Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s threats against neighboring Columbia on Sunday should not be shrugged off as bluster or the bluff of a well-meaning social democrat or someone too sensible to actually send his army across an international border. As I noted in my new book "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East," that kind of liberal thinking led all of Washington to be taken by surprise when Saddam Hussein did the same thing against Kuwait in July 1990.
In fact, Chavez has been moving systematically and purposefully to surround and isolate neighboring Columbia and his anger — and alarm — are now peaking because the Columbia government says it has finally got its hands on hard evidence that Chavez has been pouring $300 million into the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia — FARC — the notorious narco-terrorist organization that is the ruling power over an area larger than the nation of Switzerland. Chavez, of course — denies the charges. As the late Mandy Rice-Davies, a young British prostitute, famously said when a member of the House of Lords denied sleeping with her, "He would, wouldn’t he?"
Columbian military forces last weekend killed Raul Reyes, FARC’s Number Two commander in a guerrilla raid against his base in Ecuador and seized one his laptops containing documentation of the immense financial support the FARC was getting from Chavez. In addition to his newly documented alleged FARC links, Chavez has also forged close alliances with the far-left governments of Ecuador and Bolivia.
After Nicaragua was taken over by the Marxist, Soviet-backed Sandinistas in the late 1970s, President Ronald Reagan rightly recognized that if the contagion of ferocious viciously anti-American, Marxist ideology was not nipped in the bud, it would seek to propagate itself across Central America. U.S. support for the Contras flowed from that simple, straightforward realization and the spread of Marxist was stopped in its tracks and eventually rejected by the people of Nicaragua too.
However, over the past seven years, while the Bush administration has galloped off on quixotic nation-building adventures in Iraq and now with the Palestinian Authority, it has been far too complacent and passive about the rising threat of Chavez in Venezuela. Yet with his nation’s massive oil and natural gas wealth behind him, Chavez enjoys vastly greater resources and clout than Fidel Castro ever did. Venezuela is currently ranked the ninth largest oil producer in the world with an output of 2.8 million barrels per day. It is the world’s sixth largest net oil exporter and sells America about 18% of its annual oil imports.
And where Castro in half a century of tyrannical, murderous bungling never managed to establish a single significant lasting foothold on the American continent — except temporarily for the Sandinistas — Chavez has now surrounded the pro-U.S. government of Columbia and is riding high throughout Latin America. He has forged close ties to both China and Russia. Un-noted by the what is left of the mainstream U.S. media, Chavez has closed a deal with the Kremlin to build two factories to manufacture hundreds of thousands of automatic weapons in Venezuela under license. The number of weapons being produced will be vastly in excess of Venezuela’s security needs. The long-term strategic purpose can only be to arm revolutionary movements across Latin America and eventually probably as far north as Mexico as well.
Americans should not be lulled by the many reports of the domestic problems and opposition Chavez is facing. It has been a time-honored resort of left-wing revolutionaries from Danton and Robespierre through Lenin and Trotsky to Saddam Hussein that whenever they think their revolutions were stumbling at home, they plunged into dangerous foreign adventures to try and export the “blessings” of their perversions of liberty and social justice to their neighbors and the wider world — invariably at the cost of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.
The reported weakness of the Venezuelan military should not be taken for granted either. Armchair pundits usually forget that military power is relative rather than absolute. Even if your military is slipshod, incompetent, corrupt and drunk, it can still walk in if its neighbors either have no military at all, or only a vastly weaker one. And that condition would certainly apply to Columbia, which already has its hand full with its drug lords and the FARC.
Chavez’s power ultimately stems from the same source that Iran’s, Russia’s and Saudi Arabia’s do: With oil prices soaring again to around $100 a barrel — 10 times their level in dollar terms nine years ago — the power of petroleum producing nations, including those led by dangerous, irresponsible demagogues with dreams of aggression, or — in the case of Iran‘s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad — even genocide, have suddenly limitless resources to try and make their fantasies real.
When the first Bush administration missed the danger signals that Saddam Hussein was going to conquer Kuwait in 1990, the Untied States had eventually to put a gigantic army of 700,000 men into Saudi Arabia to roll him back. Chavez’s growing threat to Columbia should be recognized before can pull off some kind of fait accompli with the help of FARC that could deal the worst blow to our interests in Latin America in decades.
The U.S. government needs to move vigorously to prop up Columbia and confront Chavez. But Democrats in Congress and both their presidential candidates also need to wake up to the urgent need to vastly expand coal production for electrical power generation and to drill for offshore oil around the United States on the same scale that the Russians, the Chinese and so many others are already doing or planning to do.
Time is short, our margins small. Yet our foolish fantasies grow by the day.