Despite the results of November's election, Mr. Obama's critics are judging him on the basis of the old Bush calculus. Whether it is Venezuela or Cuba, they assess Mr. Obama's actions based on whether or not they immediately contribute to the downfall of a regime. If not, then they go off in high dudgeon.
I'm judging Obama on the Chamberlain calculus, not Bush's. Coddling dictators never works. It doesn't matter if it's handing Hitler the Sudetenland or giving Chavez the priceless (for him) respect and recognition of the world's greatest nation. Even if agreements are reached with tyrants they're either ignored or violated (Hitler, Ho Chi Minh, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, to cite a few). You would think that Mr. Rubin would have learned this lesson. He was present for the last three of the seven years that the Clinton administration embraced and supported Yasser Arafat. That worked out well.
Mr. Obama's new diplomacy is well-suited to an era of democratic government and instant communication. By refusing to snub Hugo Chávez, Mr. Obama makes it harder for dictators and anti-American activists to demonize the U.S. Of course, national security is not a popularity contest. But since governments around the world are increasingly democratic, they must respond to the attitudes of their people.
Obama isn't just not snubbing these guys - he's being downright obsequious. Nicaraguan leader Danny Ortega gave a 52 minute anti-American rant and Obama didn't even acknowledge the insult, much less challenge it. Ortega's country is a democracy (for now anyway). He can now go back to his people and say that he lectured the President of the United States. Scolded him about the crimes his country has perpetrated over the years. And Ortega can point out that Obama just sat there meekly, taking it all in. Then when given a chance to respond, he made a joke, his silence about the slander, a tacit endorsement. Ortega can use this to shape the attitudes of his people, not just respond to it.
And what of the governments around the world that are not increasingly democratic like Venezuela, Iran, Russia, Cuba or Iran? I'm going out on a limb here and predict that the leaders of those countries will continue to demonize the U.S. (as Fidel Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad already have). And Chavez can show that obscene photo to his people, and the leaders and people of neighboring countries and say, "The President of the United States approves of what I am doing."
Here's Mona Charen on some of what Chavez has been doing.
Chávez is providing support to the narco-terrorist group FARC in neighboring Colombia. FARC has conducted a reign of terror in Colombia and also plays a major role in funneling drugs to the United States. In the decade he has been in power, Chávez has obstructed all U.S. efforts to fight drug traffickers, banned overflights by Drug Enforcement Agency aircraft, and provided safe haven for FARC leaders. According to U.S. News and World Report, “It is no coincidence that during Chávez’s presidency, Venezuela has turned into a major conduit for the transshipment of cocaine. Despite the FARC’s killing of thousands of civilians and its continued holding of 700 hostages, among them Venezuelans, the oil-rich Chávez government confessed its direct support for and solidarity with the region’s most notorious terrorist group.”
Chávez is mimicking his hero Castro in other ways. In his jails you can find people whose only crime was to oppose the regime. Humberto Quintero was arrested in 2005 for capturing a senior FARC leader. Francisco Usón was sentenced to five and a half years for making public comments about human-rights violations in Venezuela. Opposition television stations have lost their licenses and opposition newpapers have been closed.
Chávez is also leading, directing, and encouraging state-sponsored harassment of Venezuela’s tiny Jewish community. Venezuela has a 200-year history of benevolent treatment of its Jewish minority. Chávez has changed all that and aroused real fear. Synagogues have been attacked, desecrated, and vandalized, their buildings spray-painted with epithets like “Death to Israel. Get out Jews.” Half the Jewish population has fled since Chávez came to power. During the war between Israel and Hamas last year, government media outlets maintained a steady campaign of vituperation against Israel and against the Jews of Venezuela. A government newspaper suggested confiscating the property of Venezuelan Jews who supported Israel and distributing it to Palestinians, denouncing Venezuelan Jews in public, and boycotting Jewish-owned businesses. The cardinal of Venezuela, Jorge Urosa, has been outspoken out on behalf of Venezuela’s Jews, as was the papal nuncio who last year had a hand grenade lobbed onto his property for his trouble.
Charen leaves out how Chavez' socialist economic policies have impoverished his oil rich country.
...the purpose of this new diplomacy, Mr. Obama emphasized, was not to change regimes around the world but to advance American interests.
By not standing up for his country, by not speaking out against Chavez' tyranny and others like it, Obama is acceding to them. Not only does this not change these regimes, it strengthens them. And that certainly does not advance American interests.
A final note. Rubin says we shouldn't use our success in the Cold War as a model for how to manage all tyrannies and he brings up Iraq.
(critics) say the president's politeness to Hugo Chávez, for example, should be judged by the standards of the Cold War. They point to the fact that dissidents in Eastern Europe were heartened when President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire." But that truth doesn't always translate to other parts of the world. If Iraq has taught us anything, it is that not all countries respond the same way when a dictator falls.
Actually, the people of Iraq were more accepting of their liberation than those of Russia. Witness the huge election turnouts. Russia, on the other hand, has reverted back to an authoritarian regime, mostly due to incompetence and corruption during the Yeltsin years. (Fortunately, the rest of Eastern Europe hasn't followed suit). The problem with Iraq wasn't that its people rejected freedom. It was that there was an unstable security situation created by a roughly 10,000 person strong (out of 25 million) insurgency. Rubin seems to be saying that some people just aren't cut out for liberty. He sounds a lot like Jackie Chan. That attitude is arrogant, condescending and wrong - as George Bush was constantly telling us.