August 29, 2005


In Defense of Pat Robertson (Richard Kim, 8/26/05, The Nation)

Don't get me wrong. I oppose any US attempt to assassinate Hugo Chávez or to destabilize his government (as he alleges the United States did during the 2002 military coup), and I oppose political assassinations generally. But the press ducked the questions of political assassinations and covert operations that Robertson so brazenly put forward. The Houston Chronicle came the closest to a condemnation, but hedged its bets, saying, "No war is imminent between the United States and Venezuela, so there is no need for the illegal alternative of assassination." But what if a war were imminent? Between Venezuela and the United States--or, say, with Iran or Syria? Would those editorial pages endorse a "take-out" of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's new hard-line president?

The reason they didn't address it is because it makes the Reverend Robertson's case. Where is the soul so morally blind as to argue that assassinating Hitler, Stalin, or Mao would have been improper?

Here the Right explains why assassination would be humanitarian, The Chávez Challenge: Venezuela's leader is a regional nuisance (Mark Falcoff, National Review)

Is Venezuela on its way to becoming another Cuba? In spite of superficial similarities and even Chávez's stated intentions, the answer is: probably not. The country is simply too informal, too disorganized, too corrupt — and too vulnerable to foreign, particularly U.S., cultural influences — to be easily pushed into a totalitarian template. Chávez has not even bothered building a political party of his own; the ranks of his regime are drawn from an undifferentiated mass of pocket-lining military officers, opportunists, and leftist ideologues. Nor is there a clear blueprint for where the president intends to take the country. Priorities change without warning, for instance, so that no cabinet minister dares miss the president's Sunday broadcasts: He may not find out what next week's agenda will be.

To be sure, none of this is cause for celebration. Chávez has plenty of money to throw around, and its effects have already been felt in nearby countries like Bolivia, where Venezuelan-funded NGOs and "indigenous" organizations recently brought down a constitutional government. "Anti-imperialist" books and magazines of a type formerly financed by Soviet embassies are suddenly reappearing in other Latin American countries. And security experts around the hemisphere are worrying aloud that some of the weaponry Chávez is buying will end up in the hands of Colombia's FARC guerrillas or Chiapas in Mexico. Such concerns provoked secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's South American trip this past April, intended to isolate Chávez diplomatically from his neighbors. Because the Venezuelan president uses the ballot box so successfully there is a movement afoot, presumably sponsored by our own State Department, to compel the Organization of American States to define more precisely what might represent a departure from democratic practices above and beyond the actual act of electing officials.

But it is difficult to see how such efforts can succeed. A country that supplies oil to half the hemisphere, including the United States (which relies on Chávez's country for as much as 15 percent of its imports), cannot be, by definition, isolated. By providing cheap oil to his hard-pressed Caribbean neighbors, Chávez is now assured of support from the largest bloc of votes at the OAS. Even if this were not so, our long experience with Castro should have taught us by now that the Latins can be expected to hide under tables any time a difficult political decision shows up on the agenda. We can draw some consolation, however, from the fact that Chávez, unlike his Cuban mentor in his great days, enjoys virtually no popular support in the region, even among the Left — many of whose leaders privately refer to the Venezuelan president as a clown. If the clown feels like mindlessly lobbing cash in their direction, the Latins seem to be saying, they'd be crazy not to take it. And who can blame them? But judging by our more than half a century's experience in these matters, you can't buy friends. A policy that holds out more hope for us over the longer term is the effort by our National Endowment for Democracy to help nurture the Venezuelan civic organizations attempting to rebuild the country's shattered democratic political culture. But this cannot be accomplished overnight and certainly not wholly from the outside.

Is the United States vulnerable to a shutoff of Venezuelan oil? Chávez has lately threatened such a measure, particularly if he is the subject of an assassination plot, an invasion, or another coup attempt. In fact, he would find it extremely difficult to carry out such a threat. For one thing, Venezuelan industry is heavily oriented toward the United States and it would take at least two years to redirect it. During that time Chávez would run out of the ready cash on which he is so heavily dependent for power and popularity. Even China, which lately has become a major customer, could not absorb such a large quantity of oil immediately, and in any case, at this point Beijing lacks the ability to refine Venezuelan crude. An oil boycott of the U.S. by Chávez would simply induce other suppliers to step in and replace him in our huge and profitable market.

The United States would therefore be well advised to take a low profile on Chávez and treat his regime as an unpleasant fever that will eventually pass, which it surely will when either oil prices decline or the Venezuelan oil industry begins to fully register the effects of politicization. Most likely, both will happen. To be sure, this may take some years, perhaps even decades. The country will have wasted perhaps the equivalent of five or ten Marshall Plans and have nothing whatever to show for it at the end of the day. Venezuela will not become a better educated, more productive, more socially integrated society no matter how many billions Chávez throws at it. Moreover — again, borrowing a page from Perón's Argentina — when the great man finally does go he will leave behind him a deeply divided society and the prospect of semi-permanent political instability.

To be sure, this is a huge misfortune for Venezuela but merely a moderate inconvenience for the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2005 6:52 AM

Let us keep in mind the distinction between assassination and striking command and control assets as part of a war. This business of assassinating people like Castro and Charvez under the present circumstances is highly illegal and totally inappropriate for public discussion.

It is not the same thing as picking off General Packinham or shooting down Admiral Yamamoto, or, as we used to say, lobbing one into the men's room at the Kremlin after the war has started. .

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 29, 2005 1:42 PM

A premise that requires that innocents be killed in order to get the guilty. There's never a bad time to strike the evil.

Posted by: oj at August 29, 2005 3:11 PM
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