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.
Chavez to U.N.: "Reading is Fundamental!"
Strangely enough, John Bolton had the most intelligent response to Hugo Chavez's antics this afternoon in the General Assembly.
Chavez (repeatedly) referred to President Bush as "the devil," noting the residual smell of sulfar from Bush's presence the day before. While the comments received chuckles from those world leaders in attendance, the U.S. uncharacteristically took the high road by refusing to respond. Bolton acknowledged that the Venezuelan president's remarks were "insulting," but added that they "don't warrant a response." He went on say that the Bush administration would not "address this sort of comic-strip approach to internaitonal affairs."
What Bolton failed to mention was that the actual substance of Chavez's address nicely mirrored his own views about the world organization. Chavez did not limit his name-calling to Bush, but went on to label the U.N. as "worthless." Bolton must have agreed with Chavez when he described the U.N. as simply a forum for "listening to a lot of speeches" and announced that it has "no power to make any impact on the terrible situation in the world."
In contrast to Bolton's measured response, outrage has been expressed by some American commentators over Chavez's behavior. I understand finding his insults offensive. But all this furor contrasts starkly with the silence from these same people when Virginia Senator George Allen called a dark-skinned audience member at one his gatherings "macaca" ("monkey-boy" in French). Allen's rascism was made all the uglier by the fact that most people shrugged it off as nothing.
Is it truly the case that the words of an international loose cannon, whose rhetoric few people continue to take seriously, are scarrier to us than the racist bile of a potential candidate for President of the United States?
I dashed off my response to A.M. Mora y Leon, realizing afterward that I failed to say all the things I wanted to say, as well as in the way I wanted to say them.
First, I see that A.M. has taken down his original response, and replaced it with a far friendlier, and shorter, post. Either he's trying to make me look crazy, or a cooler head prevailed. I'll assume it was the latter, and in turn express my thanks. I'll also point out that my head has gone down a notch in temperature as well, and hopefully my rhetoric will follow suit.
Second, I'm interested more than anything else in understanding why conservatives harbor such animosity for socialism after all these years. They continue to point out what a lame duck it is, yet simultaneously tell us it's really something to be feared.
I agree with A.M. that chavismo will be a long-term failure, and that he's doing significant damage to Venezuela. This is no good. But to condemn the whole Latin American left makes no sense. Jorge Casteneda makes this point in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs. Leaders like Bachelet understand that you can successfully mix (in the short-term) socialist public policy with measured free-trade engagement. Whether this will be a long-term success, however, is anyone's guess.
Also, to A.M.'s point about Venezuelan oil profits and Arab oil sheiks: I'd be curious to know what he makes of this piece at The Huffington Post. I invite his comments.
Lastly, I don't think there's a conspiracy. But thanks for the reassurance.
A.M. Mora y Leon has responded (scroll down) very quickly to my post, and for that I am appreciative. But he fails to acknowledge that he corrected his own post in light of his carelessness with words. That's OK, though.
First, let me respond by saying that it's been a long day, and I'm not really in the mood for a fight (or for obnoxiousness). So I don't plan on treating Mora y Leon with the condescension he exercised with me.
Second, Mora y Leon was under the impression (originally) that the oil production he was talking about was ALL the oil production in Venezuela, not just that of 32 fields under review. He also was confused by the difference between the words "output" and "new drilling". That certainly changes things, doesn't it?
And yes, sir, I know what the word "none" means, but you had no idea what you were talking about, so really you're deflecting the issue with a puerile attempt at humiliation. Plus, your lecture on the word "none" pursues the point by completely disregarding your own acknowledged failure to differentiate fields-in-total from fields under review.
Next, you're right. I don't know all that much about the oil industry. However, I do know that oil doesn't cost $40 to extract from the ground, as you claim. So neither of us are experts, then. But I know a thing or two about logic, and you seem to possess little.
Where the reference to "fallen output" from Dow Jones fits into your reasoning, or your point, was lost on me. Yes, sir, I know what "fallen" means, but don't know what that has to do with the discussion at hand. If anything, it supports my original point. But then again, I assumed you understood the difference between output and drilling. Ooops, there's my lack-of-knowledge of the oil industry creeping back in...
On to your point about the Russia deal: First, I did read the FT article, and didn't see anything about a collapse. Second, I agree entirely. They didn't used to do this sort of thing, but then again they didn't have to. Nor is it CLEAR that they have to now. It's certainly convenient, and I'll grant you, probably necessary.
Regardless, my point had nothing to do with defending Chavez, or his management of his nation's oil industry. In fact, in your haste, you must have skipped over the part at the end where I said as much. You were probably too busy contriving a rejoinder for the part of my post you didn't address in your response, about the transparency of Venezuela's "books". You didn't take me up on my request to show me the errors of my ways, which is surprising, considering how much attention you lavished on the rest of my comments.
I'm sorry you were offended by my questioning whether you were an anti-Chavez propagandist. But that doesn't make me a Chavez apologist. If you've read my other posts (and I see you did), then you know that at best I find him amusing-but-dangerous, and at worst, just dangerous.
I don't expect us to see eye-to-eye on this, or presumably, other matters. But I do hope that we can have a more friendly exchange of ideas in the future. I'm happy to see others out there taking the time to think about a subject (namely Latin America) that's generally disregarded in the popular media. It would be constructive to have non- and bi-partisan debates on a region that plays an increasingly important role in American foreign affairs.
I've been surprised and disappointed at how many bloggers link to news articles that they seem not to have read, or at least, not to have read well.
Take this post, for example, from A.M. Mora y Leon at Publius Pundit. Apparently, today marks the beginning of the end for Hugo Chavez and his corrupted cronies in Venezuela. What a relief! Except that the supporting evidence is complete nonsense, based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts at hand. A quick look bears out the point:
Mora y Leon's first claim reads "All oil production from 32 operating contracts with foreign firms HAS COMPLETELY SHUT DOWN according to a government document obtained by Dow Jones. The link is here".
Read the "Market Watch" article yourself, and you'll see within minutes that the document says no such thing. Venezuela's oil output since February has been "stable...but down," not completely shut down.
The second indicator of Chivez's imminent political demise is the fact that "Venezuela’s state oil company says it needs to borrow $20 billion to finance increased output. It claims that banks are falling all over themselves to lend, but did not name a single potential lender. Venezuela’s books are completely intransparent [he must mean nontransparent] now. I want to know what kind of bank would lend under conditions like that … so I can short their stock."
Wait a second. How did we get from not naming a single lender, to their "books" (whatever that means) being "completely transparent." Have I missed something? I'd appreciate it if someone showed me where I've gotten it wrong...
Finally, "Venezuela’s output, as we wrote here, has collapsed so severely that it must now import oil from Russia to fulfill its contracts."
This last assertion is completely silly. Nothing has collapsed, let alone collapsed "severely." Second, Mora y Leon has completely misconstrued this entire story. Venezuela's purchase of Russian oil has nothing to do with their own output. What's going on is this: Petróleos de Venezuela, a state-owned company of Venezuela, purchased the oil from Russia to accomplish two ends. First, it needed to meet obligations of previous contractual obligations, details of which have not been made public (to my knowledge, at least). Second, the company is buying the oil directly from Russia because it's cost-effective. On of the company's processing plants is located in Germany. Transport costs are higher for bringing Venezuelan oil to Europe than they are getting it straight from Russia.
There is no question that Venezuela's oil economy has suffered under Chavez's management. But it doesn't appear to be anywhere close to ruin. So my question is this:
Are some bloggers, like the ones at Publius Pundit, sloppy, or are they intentionally misleading their readers for the sake of propaganda?
Where to begin with this charming post from AggiePundit?
Since he did so himself, I thought it'd be fun to engage his idiotic rant in a "U.S. vs. Venezuela" frame.
Point One: Aggie wants to know "How stupid are Venezuelans to have ever elected Hugo Chavez?"
I question labeling an entire nation's population as "stupid," but if that's the game we're playing, let's ask a more pertinent question: "How stupid are Americans to have elected George W. Bush, TWICE?!?" At least the Venezuelans had the cover of a deteriorating democracy that prompted them to gravitate to chavismo. We here in the States had eight years of economic prosperity, and relatively smooth government, that we chose to throw out the window for a guy it seemed we'd rather have a drink with (despite his alcoholism).
Point Two: Chavez is "a complete asshole and makes no pretense that he’s setting himself up to be the permanent dictator of Venezuela."
True. But I'd respond by pointing out that, in this sense, Venezuela has a more transparent government than the one running the U.S. "No pretense" is anathema to a Bush administration which has not been truthful in any of its dealings. Much rather have a leader who comes clean about his intentions, good or ill, than one who makes jokes to the public's face about how much he lies (especially in light of the tens of thousands of lives lost as a result of those lies).
Point Three: "It’s not like communism hasn’t been tried before – even in South American countries. Why have the Venezuelan people fallen for this crap?"
First of all, Chavez isn't a communist. Second, you already answered your own question: Venezuelans are stupid.
Point Four: "He’s largely supported by the poor, uneducated classes, which goes to show why I don’t care if we here in the US have low voter turnout. It just means that people who would cast uninformed votes – which is most people – aren’t bothering. And that’s a good thing."
Point Five: "It is tragic that the poor and uneducated can be manipulated into supporting someone like Chavez, who promises to equalize societal opportunity on their behalf through communism. It is a clear failure of the educational system in Venezuela that this guy has come to power."
A couple of things here. First, it clearly hasn't occurred to Aggie that perhaps the "poor and uneducated" haven't been manipulated into anything. Increased standards of living, greater funding for public welfare projects, and a leader who acts on behalf of his poor classes, are not promises, but fulfillment of promises. Second, I told you, it's not communism! Third, Aggie thinks the Venezuelan education system is a failure. A 97% literacy rate is hardly a failure. And while we're at it, if what Aggie is saying is true (and I don't think it is), than it would appear that Venezuela's educational system also produces a higher voter turnout rate than we enjoy in the U.S. Hmmmm......
Point Six: "Those of you who are educators in the US should take heed. Teach students why the US works as a constitutional republic, and why communism, socialism, plain dictatorships, and other forms of government have met with far less success than ours. And for God’s sake, teach people to be wary of politicians’ promises! Even (maybe especially!) the politicians you think are good people."
It so happens that I'm an educator in the U.S. I submit to Aggie that it's difficult to teach kids why the U.S. works as a constitutional republic when it clearly hasn't in recent years. I also ask Aggie how one defends the merits of the U.S. system to those that are disadvantaged by it. But that's a whole other story, best left to another time.
Also, if he's so concerned about it, why doesn't he become a teacher? I know of some exciting opportunities in the South Bronx...
Point Seven: "Back on Chavez," (Yes, back to Chavez!) "someone needs to plug him between the eyes for the good of Venezuela. I don’t normally advocate murder or assassination, but this is an exception."
See Point Four.
...and AggiePundit's a leftist. Our days are numbered when liberals start sounding like Pat Robertson.
In the latest installment of the Monkey See, Monkey Do game between the British and the U.S., Tony Blair followed the Bush administration's reshuffling of key positions with his own changes at 10 Downing Street. Most surprising was the axing of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. You'd think that a government experiencing serious credibility problems would hang on to those if its members who were speaking sense. But I guess Blair had had enough of Straw's realistic point of view.
Straw had warned his boss against following Bush into Iraq. But after the damage had been done, Straw played the good soldier, defending his chief's reckless foreign policy. Most recently, however, he has been quite vocal about the impossibility of an American/British attack on Iran, despite Blair's warnings to the contrary. So it was time to go.
Frustrated Brits, in need of some good cheer, will get just that in a few days time. Guess who's coming ashore to exploit Blair's political struggles? That's right! Hugo Chavez.
Against Blair's wishes, London mayor Ken Livingston has invited the Venezuelan president to England. While there, Chavez will be feted by a gallery of politicans and celebrities, including Harold Pinter, Labor MP Tony Benn, Tariq Ali, Bianca Jagger, and Bono. And in a strange development, Oxford University will supposedly present Chavez with an honoaray PhD in law.
Chavez and his cronies wasted no time in cranking-out propoganda for the visit, publically snubbing Blair by stating that Chavez had no interest in meeting with him. In the past, the two leaders have exchanged nasty words about one another. Most recently, Chavez labeled Blair a "pawn of imperialism," and derided him as "the main ally of Hitler" (apparently in reference to Bush). When Blair suggested that Chavez had no respect for international law, Chavez responded by pointing out that Blair does "not have the morality to call on anyone to respect the rules of the international community."
Hopefully, we'll be treated to more verbal battles of this sort leading up to Chavez's arrival. The visit is clearly meant to take advantage of Blair's increasingly weak standing as British PM. Said Livingston:
Hugo Chávez ... was rescued from an illegal military coup by mass popular resistance. [He] has achieved this unprecedented electoral popularity because ... he introduced the first effective health service into Venezuela, commenced a mass literacy programme, and is paying for 250,000 people to have eye operations. We are proud to have such a figure visit London. Those seeking to isolate [him] show commitment not to democracy or the welfare of the Venezuelan people but to the anti-democratic policies of George Bush.
Blair's political standing has gone down the tube's over his willingness to follow Bush into the depths of hell. It will be interesting to see if Chavez can further inflame Brits' disgust with their government.
President Bush's assertion that the National Anthem should be sung only in English exemplifies the stupid, narrow-mindedness that has come to characterize much of American political discourse surrounding not just issues of domestic policy, but foreign affairs as well.
So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to see this post by AcademicElephant. Ms. Elephant lends credence to a flagrantly misleading, not to mention fear-mongering, "report" generated by the good folks over at The American Thinker.
They have seen fit to blame the immigration protests on none other than Hugo Chavez, another evil enemy of the United States who cruelly undermines American interests by calling Bush a jackass, and by selling us oil far below the going rate of $74 per barrel.
According to AcademicElephant, Chavez's recent interference in Peruvian politics didn't fully satisfy his diabolical sensibilities. So now the crazy dictator has set America in his cross-hairs.
"Is this sudden wave of immigration activism hitting Los Angeles and the rest of the nation something Hugo Chavez is involved in?" asks the Thinker. "This is an issue we ought to be watching closely. If Hugo Chavez is instigating or financing any of this, then we are seeing a whole new kind of attack against the U.S."
Apparently no one has pointed out that the "immigration debate" has relieved exhausted neocons from having to defend their Iraq mistakes, Karl Rove, Tom Delay, the humongous deficit, the Katrina disaster, connections with Ken Lay, Jack Abramoff, Halliburton...I'm getting tired just typing it all out. Needless to say, humiliating immigrants by dismissing their attempts at expressing American pride pluralistically is much easier.
But I'm also disturbed by this trend of increased paranoia over figures like Chavez. Sure, he's a pugilistic bully who exploits fear to his political advantage with little regard for future consequences, dismantling his country's democratic institutions and ruining his domestic economy. But then again, so is our man. Do conservatives, like AcademicElephant, and the writers at The American Thinker, really fear Chavez's potential for wreaking havoc on the United States? If so, they are naive and unrealistic blowhards.
Or, perhaps, they are simply projecting legitimate anxieties of a dangerous leader onto Chavez, anxieties they subconsciously harbor about our own commander-in chief.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Listening to the statements of Venezuelan and Peruvian leaders over the past few days, you'd think you were in a schoolyard filled with whiny Kindergartners. What's passed for diplomacy between the two nations in recent weeks is nothing more than a competition of creative name-calling and petty retaliation.
Over the weekend, Peru recalled its ambassador to Venezuela in protest of what it claimed was Hugo Chavez's interference in Peruvian politics. Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo had been upset by Chavez's flagrant support of the left-leaning candidate Ollanta Humala in Peru's recent presidential election. Chavez claimed he would cut off diplomatic ties with Peru if Alan Garcia, Humala's conservative opponent, were elected.
Garcia responded by calling Chavez, and Bolivia's Evo Morales "history's losers," and accused them of acting like spoiled children. Chavez's Information Minister shot back that Garcia is nothing but a "office boy" for George W. Bush, and that he was probably looking to the White House for future employment after Peru's national elections in July. Next, Toledo attacked Chavez for shamelessness, criticizing the U.S. while simultaneoulsy getting rich off U.S. petro dolars. Chavez then stated that Toledo and Garcia were "crocodiles form the same swamp." Toledo has warned that if Venezuela continues its barrage of insults, he will expel their ambassador from Lima.
Needless to say, this sort of back-and-forth is damaging to both countries. Toledo's accusation that Chavez meddled in Peru's electoral politics is well-founded. Yet one questions why Toledo even bothers commenting on it. His man, Alan Garcia, is the favorite to win Peru's July's elections, regardless of Chavez's interference. He only risks damaging an otherwise decent presidential record with this puerile behavior.
Whether Chavez chooses to follow through on his threats of cutting ties with the country, should Garcia prevail, remains another story altogether.