abstention” or “not voting” to “no.”

Why does this matter? Because the fact that resolutions condemning Israel consistently pass by such lopsided margins contributes greatly to Israel’s pariah image, portraying it as a country with scarcely a friend in the world. If, instead, such condemnations passed only narrowly, this would portray it as a country that, despite many enemies, also has many friends. And countries with many friends are by definition not pariahs.

Could an investment of diplomatic effort flip some of these countries? It’s hard to know, given that Israel has never tried; for decades, its diplomacy has focused almost exclusively on the West and the Middle East. Nevertheless, another datum from the Goldstone vote is suggestive: the only Latin American country that did vote “no” on Goldstone — Panama — did so two weeks after its president met personally with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

And that’s the point: Most of these countries know little about Israel, and therefore care little. But if Israel made an effort to fill the knowledge gap, the caring gap might shrink, too. At the very least, it’s worth a try — especially when the alternative is for Israeli diplomats to waste their time battering their heads against a hostile Arab wall.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made several welcome changes to his ministry’s priority list, with perhaps the most noteworthy being the section on bilateral relationships. Strengthening ties with Arab states, which was at the top of that section under his predecessor, Tzipi Livni, is now at the bottom. Instead, Lieberman assigned priority to strengthening ties with the hitherto neglected regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

From a cost-benefit standpoint, this is a smart move. No Arab state is going to be anything but hostile in the foreseeable future. And while it is obviously preferable for states like Saudi Arabia to remain at their present hostility level rather than to escalate to Iran’s level, any investment beyond the minimum needed to ensure this much is just wasted time and effort.

In contrast, few non-Muslim states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are inherently hostile to Israel; hence an investment of time and effort might well improve relations. And while most of these countries have little clout, they could nevertheless do much to boost Israel’s global image.

To understand why, consider this month’s UN General Assembly vote endorsing the Goldstone Report. The resolution passed 118-18-44, with another 16 countries not voting. That is a lopsided condemnation of Israel.

But of the 16 countries that skipped the vote, all were from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Of the 44 abstainers, 18 were from these regions (most were European). And of the 118 who voted in favor, almost half belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference; most of the rest were non-Muslim states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America (plus five European states). Thus the vote could clearly have been made much less lopsided by flipping some of these states from “yes” to “abstention” and others from “abstention” or “not voting” to “no.”

Why does this matter? Because the fact that resolutions condemning Israel consistently pass by such lopsided margins contributes greatly to Israel’s pariah image, portraying it as a country with scarcely a friend in the world. If, instead, such condemnations passed only narrowly, this would portray it as a country that, despite many enemies, also has many friends. And countries with many friends are by definition not pariahs.

Could an investment of diplomatic effort flip some of these countries? It’s hard to know, given that Israel has never tried; for decades, its diplomacy has focused almost exclusively on the West and the Middle East. Nevertheless, another datum from the Goldstone vote is suggestive: the only Latin American country that did vote “no” on Goldstone — Panama — did so two weeks after its president met personally with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

And that’s the point: Most of these countries know little about Israel, and therefore care little. But if Israel made an effort to fill the knowledge gap, the caring gap might shrink, too. At the very least, it’s worth a try — especially when the alternative is for Israeli diplomats to waste their time battering their heads against a hostile Arab wall.

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Chavez Agonistes

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

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Gunboat Diplomacy for Burma?

Instead of launching a multinational intervention in Burma, as Gordon half-seriously suggested last week, why not, as Steve Sesser suggested eighteen years ago in the New York Times, exercise a bit of good old-fashioned American gunboat diplomacy?

In reporting on the 1988 revolt, I came to understand that the smallest gesture of U.S. military support–perhaps nothing more than a couple of battleships off the Burmese coast and a few warplanes over its skies–could have won the day for the Burmese people. Even today, with the army deeply split, merely the threat of American intervention might alone be enough to bring down the dictatorship.

The American origins of “gunboat diplomacy” date back to the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, when he dispatched the Great White Fleet around the world to show off American naval prowess. It was a tactic used to effect Roosevelt’s assertion of multination American interests in Latin America. Not only would the United States oppose European intervention in the Western hemisphere, Roosevelt declared America’s own, sole right to intervene (militarily, if need be) in the domestic affairs of Latin American nations should they be unable to maintain order or pay off debts owed to the United States.

“Walk softly and carry a big stick” is the saying associated with this form of military positioning. Why not dispatch a few aircraft carriers and battle ships within striking range of Rangoon to send a message?

Instead of launching a multinational intervention in Burma, as Gordon half-seriously suggested last week, why not, as Steve Sesser suggested eighteen years ago in the New York Times, exercise a bit of good old-fashioned American gunboat diplomacy?

In reporting on the 1988 revolt, I came to understand that the smallest gesture of U.S. military support–perhaps nothing more than a couple of battleships off the Burmese coast and a few warplanes over its skies–could have won the day for the Burmese people. Even today, with the army deeply split, merely the threat of American intervention might alone be enough to bring down the dictatorship.

The American origins of “gunboat diplomacy” date back to the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, when he dispatched the Great White Fleet around the world to show off American naval prowess. It was a tactic used to effect Roosevelt’s assertion of multination American interests in Latin America. Not only would the United States oppose European intervention in the Western hemisphere, Roosevelt declared America’s own, sole right to intervene (militarily, if need be) in the domestic affairs of Latin American nations should they be unable to maintain order or pay off debts owed to the United States.

“Walk softly and carry a big stick” is the saying associated with this form of military positioning. Why not dispatch a few aircraft carriers and battle ships within striking range of Rangoon to send a message?

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Socialism on the March

“Ideology matters again,” Robert Kagan writes in today’s Washington Post. “Autocracy is making a comeback.” The influential analyst focused on China and Russia this morning, but the big news this week from the world of authoritarianism comes from Latin America.

Yesterday, President Evo Morales of Bolivia nationalized Entel, the country’s largest telecommunications company and, at least until a few hours ago, a part of Telecom Italia. Morales has been attempting to take over Entel for about a year. He has been blocking attempts to have the matter settled by international arbitrators.

The nationalization by decree comes on the same day that Bolivia announced that it was acquiring controlling stakes in four energy companies. One of the acquisitions is through agreement with Spain’s Repsol, and the others were implemented by decree. The decrees affected British, German, Peruvian, and Cayman Islands firms. Bolivia claims that none of the four sales was forced. Two years ago, Morales announced that he wanted to nationalize the energy sector.

Morales was following in the footsteps of his mentor, Hugo Chavez. On Wednesday, the overstuffed Venezuelan ordered the expropriation of his country’s largest steelmaker, Siderurgica del Orinoco, from an Argentine-Italian group. This action follows Chavez’s moves to take over businesses in important sectors such as telecommunications, electric power, oil, and cement.

At this moment, the Latin American nationalizations are pinpricks. Yet it’s not too early for the West to begin thinking about how to counter assaults on free-markets—and how to work together to defend the concept of private property in a global economy. As Kagan notes, ideologies hostile to us are on the march.

And what are we doing? The West is not good at defending its private businesses. Many of these authoritarian states sustain themselves through their access to foreign investment and trade with the very nations whose property they take. Yet we are doing virtually nothing in response. Ideologues are declaring economic warfare against us, and the least we can do is return the favor.

“Ideology matters again,” Robert Kagan writes in today’s Washington Post. “Autocracy is making a comeback.” The influential analyst focused on China and Russia this morning, but the big news this week from the world of authoritarianism comes from Latin America.

Yesterday, President Evo Morales of Bolivia nationalized Entel, the country’s largest telecommunications company and, at least until a few hours ago, a part of Telecom Italia. Morales has been attempting to take over Entel for about a year. He has been blocking attempts to have the matter settled by international arbitrators.

The nationalization by decree comes on the same day that Bolivia announced that it was acquiring controlling stakes in four energy companies. One of the acquisitions is through agreement with Spain’s Repsol, and the others were implemented by decree. The decrees affected British, German, Peruvian, and Cayman Islands firms. Bolivia claims that none of the four sales was forced. Two years ago, Morales announced that he wanted to nationalize the energy sector.

Morales was following in the footsteps of his mentor, Hugo Chavez. On Wednesday, the overstuffed Venezuelan ordered the expropriation of his country’s largest steelmaker, Siderurgica del Orinoco, from an Argentine-Italian group. This action follows Chavez’s moves to take over businesses in important sectors such as telecommunications, electric power, oil, and cement.

At this moment, the Latin American nationalizations are pinpricks. Yet it’s not too early for the West to begin thinking about how to counter assaults on free-markets—and how to work together to defend the concept of private property in a global economy. As Kagan notes, ideologies hostile to us are on the march.

And what are we doing? The West is not good at defending its private businesses. Many of these authoritarian states sustain themselves through their access to foreign investment and trade with the very nations whose property they take. Yet we are doing virtually nothing in response. Ideologues are declaring economic warfare against us, and the least we can do is return the favor.

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Obama, Divider

He’s not even the Democratic nominee yet and already Barack Obama is getting into diplomatic tiffs with the leader of a foreign country. Last week, Colombian president–and staunch U.S. ally–Alvaro Uribe told The Wall Street Journal that Congress’ failure to pass the Colombia Free Trade Act would deal a harsh blow to American-Colombian relations. “I wouldn’t know what to say. It would be very serious,” Uribe said. Colombia is not just any ally. It is our strongest ally in Latin America, a bulwark against the hegemonic Marxist dictator Hugo Chavez. With anti-American sentiment rising across that continent, we need all the friends we can get, and Mr. Uribe is certainly one of them.

Obama doesn’t care. “I think the president is absolutely wrong on this,” he said last week. “You’ve got a government that is under a cloud of potentially having supported violence against unions, against labor, against opposition.” Obama, like much of the rest of his party these days, is in hock to labor unions. They oppose free trade deals on principle because to do so is in the short-term economic interests of their members. But the American people, as a whole, are harmed by protectionism, and so unions and other free trade opponents must therefore dress up their opposition to trade in deceptive arguments. In this case, labor has launched a campaign against the Colombian government, which, they claim, is responsible for the deaths of trade unionists. It is paramilitaries which are responsible for these murders, however, and Uribe has courageously (and effectively) taken them on during his tenure in office, along with crime in general. Considering how enormous a problem violent crime has been in Colombia over the past several decades, this is no small thing.

For all of Obama’s talk about repairing the global alliances destroyed by the Bush administration, the junior senator from Illinois does not seem to care about what his anti-free trade posturing says, not just to Colombia, but the world. What must the Mexicans and Canadians think of his anti-NAFTA demagoguery? What about the South Koreans–another, vital, U.S. ally in a dangerous region–who probably didn’t relish his crusading against their own free trade agreement? Barack Obama’s protectionist rhetoric has done an excellent job of uniting the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Should he become President, the same won’t be said about its effect on the rest of the world.

He’s not even the Democratic nominee yet and already Barack Obama is getting into diplomatic tiffs with the leader of a foreign country. Last week, Colombian president–and staunch U.S. ally–Alvaro Uribe told The Wall Street Journal that Congress’ failure to pass the Colombia Free Trade Act would deal a harsh blow to American-Colombian relations. “I wouldn’t know what to say. It would be very serious,” Uribe said. Colombia is not just any ally. It is our strongest ally in Latin America, a bulwark against the hegemonic Marxist dictator Hugo Chavez. With anti-American sentiment rising across that continent, we need all the friends we can get, and Mr. Uribe is certainly one of them.

Obama doesn’t care. “I think the president is absolutely wrong on this,” he said last week. “You’ve got a government that is under a cloud of potentially having supported violence against unions, against labor, against opposition.” Obama, like much of the rest of his party these days, is in hock to labor unions. They oppose free trade deals on principle because to do so is in the short-term economic interests of their members. But the American people, as a whole, are harmed by protectionism, and so unions and other free trade opponents must therefore dress up their opposition to trade in deceptive arguments. In this case, labor has launched a campaign against the Colombian government, which, they claim, is responsible for the deaths of trade unionists. It is paramilitaries which are responsible for these murders, however, and Uribe has courageously (and effectively) taken them on during his tenure in office, along with crime in general. Considering how enormous a problem violent crime has been in Colombia over the past several decades, this is no small thing.

For all of Obama’s talk about repairing the global alliances destroyed by the Bush administration, the junior senator from Illinois does not seem to care about what his anti-free trade posturing says, not just to Colombia, but the world. What must the Mexicans and Canadians think of his anti-NAFTA demagoguery? What about the South Koreans–another, vital, U.S. ally in a dangerous region–who probably didn’t relish his crusading against their own free trade agreement? Barack Obama’s protectionist rhetoric has done an excellent job of uniting the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Should he become President, the same won’t be said about its effect on the rest of the world.

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BLT on Whites

As more information comes out on the Trinity United Church of Christ, where Barack Obama has been a congregant for decades, we’re getting a fuller picture of what pastor Jeremiah Wright calls “black liberation theology.” There’s a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighting some interesting aspects of the gospel according to Rev. Wright.

The Journal claims Wright described black liberation theology “as a sister of liberation theology, the lay Catholic movement that fueled political activism in Latin America in the 1960’s.” It’s worth noting that the Latin American liberation theology of the 1960’s was heavily rooted in Marxism. Using Marxist categorizations to analyze economic oppression and social injustice, liberation theologians shifted the focus of salvation off the individual and onto larger societal structures. The problem with the emulation of Latin America’s liberation theology in the U.S. is not that preachers like Wright are necessarily Marxists, but that they can give short shrift to the notion of personal responsibility in favor of diffuse societal blame.

Fiery condemnation of the country’s white political and social power structure would be justified if we were back in the 1960’s. America’s long and unpardonable delay in living up to its Bill of Rights demanded nothing less. But in 2008, almost forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black liberation theology, like other left-wing anachronisms, is almost quaintly misguided. I mean, if you discount the damning of America, the accusation that the U.S. government created AIDS, and the charge that we brought 9/11 on ourselves, the Trinity United Church is almost as curiously out-of-date as one of those recreated historical villages where you can ask the blacksmith about his trade.

Except that this isn’t entertainment. It’s what passes for spirituality and activism for a large number of American citizens, and that’s a tragedy. (According to this poll, Wright’s comments made black voters more likely, on balance, to vote for Obama.) Aside from the toxic looniness of the charges themselves, what’s most distressing about Wright’s blather is that it abets a mindset that keeps disaffected people disaffected. John McWhorter coined the term “therapeutic alienation” to describe the strain of default resistance to societal expectations that’s found in some black communities. In peddling justifications for therapeutic alienation, Rev. Wright is damning his congregation most. Trinity officials say Wright’s words were taken “out of context,” but the only thing out of context here is the sentiment behind his words. History has left Wright behind. It’s time to retire this petrified line of preachment and liberate the minds of its adherents.

As more information comes out on the Trinity United Church of Christ, where Barack Obama has been a congregant for decades, we’re getting a fuller picture of what pastor Jeremiah Wright calls “black liberation theology.” There’s a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighting some interesting aspects of the gospel according to Rev. Wright.

The Journal claims Wright described black liberation theology “as a sister of liberation theology, the lay Catholic movement that fueled political activism in Latin America in the 1960’s.” It’s worth noting that the Latin American liberation theology of the 1960’s was heavily rooted in Marxism. Using Marxist categorizations to analyze economic oppression and social injustice, liberation theologians shifted the focus of salvation off the individual and onto larger societal structures. The problem with the emulation of Latin America’s liberation theology in the U.S. is not that preachers like Wright are necessarily Marxists, but that they can give short shrift to the notion of personal responsibility in favor of diffuse societal blame.

Fiery condemnation of the country’s white political and social power structure would be justified if we were back in the 1960’s. America’s long and unpardonable delay in living up to its Bill of Rights demanded nothing less. But in 2008, almost forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black liberation theology, like other left-wing anachronisms, is almost quaintly misguided. I mean, if you discount the damning of America, the accusation that the U.S. government created AIDS, and the charge that we brought 9/11 on ourselves, the Trinity United Church is almost as curiously out-of-date as one of those recreated historical villages where you can ask the blacksmith about his trade.

Except that this isn’t entertainment. It’s what passes for spirituality and activism for a large number of American citizens, and that’s a tragedy. (According to this poll, Wright’s comments made black voters more likely, on balance, to vote for Obama.) Aside from the toxic looniness of the charges themselves, what’s most distressing about Wright’s blather is that it abets a mindset that keeps disaffected people disaffected. John McWhorter coined the term “therapeutic alienation” to describe the strain of default resistance to societal expectations that’s found in some black communities. In peddling justifications for therapeutic alienation, Rev. Wright is damning his congregation most. Trinity officials say Wright’s words were taken “out of context,” but the only thing out of context here is the sentiment behind his words. History has left Wright behind. It’s time to retire this petrified line of preachment and liberate the minds of its adherents.

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The Israel of Latin America

Just in case you were wondering what Hugo Chavez thinks about Israel these days, the AP reports today that he is now using the Jewish state in his rhetoric against Colombia. According to reports, the Columbian government, which has been fighting a decades-long war against cocaine warlords, recently took out one of their leaders in a cross-border operation in Ecuador. Chavez’ response was to call Colombia “the Israel of Latin America,” and to order tanks and thousands of troops to the Colombian border. (For what it’s worth, it does in fact seem that not only the U.S., but also Israel, are giving the Colombian government a lot of support.)

South America, one of the only continents that has managed without international warfare for a long time, may be about to heat up. Chavez, who has been busily turning Venezuela into a bona fide axis-of-evil state, has recently upped the anti-Semitic rhetoric, causing thousands of Jews to flee the country. But two questions must be asked: First: Why is Ecuador playing host to anti-Colombian rebels? And second: Why is the West waiting until Chavez does something really bad, like attacking Colombia, before taking him for the menace that he is?

CORRECTION: This post had not one but two significant errors. First, Colombia does not border El Salvador, but Ecuador, where the raid took place. Second, I consistently misspelled Colombia as Columbia, which is a fine university but does not necessarily have the problem with cocaine that the homonymous South American country is dealing with. Thanks to those who quickly commented.

Just in case you were wondering what Hugo Chavez thinks about Israel these days, the AP reports today that he is now using the Jewish state in his rhetoric against Colombia. According to reports, the Columbian government, which has been fighting a decades-long war against cocaine warlords, recently took out one of their leaders in a cross-border operation in Ecuador. Chavez’ response was to call Colombia “the Israel of Latin America,” and to order tanks and thousands of troops to the Colombian border. (For what it’s worth, it does in fact seem that not only the U.S., but also Israel, are giving the Colombian government a lot of support.)

South America, one of the only continents that has managed without international warfare for a long time, may be about to heat up. Chavez, who has been busily turning Venezuela into a bona fide axis-of-evil state, has recently upped the anti-Semitic rhetoric, causing thousands of Jews to flee the country. But two questions must be asked: First: Why is Ecuador playing host to anti-Colombian rebels? And second: Why is the West waiting until Chavez does something really bad, like attacking Colombia, before taking him for the menace that he is?

CORRECTION: This post had not one but two significant errors. First, Colombia does not border El Salvador, but Ecuador, where the raid took place. Second, I consistently misspelled Colombia as Columbia, which is a fine university but does not necessarily have the problem with cocaine that the homonymous South American country is dealing with. Thanks to those who quickly commented.

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Hillary Takes On Obama On Foreign Policy

Hillary Clinton delivered (amidst the distraction of costume-gate, which makes me think this was not an official Clinton tactic) a foreign policy address in Washington D.C. today. The full text is here. There is much standard fare: immediate withdrawal from Iraq, a strong dose of protectionism and lots of shots at President Bush. But the message is also clear: she is no softy, and Barack Obama is not ready to be commander-in-chief. On Cuba she had this to say:

We need to engage with our allies in Latin America and Europe to encourage Cuba on to the right path. But we simply cannot legitimize rouge regimes or weaken American prestige by impulsively agreeing to presidential level talks that have no preconditions. It may sound good but it doesn’t meet the real world test of foreign policy. I have traveled to so many countries working on issues involving some of the most intractable challenges we face. And as we see people respond to their own conditions, we have to be ready to act.

She also threw this jab:

If I am entrusted with the presidency, America will have the courage once again to meet with our adversaries. But I will not be penciling in the leaders of Iran or North Korea or Venezuela or Cuba on the presidential calendar without preconditions, until we have assessed through lower level diplomacy, the motivations and intentions of these dictators. Raul Castro, for example, has a stark choice. He can continue to stifle human rights and economic freedom in Cuba, or he can chart a new course toward democratic reform. We need to engage with our allies in Latin America and Europe to encourage Cuba on to the right path. But we simply cannot legitimize rouge regimes or weaken American prestige by impulsively agreeing to presidential level talks that have no preconditions. It may sound good but it doesn’t meet the real world test of foreign policy. I have traveled to so many countries working on issues involving some of the most intractable challenges we face. And as we see people respond to their own conditions, we have to be ready to act.

There are a few problems with this approach as a campaign strategy (other than the fact it comes too late). First, she needs to say it directly in a debate when eyes are trained on both of them, not in a speech no cable network chose to carry. Unless she is willing to do that, it is not only too late –it’s too little. Second, she tries to do the best she can with her own resume (traveling to China, sitting on the Senate Armed Services Committee), but it is rather thin and the obvious response from Obama is that she is hardly more experienced than he. And finally, the their policy positions ( more restrictionist trade policy, get tough with China, get out of Iraq) are not very different at all. Voters are left to stratch their heads about how in practice a Clinton foreign policy would differ from an Obama foreign policy (other than in willingness to lunch with tyrants). Now, she does rough him up a bit, and the language is worth saving for a general election attack by John McCain. But is this enough to knock Obama off his glide path to the nomination? Not likely, I think.

Hillary Clinton delivered (amidst the distraction of costume-gate, which makes me think this was not an official Clinton tactic) a foreign policy address in Washington D.C. today. The full text is here. There is much standard fare: immediate withdrawal from Iraq, a strong dose of protectionism and lots of shots at President Bush. But the message is also clear: she is no softy, and Barack Obama is not ready to be commander-in-chief. On Cuba she had this to say:

We need to engage with our allies in Latin America and Europe to encourage Cuba on to the right path. But we simply cannot legitimize rouge regimes or weaken American prestige by impulsively agreeing to presidential level talks that have no preconditions. It may sound good but it doesn’t meet the real world test of foreign policy. I have traveled to so many countries working on issues involving some of the most intractable challenges we face. And as we see people respond to their own conditions, we have to be ready to act.

She also threw this jab:

If I am entrusted with the presidency, America will have the courage once again to meet with our adversaries. But I will not be penciling in the leaders of Iran or North Korea or Venezuela or Cuba on the presidential calendar without preconditions, until we have assessed through lower level diplomacy, the motivations and intentions of these dictators. Raul Castro, for example, has a stark choice. He can continue to stifle human rights and economic freedom in Cuba, or he can chart a new course toward democratic reform. We need to engage with our allies in Latin America and Europe to encourage Cuba on to the right path. But we simply cannot legitimize rouge regimes or weaken American prestige by impulsively agreeing to presidential level talks that have no preconditions. It may sound good but it doesn’t meet the real world test of foreign policy. I have traveled to so many countries working on issues involving some of the most intractable challenges we face. And as we see people respond to their own conditions, we have to be ready to act.

There are a few problems with this approach as a campaign strategy (other than the fact it comes too late). First, she needs to say it directly in a debate when eyes are trained on both of them, not in a speech no cable network chose to carry. Unless she is willing to do that, it is not only too late –it’s too little. Second, she tries to do the best she can with her own resume (traveling to China, sitting on the Senate Armed Services Committee), but it is rather thin and the obvious response from Obama is that she is hardly more experienced than he. And finally, the their policy positions ( more restrictionist trade policy, get tough with China, get out of Iraq) are not very different at all. Voters are left to stratch their heads about how in practice a Clinton foreign policy would differ from an Obama foreign policy (other than in willingness to lunch with tyrants). Now, she does rough him up a bit, and the language is worth saving for a general election attack by John McCain. But is this enough to knock Obama off his glide path to the nomination? Not likely, I think.

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Libya and Iran

On Thursday, I listed French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s welcoming of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in Paris as the fourth best handshake of 2007. Qaddafi’s controversial mid-December visit to France—his first in 34 years—marked the first step in the West’s normalization with Libya, a reward for Qaddafi’s promise to end Libya’s nuclear weapons program, cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, accept responsibility for airline terrorist attacks that killed 440 people, and compensate the victims’ families. In her year-end press conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed these “strategic decisions,” vowing to meet with the Libyan foreign minister in early January 2008 and to visit Tripoli later in the year.

But before Rice cements Libya’s acceptability and enters Qaddafi’s ceremonial Bedouin tent, perhaps she should scrutinize Libya’s strategic decisions more carefully. Last week, Libya announced that it was expanding its cooperation with Iran, with the two states declaring “close attitudes over many issues including Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Lebanon.” Iran further expressed its appreciation for “Libya’s logical stances in regard to the country’s nuclear issue and human rights issues,” and announced that it would seek additional partners in Africa and Latin America. That means that Hugo Chavez should expect a phone call in the near future.

For the Bush administration, Libya has long been the epitome of successful foreign policy: a rogue regime that—immediately following the U.S. invasion of Iraq—destroyed its weapons of mass destruction, renounced terrorism, and sought respectability. Indeed, little has deterred the administration’s mission-accomplished attitude towards Libya. When a Libyan court sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death earlier this year for infecting 400 children with HIV—the medics confessed under electric-shock torture—the administration never threatened to rethink normalization with Tripoli, simply calling for the medics’ release and applauding the Libyan government when it complied.

If severe human rights concerns were not reason enough to reconsider our rapprochement with Libya, its strategic alignment with Iran must raise some red flags. Normalization with Libya is only valuable when it rewards nuclear disarmament and western alignment, ideally setting an example for similar states to follow. But with Libya now leaning towards Iran, endorsing its nuclear position, and seeking joint ventures in other hemispheres, Rice needs to reassess whether Libya is deserving of its newly elevated status.

On Thursday, I listed French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s welcoming of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in Paris as the fourth best handshake of 2007. Qaddafi’s controversial mid-December visit to France—his first in 34 years—marked the first step in the West’s normalization with Libya, a reward for Qaddafi’s promise to end Libya’s nuclear weapons program, cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, accept responsibility for airline terrorist attacks that killed 440 people, and compensate the victims’ families. In her year-end press conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed these “strategic decisions,” vowing to meet with the Libyan foreign minister in early January 2008 and to visit Tripoli later in the year.

But before Rice cements Libya’s acceptability and enters Qaddafi’s ceremonial Bedouin tent, perhaps she should scrutinize Libya’s strategic decisions more carefully. Last week, Libya announced that it was expanding its cooperation with Iran, with the two states declaring “close attitudes over many issues including Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Lebanon.” Iran further expressed its appreciation for “Libya’s logical stances in regard to the country’s nuclear issue and human rights issues,” and announced that it would seek additional partners in Africa and Latin America. That means that Hugo Chavez should expect a phone call in the near future.

For the Bush administration, Libya has long been the epitome of successful foreign policy: a rogue regime that—immediately following the U.S. invasion of Iraq—destroyed its weapons of mass destruction, renounced terrorism, and sought respectability. Indeed, little has deterred the administration’s mission-accomplished attitude towards Libya. When a Libyan court sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death earlier this year for infecting 400 children with HIV—the medics confessed under electric-shock torture—the administration never threatened to rethink normalization with Tripoli, simply calling for the medics’ release and applauding the Libyan government when it complied.

If severe human rights concerns were not reason enough to reconsider our rapprochement with Libya, its strategic alignment with Iran must raise some red flags. Normalization with Libya is only valuable when it rewards nuclear disarmament and western alignment, ideally setting an example for similar states to follow. But with Libya now leaning towards Iran, endorsing its nuclear position, and seeking joint ventures in other hemispheres, Rice needs to reassess whether Libya is deserving of its newly elevated status.

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Cold War II

Gordon Chang’s post yesterday reveals the inroads Iran is making with anti-American elements across Latin America. This adds further credence to the belief that Iran is replicating the Soviet Union’s efforts to build global power and confront the United States on multiple fronts—and that therefore the proper response by the West is, as with the cold war, to confront and roll back Iran at every turn. Nor is it reasonable to respond that Iran is much smaller and weaker than was the USSR, and therefore should not be taken so seriously: It is through these methods that Iran becomes stronger and more powerful over time. The proper response to determined, implacable enemies (no matter how unpopular this may sound during election season) is to defeat them, especially when they are relatively weak, rather than waiting for them to become intolerably menacing. Call it a “Broken Windows” approach to international threats. For what it’s worth, here’s an essay I wrote on the subject last year, when such thoughts were still in fashion.

Gordon Chang’s post yesterday reveals the inroads Iran is making with anti-American elements across Latin America. This adds further credence to the belief that Iran is replicating the Soviet Union’s efforts to build global power and confront the United States on multiple fronts—and that therefore the proper response by the West is, as with the cold war, to confront and roll back Iran at every turn. Nor is it reasonable to respond that Iran is much smaller and weaker than was the USSR, and therefore should not be taken so seriously: It is through these methods that Iran becomes stronger and more powerful over time. The proper response to determined, implacable enemies (no matter how unpopular this may sound during election season) is to defeat them, especially when they are relatively weak, rather than waiting for them to become intolerably menacing. Call it a “Broken Windows” approach to international threats. For what it’s worth, here’s an essay I wrote on the subject last year, when such thoughts were still in fashion.

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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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More on Chavez’s Defeat

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has lost his referendum. The margin was narrow—51 percent to 49 percent—and the turnout low—about 56 percent—but he has lost nonetheless. The U.S. media, adopting its usual non-judgmental tone towards the advance of tyranny abroad, often referred to the referendum as being on “constitutional reform,” but if Chavez was a reformer, then so are his friends Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The referendum threw a series of socio-economic bones to the poor, but at its heart was an attempt to rig the Venezuelan political system and allow Chavez to run for President indefinitely. If—and that is a very big if indeed—he abides by the results of the referendum, Chavez will now be barred from running again in 2012.

2012 is a very long way away. If a week is an eternity in politics, five years is a much longer eternity. Chavez is unlikely to be discouraged by his narrow loss: the only wonder is that he did not cheat more effectively this time round. His “victory” in the 2004 recall referendum was certified by almost no one except Jimmy Carter. Indeed, Chavez put so many restrictions in their way that the EU refused even to oversee the vote.

Sunday’s vote is a victory for democracy, in a part of the world where it is particularly embattled, but it is not even the end of the beginning of the struggle. Chavez is still popular, and not just among his cronies and henchmen: his left-wing populism, economically destructive and politically illiberal though it is, is an authentic part—though not the only part—of Latin American political culture. The price of oil continues to rise, which gives him a nuisance-making power immensely larger than his politics or the rest of the Venezuelan economy merits. He continues to consort with his fellow oil dictators, and to proclaim the necessity of an anti-American alliance, one based, like the Anti-Commintern Pact, solely on their shared hatreds. Sophisticated people laughed about the axis of evil: Chavez is proud to proclaim that he’s part of it. And we have to put democracy’s victory in Latin America alongside Putin’s simultaneous triumph in a very similar campaign.

But we can take a couple of lessons away from Venezuela. The first is that, while elections are not a cure-all, and while undemocratic parties can indeed triumph through the polls, there is no path to democracy that does not run through them. And sometimes, we get more out of supporting elections than we expect we will. The second is that our cause has more friends than we sometimes realize. Chavez is an incipient dictator, but the Venezuelan people are not unreservedly on his side. The dictator states always look strong until, as in 1989, they crack, fall, and disappear into the dustbin of history. The most important thing in thinking about such states is always to remember what they are, and never to mistake the silence of the people for their support.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has lost his referendum. The margin was narrow—51 percent to 49 percent—and the turnout low—about 56 percent—but he has lost nonetheless. The U.S. media, adopting its usual non-judgmental tone towards the advance of tyranny abroad, often referred to the referendum as being on “constitutional reform,” but if Chavez was a reformer, then so are his friends Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The referendum threw a series of socio-economic bones to the poor, but at its heart was an attempt to rig the Venezuelan political system and allow Chavez to run for President indefinitely. If—and that is a very big if indeed—he abides by the results of the referendum, Chavez will now be barred from running again in 2012.

2012 is a very long way away. If a week is an eternity in politics, five years is a much longer eternity. Chavez is unlikely to be discouraged by his narrow loss: the only wonder is that he did not cheat more effectively this time round. His “victory” in the 2004 recall referendum was certified by almost no one except Jimmy Carter. Indeed, Chavez put so many restrictions in their way that the EU refused even to oversee the vote.

Sunday’s vote is a victory for democracy, in a part of the world where it is particularly embattled, but it is not even the end of the beginning of the struggle. Chavez is still popular, and not just among his cronies and henchmen: his left-wing populism, economically destructive and politically illiberal though it is, is an authentic part—though not the only part—of Latin American political culture. The price of oil continues to rise, which gives him a nuisance-making power immensely larger than his politics or the rest of the Venezuelan economy merits. He continues to consort with his fellow oil dictators, and to proclaim the necessity of an anti-American alliance, one based, like the Anti-Commintern Pact, solely on their shared hatreds. Sophisticated people laughed about the axis of evil: Chavez is proud to proclaim that he’s part of it. And we have to put democracy’s victory in Latin America alongside Putin’s simultaneous triumph in a very similar campaign.

But we can take a couple of lessons away from Venezuela. The first is that, while elections are not a cure-all, and while undemocratic parties can indeed triumph through the polls, there is no path to democracy that does not run through them. And sometimes, we get more out of supporting elections than we expect we will. The second is that our cause has more friends than we sometimes realize. Chavez is an incipient dictator, but the Venezuelan people are not unreservedly on his side. The dictator states always look strong until, as in 1989, they crack, fall, and disappear into the dustbin of history. The most important thing in thinking about such states is always to remember what they are, and never to mistake the silence of the people for their support.

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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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Command Performance

The recent spate of appointments of admirals to top “joint” jobs within the U.S. armed forces is, so to speak, making waves within the military. The Army feels especially miffed that, at a time when it is carrying the major burden of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its representation in the most senior jobs is as low as it’s ever been.

As an Associated Press article notes, “Of the U.S. military’s nine combat commands, only two are run by Army generals, and that number will be cut in half when Bryan Brown retires next month as the senior officer at U.S. Special Operations Command.”

General Brown, a veteran of Army Special Operations Forces, is being replaced by Admiral Eric Olson, a veteran SEAL. At the same time, Admiral Mike Mullen, the current Chief of Naval Operations (i.e., the Navy chief of staff), has been nominated to replace Marine General Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; his deputy will be Marine General James Cartwright.

In other personnel shifts, Admiral James Stavridis became head of Southern Command last fall, while more recently Admiral Timothy Keating has become head of Pacific Command. The latter is a traditional Navy billet. But what really rankles the Army is that Keating’s predecessor, Admiral William Fallon, has taken over Central Command (covering the Middle East, East Africa, and Central Asia), whose leadership traditionally has rotated between the Army and Marine Corps. Of the nine unified combatant commands, the Army will be left with just one—European Command, where General Bantz Craddock is the boss.

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The recent spate of appointments of admirals to top “joint” jobs within the U.S. armed forces is, so to speak, making waves within the military. The Army feels especially miffed that, at a time when it is carrying the major burden of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its representation in the most senior jobs is as low as it’s ever been.

As an Associated Press article notes, “Of the U.S. military’s nine combat commands, only two are run by Army generals, and that number will be cut in half when Bryan Brown retires next month as the senior officer at U.S. Special Operations Command.”

General Brown, a veteran of Army Special Operations Forces, is being replaced by Admiral Eric Olson, a veteran SEAL. At the same time, Admiral Mike Mullen, the current Chief of Naval Operations (i.e., the Navy chief of staff), has been nominated to replace Marine General Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; his deputy will be Marine General James Cartwright.

In other personnel shifts, Admiral James Stavridis became head of Southern Command last fall, while more recently Admiral Timothy Keating has become head of Pacific Command. The latter is a traditional Navy billet. But what really rankles the Army is that Keating’s predecessor, Admiral William Fallon, has taken over Central Command (covering the Middle East, East Africa, and Central Asia), whose leadership traditionally has rotated between the Army and Marine Corps. Of the nine unified combatant commands, the Army will be left with just one—European Command, where General Bantz Craddock is the boss.

Suspicious souls within the Army are starting to wonder if there is a conspiracy against the men and women in green, perhaps a holdover from the tenure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld was intensely suspicious of the Army for not being in synch with his high-tech (and highly misguided) plans to “transform” the armed forces. Or perhaps, some self-flagellating Army officers speculate, this is a sign that their service isn’t doing a good job of producing competent senior leaders.

Both explanations are plausible. But it’s also possible that there may be less here than meets the eye.

Consider that the Army at the moment holds the two most important combat commands in the entire U.S. armed forces. General David Petraeus is the senior commander in Iraq, while General Dan McNeill is the senior commander in Afghanistan. Neither position is as publicly prestigious as that of combatant commander. But those jobs are of much greater actual significance at the moment than running, say, Southern Command (with responsibility for Latin America). They are probably even more significant than running Central Command—which may be why Defense Secretary Robert Gates felt free to appoint an admiral to that position, knowing that our land wars would still be run by army four-stars.

These trends also tend to go in cycles. Not long ago the Army was grousing not about Navy admirals but about Marine Corps generals, said to be “overrepresented” in senior Army ranks. Marines, for their part, were upset that two Army generals—Tommy Franks and John Abizaid—had taken successive charge of Centcom. Many wondered why a leatherneck (such as the eminently qualified Lieutenant General Jim Mattis) wasn’t picked.

My sense—and it’s only a sense, since I have no inside information—is that the top jobs are filled nowadays based more on personal qualifications than on service politics. It’s who you know and what your reputation is that count, rather than which uniform you wear. And since the top jobs are so political, it’s often the most astute political infighter, rather than the most brilliant and inspired leader, who gets the appointment.

But the recent appointments do seem to reflect a decline in intra-service parochialism—precisely what the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act was supposed to accomplish. So the latest appointments should not occasion too much grinding of teeth, even in the Army. After all, before long the other services may well be complaining about too many green-suiters at the top.

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Farewell Fatah al-Islam

“A crime of especial notoriety,” is what the Guardian called it in 2002 when Israel entered a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin to root out terrorists who had organized a suicide bombing that killed 29 at their seder tables in a hotel in Netanya on the first night of Passover. In all, 52 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists, died in this supposed genocide, while Israel, in a costly effort to to conduct itself in the most humane fashion possible, lost 23 soldiers of its own.

In Tripoli right now, the Lebanese army is pounding a Palestinian refugee camp with tank shells and other heavy weapons far less discriminating in their lethal effects than anything fired by Israeli ground troops in Jenin—and many Lebanese are cheering them on. The choir of Europeans and American leftists who routinely champion the Palestinian cause is strangely silent—or maybe not so strangely silent. Perhaps their real interest lies not in defending Palestinian rights but in bashing Israel—and Israel, of course, is not engaged in this particular fray.

Whatever explains the silence, we should welcome it as an opportunity and join the Lebanese civilians who are cheering the Lebanese army on. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out a strategy for protecting our country from another disaster like September 11: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” he said, “but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

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“A crime of especial notoriety,” is what the Guardian called it in 2002 when Israel entered a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin to root out terrorists who had organized a suicide bombing that killed 29 at their seder tables in a hotel in Netanya on the first night of Passover. In all, 52 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists, died in this supposed genocide, while Israel, in a costly effort to to conduct itself in the most humane fashion possible, lost 23 soldiers of its own.

In Tripoli right now, the Lebanese army is pounding a Palestinian refugee camp with tank shells and other heavy weapons far less discriminating in their lethal effects than anything fired by Israeli ground troops in Jenin—and many Lebanese are cheering them on. The choir of Europeans and American leftists who routinely champion the Palestinian cause is strangely silent—or maybe not so strangely silent. Perhaps their real interest lies not in defending Palestinian rights but in bashing Israel—and Israel, of course, is not engaged in this particular fray.

Whatever explains the silence, we should welcome it as an opportunity and join the Lebanese civilians who are cheering the Lebanese army on. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out a strategy for protecting our country from another disaster like September 11: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” he said, “but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

Although the U.S. is not involved, the fighting in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, a Palestinian group affiliate of al Qaeda, is nonetheless a potentially important testing ground for the Bush doctrine of denying “safe haven to terrorism.”

Parts of Lebanon, like Afghanistan under the Taliban, have become lawless sanctuaries for terrorist groups of global reach. The Iranian-backed Hizballah is the most significant of these. Not only does this Shiite movement retain powerful influence throughout Lebanon, but it is organized to strike abroad and is widely believed to have sleeper cells in Europe, Latin America, and the United States.

Unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, however, the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has never welcomed the terrorists in Lebanon’s midst. Rather, the terrorist presence is a consequence of his country’s chronic weakness, which flows from deep ethnic and religious divisions and continuing Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs.

Unwilling and unable to confront Hizballah directly, Siniora has deployed some 15,000 troops in Lebanon’s south, where the Shiite militia had enjoyed unlimited freedom of action until it provoked last summer’s war with Israel.

If Siniora successfully manages to extinguish Fatah al-Islam and the threat it represents to Lebanon, perhaps he will be emboldened to check more resolutely and ultimately disarm the Iranian-backed Hizballah. Movement in that direction could certainly be counted as a critical interest of the United States. We should be bending every diplomatic and military effort to help him accomplish it.

“We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest,” said President Bush on September 20, 2001. Time is running out on his administration. Let’s hope he keeps his word.

 

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