Hugo Chavez continued his verbal assault on George Bush today, calling for the President's resignation, and labelling the Bush Adminsitration a failure. While this sort of thing undoubtedly plays well in Caracas, and resonates with millions the world over, I think Chavez increasingly plays a dangerous game. The danger exists not for the international arena, as many fear, but for Chavez himself.
Chavez's international popularity relies heavily on his petrodollar diplomacy, and willingness to audaciously attack the American president. Both of these supports will soon give way. As Alberto Quiros points out, Chavez's petro politics "make no economic sense, but they are part of his political megalomania, so normal economic laws don't apply. Chavez is willing to pay any price." His wild spending, mixed with Venezuela's inability to properly handle its oil reserves, will lead, sooner or later, to a severe strain on the country's economy.
Combine this prospect with the fact that 2008 will usher in a new President of the United States. Barring any unforseen craziness, whomever assumes the mantle of American leadership will not provide the same amount -indeed, quality!- of fodder for the likes of Jon Stewart or Hugo Chavez. The consequences for Chavez may be significant. His antics this week in New York underscore his growing reliance on George W. Bush as a target to rally political support. Chavez increasingly marries his criticism of American foreign policy with ad hominem attacks against the president. With Bush gone, the sort of rhetorical battles Chavez has fashioned thus far with the United States will start to sound hollow, unless he can substantiate his arguments with something more than name-calling.
The New York Times suggests that Chavez has positioned himself as the leader of an emerging "anti-American bloc." This may be so. But leadership, to my mind, is not always a question of "who?" as it is "for how long?" Public insults and other theatrics garner the attention and short-term popularity in which men like Chavez revel. Sustainable leadership, as President Bush has learned, requires responsible self-restraint and a measure of modesty on the international stage.