Not Just a Handshake but a Stab in the Back

Daniel Henninger reminds us that the president’s photo-op with Hugo Chavez did two unfortunate things: provide the tin-pot dictator with the legitimacy he craves and undermine the democratic opponents struggling to hold on in Venezuela, and under other unsavory regimes around the globe. He writes:

The Obama people seem to believe that talking top guy to top guy is the yellow brick road to progress. Why do they think that? They say Ronald Reagan negotiated over nuclear arsenals at Reykjavik. But virtually all desirable regime change in our time — Soviet Communism, South Africa, the Philippines — has come mainly from below, from the West protecting and supporting people in opposition to autocrats.

We’ve had a total role-reversal on the subject of human rights. The Left clamored for the appointment of Chas Freeman, who supported dictatorial thugs wherever he could find them. The brigades of liberal bloggers repeatedly demanded that we abandon Iraq before the surge could achieve success, leaving the country to wallow in genocidal violence. The same crew wouldn’t dream of insisting on any discussion of human rights as part of the now defunct six-party talks with North Korea. One wonders how they lost their nerve or came to care so little for those fighting for freedom and civil liberties. That sort of thing used to be in fashion at Georgetown and San Francisco cocktail parties. No longer so.

Remember Obama’s insistence that he will “lead by example”? The example he is providing is that dictators, rather than dissidents, deserve America’s attention and courtesy. This example establishes a precedent of dictators being able to carry out the charade of respectability, yucking it up with the president of the United States without fear of rebuke or embarrassment. As they used to say, the whole world is watching.