Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. security threats

Chavez Not a Threat? Only to Obama

President Obama’s interview with a Spanish-language television station in the Miami market wouldn’t have drawn much attention if he had stuck to the normally sensitive question of Cuba on which he made it plain that better relations with the Communist regime would have to await progress on human rights there. Instead, the president drew fire for claiming that Hugo Chavez’s dictatorial government “has not had a serious national security impact on us.”

In response, Sen. Marco Rubio said this made it look as if the president “was living under a rock” not to have noticed that Chavez was not just destroying democracy in Venezuela but had turned the country into a base for international terror, a money laundering center for FARC narco-terrorists while also undermining U.S. sanctions on Syria. Rubio also mentioned that Chavez’s consul general in Miami was expelled on Obama’s watch for links to cyber attacks on the United States. But Rubio neglected to mention that Venezuela has become one of Iran’s leading trading partners and diplomatic allies and an obstacle to what the president has said is one of his key foreign policy objectives in stopping their nuclear program.

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President Obama’s interview with a Spanish-language television station in the Miami market wouldn’t have drawn much attention if he had stuck to the normally sensitive question of Cuba on which he made it plain that better relations with the Communist regime would have to await progress on human rights there. Instead, the president drew fire for claiming that Hugo Chavez’s dictatorial government “has not had a serious national security impact on us.”

In response, Sen. Marco Rubio said this made it look as if the president “was living under a rock” not to have noticed that Chavez was not just destroying democracy in Venezuela but had turned the country into a base for international terror, a money laundering center for FARC narco-terrorists while also undermining U.S. sanctions on Syria. Rubio also mentioned that Chavez’s consul general in Miami was expelled on Obama’s watch for links to cyber attacks on the United States. But Rubio neglected to mention that Venezuela has become one of Iran’s leading trading partners and diplomatic allies and an obstacle to what the president has said is one of his key foreign policy objectives in stopping their nuclear program.

If all that hasn’t “had a serious national security impact” on the United States, what is there Venezuela could do, short of start a shooting war, to ruffle the president’s feathers? This comment tells us all we need to know about this administration’s foreign policy and what we can expect in the next four years if the president is re-elected.

While the Venezuelans were merely trying to topple the pro-American government in Colombia, perhaps the global implications of Chavez’s regime could be downplayed. But his alliance with Iran changes all that.

The problem here is not just that the president is soft-peddling the most severe challenge to U.S. interests in the Western hemisphere since Fidel Castro was actively seeking to export communism to the rest of Latin America. It is that the president seems to genuinely think that the conversion of Venezuela into a safe haven for Islamist terrorists and its success in undermining the administration’s feckless attempts to isolate Iran is not a big deal.

The alliance between Iran and Venezuela is not a minor annoyance for U.S. security. If the president is truly serious about stopping Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons — a point on which informed observers can differ — then he needs to come to grips with the fact that Tehran presents a serious national security threat not just to U.S. interests but to the safety of Americans. Having a powerful, oil-rich ally in the heart of the Western Hemisphere gives the Iranians a way of fighting back against American-led sanctions. It also provides the ayatollahs with a way of launching a terrorist offensive not just in the Middle East but also in our own backyard.

This is the most severe sort of threat to American security. But not in President Obama’s eyes. If he is re-elected and gains the “flexibility” he desires to appease Russia and perhaps the Palestinians, Chavez may entertain hopes that he, too, will be treated even more gently in the second Obama administration.

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