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ISSUES....
Inside, confidential, off the record
 

Omaba vs Venezuela ?

As the days pass and the US "position" on Venezuela continues to confound friend and foe, I thought it would make sense to share with you the impact of a stupid statement when seen from different perspectives. Below you will read conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer who closes his OpED  today with direct reference to this callous disregard for democratic principle. I have also added notes from the Houston Chronicle, Heritage Foundation and Xinhua , the official Chinese press agency. Since the change of course took place on Tuesday and no one has corrected the statement make by the State Department spokesman we can close the week concluding that the Obama administration has opted to turn its back on democracy in Venezuela. While some at State insist - vehemently - that this is not the case, and that the whole issue is only a matter of a clueless spokesman misreading his guidance statement, the fact remains that policy is not what insiders think it is, policy is what outsiders perceive it to be. If the new administration cannot get its beliefs and its message straight on the subject of Venezuela, then lets take this as a warning of more trouble in the horizon. PMB

PS: I have not included the even more celebratory statements by the pro-Chavez camp as I honestly believe that anyone who celebrates the demise of democracy from the comfort of their offices in the US is either a fool or a fool-for-hire. 

Washington Post | Obama's Supine Diplomacy
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, February 20, 2009; A23

The Biden prophecy has come to pass. Our wacky veep, momentarily inspired, predicted in October that "it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama." Biden probably had in mind an eve-of-the-apocalypse drama like the Cuban missile crisis. Instead, Obama's challenges have come in smaller bites. Some are deliberate threats to U.S. interests, others mere probes to ascertain whether the new president has any spine.

Preliminary X-rays are not very encouraging.

Consider the long list of brazen Russian provocations:

(a) Pressuring Kyrgyzstan to shut down the U.S. air base in Manas, an absolutely crucial NATO conduit into Afghanistan.

(b) Announcing the formation of a "rapid reaction force" with six former Soviet republics, a regional Russian-led strike force meant to reassert Russian hegemony in the Muslim belt north of Afghanistan.

(c) Planning to establish a Black Sea naval base in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia, conquered by Moscow last summer.

(d) Declaring its intention to deploy offensive Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if Poland and the Czech Republic go ahead with plans to station an American (anti-Iranian) missile defense system.

President Bush's response to the Kaliningrad deployment -- the threat was issued the day after Obama's election -- was firm. He refused to back down because giving in to Russian threats would leave Poles and Czechs exposed and show the world that, contrary to post-Cold War assumptions, the United States could not be trusted to protect Eastern Europe from Russian bullying.

The Obama response? "Biden Signals U.S. Is Open to Russia Missile Deal," as the New York Times headlined Biden's Feb. 7 Munich speech to a major international gathering. This followed strong messages from the Obama transition team even before the inauguration that Obama was not committed to the missile shield. And just to make sure everyone understood that the Bush policy no longer held, Biden said in Munich that the United States wanted to "press the reset button" on NATO-Russian relations.

Not surprisingly, the Obama wobble elicited a favorable reaction from Russia. (There are conflicting reports that Russia might suspend the Kaliningrad blackmail deployment.) The Kremlin must have been equally impressed that the other provocations -- Abkhazia, Kyrgyzstan, the rapid-reaction force -- elicited barely a peep from Washington.

Iran has been similarly charmed by Obama's overtures. A week after the new president went about sending sweet peace signals via al-Arabiya, Iran launched its first homemade Earth satellite. The message is clear. If you can put a satellite into orbit, you can hit any continent with a missile, North America included.

And for emphasis, after the roundhouse hook, came the poke in the eye. A U.S. women's badminton team had been invited to Iran. Here was a chance for "ping-pong diplomacy" with the accommodating new president, a sporting venture meant to suggest the possibility of warmer relations.

On Feb. 4, Tehran denied the team entry into Iran.

Then, just in case Obama failed to get the message, Iran's parliament speaker rose in Munich to offer his response to Obama's olive branch. Executive summary: Thank you very much. After you acknowledge 60 years of crimes against us, change not just your tone but your policies, and abandon the Zionist criminal entity, we might deign to talk to you.

With a grinning Goliath staggering about sporting a "kick me" sign on his back, even reputed allies joined the fun. Pakistan freed from house arrest A.Q. Khan, the notorious proliferator who sold nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. Ten days later, Islamabad capitulated to the Taliban, turning over to its tender mercies the Swat Valley, 100 miles from the capital. Not only will sharia law now reign there, but members of the democratically elected secular party will be hunted as the Pakistani army stands down.

These Pakistani capitulations may account for Obama's hastily announced 17,000-troop increase in Afghanistan even before his various heralded reviews of the mission have been completed. Hasty, unexplained, but at least something. Other than that, a month of pummeling has been met with utter passivity.

I would like to think the supine posture is attributable to a rookie leader otherwise preoccupied (i.e., domestically), leading a foreign policy team as yet unorganized if not disoriented. But when the State Department says that Hugo Chávez's president-for-life referendum, which was preceded by a sham government-controlled campaign featuring the tear-gassing of the opposition, was "for the most part . . . a process that was fully consistent with democratic process," you have to wonder if Month One is not a harbinger of things to come.

letters@charleskrauthammer.com

Houston Chronicle | Confronting Chavez

Obama vow to seek energy independence the most effective response to strongman

Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle

Feb. 19, 2009, 10:21PM

It wasn't exactly a presidential blessing, but Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has to be pleased and maybe even a little astonished. The Obama State Department has declared that Venezuela's recent referendum on term limits was by and large democratic.

Chavez won Sunday's vote, which means he's clear to seek a third term as president in 2012 and continue in office well beyond. Opponents fear this means Chavez will achieve his dream of ruling Venezuela for life, turning that country into a socialist state modeled after Fidel Castro's Cuba. Powered by billions in oil revenues, that would present a meddlesome nightmare for the entire hemisphere.

A State Department spokesman said the referendum results were "fully consistent with democratic process," while noting "troubling reports of intimidation."

We would tend to focus on those reports of intimidation. Chavez's victory was accomplished by bringing the full resources of the state to bear on his side's behalf. Opponents did well to keep the results relatively close 54 percent to 46 percent with 94 percent of the vote counted.

Official American reaction to the referendum represents a sharp departure from the unyielding tone of criticism that marked U.S. attitudes toward Chavez during the Bush years.

It can be argued that the Bush policy did more to help Chavez invent himself as a populist David facing off against the U.S. Goliath than it did to effectively counter his often bizarre policies and posturing. Many will recall the U.N. visit in which he tastelessly characterized former President Bush as an incarnation of the devil. That nasty charade made Chavez a hero in many parts of the world.

How should Obama proceed? Chavez reportedly seeks a kind of personal rapprochement with the new president. This could give Obama an opportunity to shift U.S. policy in a more constructive direction. If doing so deprives the strongman of his international platform for criticizing the U.S., all the better.

Long term, the most effective way to counter Chavez's rule in luckless Venezuela is to reach the energy independence the Obama administration seeks.

Heritage.org | State Department Lowers Bar on Hugo Chavez
Posted February 19th, 2009 at 1.16pm in American Leadership.

On February 15, the Venezuelan electorate in a referendum gave President Hugo Chavez a green light to become what he longs to become: president for life. By mobilizing the weapons in his arsenal that includes influence over state employees and recipients of his largesse, with increased media control, and a stranglehold on the police, courts, and electoral tribunals, Chavez successfully mustered 54% of the popular vote. He reversed the "no" vote of 2007 and can run for the presidency in 2012.

That the Chavez's victory constitutes a setback to real democracy, a blow to the freedom of the Venezuelan people, and a challenge to U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere is without question.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to see how the Obama/Clinton State Department has already learned to spot a patch of blue in even the most menacing sky. It is reassuring to know that in a nation led by an authoritarian-populist that kicks out the U.S. Ambassador, denounces the U.S. as "the enemy," threatens to cut off oil sales, and seeks to be best buddies with Iran's ayatollahs and the masters of the Kremlin, that relations are generally "positive."

The State Department's Acting Deputy Press Spokesman Gordon Duguid's reply to questions from the press corps on February 17 is worth reviewing:

QUESTION: Do you have reaction to the result of the referendum, the fact that Chavez has won and now he can stay in power almost indefinitely?

MR. DUGUID: Well, it's my understanding that the referendum took place in a fully democratic process, that there were although there were some troubling reports of intimidation of opponents, for the most part, this was a process that was fully consistent with democratic practice. However, democratic practice also requires that the government govern well and govern in the interest of all of the people of the diverse interests that are present in Venezuela.

QUESTION: But what about the result of the

MR. DUGUID: It was a matter for the Venezuelan people. And as I said, the process was held consistent with democratic principles. Therefore, we have always sought to have a positive relationship with Venezuela. We will continue to seek to maintain a positive relationship with Venezuela. But their democratic processes need to be taken into account on our part. But also on our part, we look for governments who have achieved a positive democratic result to use that in a positive manner.

QUESTION: Do you think it's healthy to be able to be reelected indefinitely?

MR. DUGUID: I don't have an opinion on the democratic practices of Venezuela. In the United States, we have term limits, but that's our practice.
This small olive branch to Chavez will certainly be welcomed in Caracas, as Chavez takes a victory lap, but one hopes the State Department's tepid response to Chavez's bid for unlimited power and the sad demise of pluralism and individual liberty in Venezuela is not a harbinger of things to come at higher levels.

XINHUA | U.S eyes Venezuelan referendum as democratic process
www.chinaview.cn  2009-02-18 05:57:16  Print

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- The Obama administration on Tuesday complimented the constitutional referendum held in Venezuela as a "fully democratic process," saying that Washington seeks positive relations with President Hugo Chavez.

    "This was a process that was fully consistent with democratic practice," said State Department deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid, adding that "we have always sought to have a positive relationship with Venezuela."

    The remarks represented a rare praise made by Washington on Venezuela led by Chavez, who is well known for his tough stance against U.S. dominance in the western hemisphere.

    The left-wing leader, first elected in 1998 and reelected in 2006, on Sunday won a constitutional referendum that lifted the limit on presidential terms, allowing him to run anew in the presidential election in 2012.

    "However, democratic practice also requires that the government govern well and govern in the interests of all of the people of the diverse interests that are present in Venezuela," said the spokesman.

    "We will continue to seek to maintain a positive relationship with Venezuela. But their democratic processes need to be taken into account on our part, but also on our part we look for governments who have achieved a positive democratic result to use that in a positive manner," Duguid said.

    The U.S.-Venezuela relationship has been tense in recent years. In a response to Chavez's order to expulse U.S. ambassador, the Bush administration expulsed the Venezuelan ambassador in September 2008.

- Pedro M. Burelli / pmbcomments.blogspot.com/

Petroleumworld News 02/23/09

 

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