Monday, March 3, 2008

Bush Misadventures In Mideast Blinded Him To Troubles In Latin America

By Manifesto Joe

While the U.S. remains stuck in the Iraq quagmire, and Afghanistan looks increasingly like one, too, there's plenty of trouble simmering in our own back yard. The problems of Latin America have already changed the face of America forever -- and that may be just a warm-up, because now there's the faint odor of war.

Reuters reported Sunday from Caracas:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sent troops and tanks to the Colombian border and mobilized warplanes on Sunday, warning Bogota could spark a war after it bombed inside another of its neighbors, Ecuador.

Reacting to Colombia's killing on Saturday of a Colombian rebel over the border in Ecuador, a Venezuelan ally, Chavez also withdrew all of his diplomats from Bogota in the worst dispute between the neighbors since he came to office in 1999. ...

"May God spare us a war. But we are not going to allow them violate our sovereign territory," the ex-paratrooper said.

Colombia's troops killed Raul Reyes, a leader of Marxist FARC rebels, during an attack on a jungle camp in Ecuador in a severe blow to Latin America's oldest guerrilla insurgency. The operation included air strikes and fighting across the border.

The anti-U.S. Chavez, who had warned a similar operation in Venezuela would be "cause for war," threatened to send Russian-made fighter jets into U.S. ally Colombia if its troops also struck inside his OPEC country.

Eduador's president, Rafael Correa, also sent troops to the Colombian border and expelled Colombia's ambassador.

Some analysts viewed the moves as grandstanding by Chavez, who must realize that war with Colombia would bring serious repercussions to Venezuela's economy. But if war were to break out, the U.S., being allied with Colombia and having demonized Chavez for many years, would be in a real spot.

The official U.S. response sounded pretty lame. Reuters went on:

Washington, which backs Uribe's fight against the rebels with its largest military aid outside the Middle East, said it was monitoring developments after Chavez's "odd reaction."

At this point, the only real way George W. Bush can exert influence in Latin America is militarily, and his Iraq misadventure has made that option precarious to say the least. And, given the history of hostility toward Chavez, intervention down there could well turn into yet another quagmire that the American people can't afford.

The incident suggests U.S. vulnerability, and diminished influence, as part of the pathetic Bush legacy. Obsessed with Mideast adventures, Bush has left the U.S. looking a lot like the Richard Nixon metaphor of a "pitiful, helpless giant" when it comes to dealing with events on our own hemisphere.

Pablo Bachelet of McClatchy Newspapers posted a piece, "Bush Legacy: Farewell to the Monroe Doctrine?", that is definitely worth a read. Bachelet, actually posting Saturday, the day before the troop movements were reported, wrote of Bush:

... his legacy may be the biggest loss of U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere in recent memory.

He remains unpopular and unable to pass initiatives that Latin Americans want, such as immigration reform and free-trade pacts. Trade between South America and China is booming. Governments from Canada to Iran are cutting deals in the region, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made challenging U.S. interests his foreign-policy mission, through everything from sweet oil deals to a TV news channel that rivals CNN.

I wouldn't exactly endorse some of the free-trade pacts referred to there. But at the core of the issues are the lack of serious U.S. political engagement in Latin America, and the inability to see how some economic rivals are making inroads in the region.

And the demonization of Chavez has proved costly. I have little doubt, judging from his actions, that Chavez is a power-monger (sorry, many fellow lefties). But the current administration has done plenty to antagonize him. There are conflicting accounts, but the U.S. government appears to have been, at the very least, willing to condone any success of the April 2002 coup attempt against him, had it been successful.

A bottom line here is that, whatever warts the man has, Chavez has won election after election in Venezuela, by wide margins. There haven't been credible challenges to the legitimacy of those elections. He didn't have to be appointed to the presidency by his country's high court. His popularity among common Venezuelans is beyond question, and so is his legitimacy as the nation's leader.

Normalization of relations with Venezuela would be a big step in the right direction. Chavez, I admit, makes me pretty nervous; but the U.S. fraternizes with anti-democratic strongmen who make me a lot more nervous. To wit, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf is an ally. Chavez never will be, but I would say that with him, normalization of relations is a practical and desirable option.

It won't happen under a President McCain. It might under a President Obama, or a President Clinton. There's a lot of damage to be repaired, and we can pretty much assume that no Republican administration will do it.

Another starting point would be Cuba. Bachelet also wrote:

Some critics say changing the Cuba policy also will help. A new Cuba approach, says Lawrence Wilkerson, a former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, would be a ''superb opening toward refurbishing'' the Latin America policy that he describes as "bordering on failure.''

In microcosmic terms, the U.S. has been hassling with folks across town, while the neighbors are about to start a shooting feud that we (in the editorial sense) helped start. It's time to come back to the neighborhood and rejoin the association.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Unknown said...

Cuba should be viewed as America's best friend. For almost 50 years, they haven't asked us for a friggin' nickel. The ONLY country in the world in that class.

Marc McDonald said...

Is Chavez a genuine socialist and friend of the worker, or is he a petty tyrant who is not to be trusted?
I don't claim to know the entire truth of the matter----but one thing I am goddamn well sure of is that the American corporate media is NOT to be trusted in what it says about Chavez. The BBC's Greg Palast has exposed how the U.S. mainstream media is a bunch of f*cking liars when it comes to reporting the truth on Chavez.
America's real beef with Chavez has nothing to do with "democracy" or "freedom"---and it has EVERYTHING to do with the fact that Chavez refused to suck corporate cock like a good little banana republic leader should.