Foreign Affairs

Obama on Chavez: Just Some Guy in My Neighborhood

We might have known that Hugo Chavez would become the American Left’s favorite dictator when in 2006 he traveled to the U.N. and branded President Bush “the devil.”

“The devil came here yesterday,” Chavez told the world body during its annual meeting in Manhattan, “And it smells of sulfur still today.”  Liberals have been smitten with the Venezuelan autocrat ever since.

Sure, some of them protested. “You don’t come into my country; you don’t come into my congressional district, and you don’t condemn my president!” Rep. Charles Rangel scolded.  But the epithet was really no worse than those liberals themselves have hurled at Bush.  They’ve labeled him an “idiot” and a “loser.”  Van Jones even called him a “crack head.”  

We know Chavez has a lot of friends in Hollywood.  But there’s a lot of sympathy for him among D.C. liberals too, and it’s not just because they’ve embraced the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” doctrine.  Chavez’s mockery of Bush would be sufficient cause for friendship.  But their admiration runs deeper, and is founded on their mutual pursuit of what Chavez calls “socialism for the 21st century.”  

This week, Chavez announced the purchase of more than $2 billion in arms from Russia, including “little rockets,” and that Venezuela will get started on a nuclear program similar to Iran’s.  Then came news that Venezuela has signed a $16 billion investment deal with China to increase oil output by several hundred thousand barrels a day.

But Russia and China aren’t the only authoritarian states Chavez has been reaching out to of late. Venezuela stood with the Iranian regime when it began jailing dissenters and killing protesters in the wake of the Islamic state’s fraudulent elections in June.  

You’ll remember that the United States was mostly silent, because President Obama didn’t want to “meddle” in Iran’s affairs.  

Not that the administration has anything against meddling, per se. It is pushing Honduras to reinstate President Manuel Zelaya, a Chavez protégé who was lawfully banished from the country for trying to violate constitutional term limits.  

Maybe Barack Obama fears getting the same shabby treatment from Chavez that his predecessor received. At the Summit of the Americas in April, Obama seemed more than happy to shake hands with Chavez, who he embraced as “mi amigo.”

Perhaps Obama momentarily forgot that his friend rules one of only two countries in the Americas (with Cuba) that’s designated as “not free” by Freedom House.  

Even the Washington Post chided the administration this spring for “maintain[ing] a deliberate silence about [Venezuela’s] persecution of elected politicians, a dissident former defense minister and a leading journalist.”

Obama Federal Communications Commission Diversity Czar Mark Lloyd has spoken admiringly of what he has called Chavez’s “incredible revolution.”  Should we be concerned when one of Obama’s top communications officials speaks in glowing terms about a man who presides over a country in which, according to one survey, 56 percent of journalists have suffered some sort of verbal or physical threat or attack during the previous year?

Freedom House states that:

“A hostile political atmosphere over the past several years under the government of President Hugo Chavez has fostered a steady decline in press freedom…Among other actions, the government has enacted legislation prohibiting the broadcast of certain material, intimidated and denied access to private media, and harassed journalists and media outlets that are critical of the government.”

I know what you’re thinking: Sounds a lot like what the conservative media is dealing with in Obama’s America. But the similarities don’t end there.  

Chavez’s official appearances are broadcast on all Venezuela’s TV channels, giving him by one estimate more than 20 hours of airtime a week.  Obama has spoken publicly 263 times in the 233 days of his presidency, according to columnist George Will, and most of those appearances have been broadcast.  This Sunday, the president will appear on five news stations, followed by a full hour with David Letterman next week.  

After his 1999 election, Chavez drew up a new constitution. American liberals believe in a “living constitution” and have crafted a jurisprudence that has rendered unrecognizable the Constitution of the founders.

Chavez has been spreading socialism around Latin America for a decade. Obama’s economic policy could be summed up as “spreading the wealth around.”

Chavez has already nationalized most major industries, while Obama has used the economic crisis as a pretext for the government takeover of the auto industry and is trying to do the same to health insurance.  

I don’t want to take the comparison too far.  While Chavez supports FARC “narco terrorists” against the American-backed government in Columbia, Obama prefers to pretend such groups do not exist.

And while Chavez is putting his country on the path to nuclear-armed missiles, Obama is calling for the U.S. to get rid of ours.  

Perhaps Obama can console himself with the knowledge that Chavez aspires to be only a regional powerhouse.  So if Venezuela ever sets its sites on the U.S., Obama will be able to claim that Chavez was not really “mi amigo” but rather “just some guy in my neighborhood.”  Hey, it worked with Bill Ayers.

Of course, it’s a mere 1,360 miles from Caracas to Miami (less than the distance between Los Angeles and Dallas).  Sometimes it’s the neighborhood guys that pose the greatest threat.

In his new book Speech Less: Tales of a White House Survivor, former George W. Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer alleges that the then president said about Obama in 2008: “‘this is a dangerous world…and this cat [Obama] isn’t remotely qualified to handle it. This guy has no clue, I promise you.’”  

Hugo Chavez says his goal is to “break North American imperialist hegemony.”  But with “the devil” out of the White House, and a clueless Obama in it, it increasingly looks as if Chavez’s real goal is to replace American hegemony with his own.


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