Is Venezuela the Next Egypt?

The removal of Hosni Mubarak’s rather dour and colorless 30-year-old dictatorship in Egypt has filled our foreign policy discourse with a lot of school yard idealism about “winds of change,” along with Martin Luther King quotes from President Obama.  But few appear to have awakened to a truly disturbing reality.  Dictators falling in Egypt, Tunisia, and possibly Yemen, are U.S. allies.

Recent protests in Iran and Syria have been crushed, and little has been heard in Libya, where Muammar al-Gaddafi has ruled for 40 years.  He is catching up to Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who has been in power for more than half a century and has tutored his oil-rich Venezuelan successor, President Hugo Chavez, in how to break successive protest movements, including a particularly nasty oil strike in 2002, with repressive tactics developed in Havana, Tripoli, Damascus, and Tehran.  Members of  Hezbollah serve alongside Cuban advisers in Chavez’s government, having trained and commanded his “Bolivarian” political militia.

 Democratic influences can be blocked by regimes that are brutal enough.  That know how to harness significant sectors of their populations against change, using all the military and propaganda tools at their disposal to mobilize their people into a permanent war footing against the U.S.  Had Mubarak been advised by the other side, he might have survived the stress test.

Latin Jihad

Could there be a method to the madness of what former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega has called Venezuela’s “killer clown”?  According a report in the German newspaper Die Welt, Chavez has agreed to allow Iran to base newly developed Shahab-3 medium-range missiles in Venezuela, where they would be within striking range of the U.S.  The agreement, reportedly signed by Chavez during a state visit to Iran in October, further involves the deployment of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard missile battalion and the training of Venezuelan officers in Iranian missile technology.  Chavez also recently announced the purchase of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles from Russia.

Chavez seems bent on staging a repeat of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.  Taking cues from his close partner, Fidel Castro, he is turning Venezuela into a platform from which Iran can directly retaliate against the U.S. in the event of any American-supported strike against Iran or its Lebanese terrorist ally, Hezbollah.  While many policy makers are banking on hopes that Venezuela’s voters will turn Chavez out of office in presidential elections scheduled for 2012, they better be working on a Plan B.  Following gains by opponents in recent legislative elections, Chavez has moved to neutralize Venezuela’s national assembly by expanding his powers to rule by decree, allowing him to impose measures that can secure his reelection.  Just in case he has any trouble from his military, Chavez recently promoted generals accused of narco-trafficking to secure the personal loyalty of Venezuela’s high command.

The United States is facing a geopolitical challenge unlike any confronted before in its history:  the consolidation of a hostile power bloc on the American continent, aligned with its deadliest enemies.  The average reader might be stunned by this assertion.  Successive presidential administrations have led the American public to believe that terrorism and rogue states only exist in the Middle East or Asia, that the Western Hemisphere remains largely composed of compliant republics, with only a few quirky exceptions.

I see Chavez as a far more disturbing reality:  Venezuela’s oil-rich strongman has forged an active alliance with Iran while cloning his authoritarian regime in other Latin American states.  He has developed new terrorist structures in the Western Hemisphere based on Islamist revolutionary models, hardened by a Cuban-operated police state, protected by military technology acquired from Russia, and subsidized by China.

While the U.S. has been pouring its blood, treasure, and brainpower into a quixotic crusade to recast the Islamic world in an American mold, the very forces it’s fighting halfway around the globe have been transposed to its own doorstep.

With secure bases in surrounding countries, it would be a matter of time before Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, or some other group tunneled into the Southwestern U.S. armed with nuclear or biological weapons to deliver, not just one, but a series of devastating blows that could make the 9/11 attacks look like starters.

Americans should seriously ask themselves this question:  Is it easier to sneak a backpack nuke into the U.S. from Afghanistan or from an “Iran Next Door”?

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