September 20, 2006
Like an attention-addicted spoiled child, Hugo Chavez scaled new heights of rhetorical absurdity at the United Nations today, calling President Bush "el Diablo," and saying the room still smelled of sulfur from Bush's presence yesterday. Well, well, well. U.N. Ambassador John Bolton responded appropriately, showing neither outrage nor anxiety: "We're not going to address that kind of comic strip approach to international affairs." (Does anyone still doubt that Bolton was absolutely the right man for this job?) Chavez went on to gloat, "The United States empire is on the way down and it will be finished in the near future for the good of all mankind." From this somewhat arguable premise, he called for a total "refounding" of the United Nations, which he believes is obsolete because it is based on the post-World War II world power structure. Well, he has a point there, at least. (Hint: France!) Just think, this is a guy who is seriously lobbying to gain a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. The State Department needs to make it very clear, in the appropriate discreet way: Any country that votes in Venezuela's favor is declaring hostile intent toward the United States. For more on the unseemly outburst at the U.N. General Assembly today, see the Washington Post.
It would be easy to dismiss Hugo Chavez as a total nut, just as it was easy for some people to write off the militaristic bluster of Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s. If Chavez were not an elected official (fairly or not) and therefore impossible to ignore, he would easily qualify for my list of "unmentionable wackos." (One person on that list called for Chavez to be assassinated!) The sad fact is, we all know people who get away with saying outrageous things because no one has the guts to contradict him or her. Eventually, the situation gets totally out of hand in these cases, often resulting in violence. Chavez has clearly chosen a path of no return that can only end in a large-scale violent confrontation. His very credibility now rests entirely on the continuation of an arms buildup and collaboration with regimes that sponsor terrorism. For him to back down at this point would signify that he is nothing but a clown. Of course, he is a clown, but he is much, much more than that.
Chavez is clearly spoiling for a fight, perhaps dreaming of dying a glorious death while resisting the "Yankee imperialists." People who do not follow international politics closely need to remember: Such rhetorical expressions of defiant foreign policy must be taken with a grain of salt. Yet even though the United States should not fret too much about what Chavez says, we must pay a great deal of heed to what he does -- such as harboring or supporting terrorists. Whatever his true intentions may be, we should strongly resist any temptation to punish him by launching a direct military assault on Venezuela unless we are attacked first. Because of setbacks in Iraq, the U.S. government no longer enjoys the diplomatic prestige necessary to launch a war of preemption. In the next year or so, however, we may have little choice but to impose a air and naval blockade, much as Kennedy did to Cuba in 1962.