Politics & Policy

Free Otto

A key resource in fighting hemispheric terrorism is held back by Dems.

While the eyes of the world focus on the Middle East, the war on terror has its targets in this hemisphere, too. Unfortunately, President Bush’s designated envoy to the Americas must fight this country’s shadowy enemies with both hands tied behind his back. Otto Reich, Bush’s nominee for assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, is being held hostage by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) who refuses to hold a confirmation hearing on Reich’s candidacy. Dodd apparently would rather brood over Reich’s performance in the Reagan administration than permit him to address these clear-and-present dangers today:

Venezuela. Hugo Chavez, the increasingly erratic president of this key U.S. oil supplier, has declared himself “a Maoist” and befriended pro-terrorist dictators. A Caracas-based, anti-Chavez group called the National Emergency Coalition published a veritable Chavez photo album in the September 25 Washington Times. In one picture, Chavez rides in Saddam Hussein’s Mercedes with the Iraqi thug at the wheel. During an August 2000 visit, Chavez called Iraq “a model” for Venezuela.

In another snapshot, Chavez hugs Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and says, “We have sister revolutions with equal struggles and the same destiny.” Elsewhere, Chavez embraces Muammar Qaddafi and calls Libya “a model of participatory democracy.” Chavez greets Fidel Castro as well and says that Cuba and Venezuela are “swimming together toward the same sea of happiness.”

Chavez also appears to be arming Colombia’s Marxist FARC rebels. Colombian defense officials say that between January 1998 and July 2000, they captured 470 clandestine FAL rifles stamped with the insignias of Venezuela’s military and its arms manufacturers.

Cuba: Castro’s worker’s paradise seems to be a giant O’Hare Airport for suspected terrorists. As counterterrorism consultant Paul Crespo reported in the Nov. 5 issue of Insight, three Afghans detained in the Grand Caymans shortly after the September 11 attacks allegedly arrived there from Cuba. Two others, allegedly linked financially to al Qaeda, were stopped in Panama bound for Cuba.

Argentina: Senior U.S. officials also told Insight that “a lot of people made big bucks” selling bogus passports via the Federal Police under Carlos Menem, Argentina’s previous president. U.S. immigration authorities are investigating whether terrorists used such records to enter America.

Brazil: According to the New York Post, several mosques in Foz do Iguacu may be tied to al Qaeda and other terror groups. Police arrested two associates of an accused, radical fundraiser from Paraguay for furnishing phony immigration documents.

Canada: Cops are holding 20 alleged terrorists and may extradite at least one to the U.S.

Beyond liquidating terrorists, it also is vital to promote free trade, transparency and the rule of law in the Americas. Argentina, meanwhile, resembles Humpty Dumpty sitting atop a $130 billion wall of external debt, trying not to succumb to vertigo and tumble onto his neighbors.

“I need Otto Reich in place,” Secretary of State Colin Powell pleaded with senators on October 3. Eight weeks later, Reich’s State Department office literally remains empty, its desk unoccupied and bookshelves bare. Even as an overworked career diplomat juggles crucial security and economic matters in Reich’s absence, Dodd could care less.

“That nomination’s not going anywhere. That’s the end of it,” Dodd recently snapped. He has hurled at Reich a number of easily refuted ethical charges pertaining to his 1980s service as director of State’s Office of Public Diplomacy and as Ambassador to Venezuela. However Dodd will not let his subcommittee hear Reich defend himself. Perhaps Dodd fears looking foolish once Reich demonstrates his innocence.

President Bush scrupulously has maintained a bipartisan tone as he prosecutes the war on terror. In November alone, he ignored conservatives who begged him to campaign with the GOP’s now-defeated gubernatorial candidates, Virginia’s Mark Earley and New Jersey’s Bret Schundler. He signed Democratic legislation to nationalize airport-security employees. In a touching gesture, he even renamed the Justice Department’s headquarters after Democratic icon Robert F. Kennedy.

It’s high time the “Gimmecrats” gave something back. With Otto Reich at his side, Bush should walk into the White House press room and remind his loyal opposition that bipartisanship — especially to crush regional terrorists — should be a two-way street, not a Republican alley beside a Democratic freeway. President Bush personally should invest some of his abundant political capital to win Senate confirmation of an experienced, principled diplomat who will toil to keep America’s neighborhood peaceful, prosperous, and free.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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