The Corner

A Problem in Venezuela

I was most interested in this column by David Frum. It begins, “Give him enough rope and he’ll hang himself: That old adage has described U.S. policy toward Venezuela’s thuggish president, Hugo Chavez.”

That reminded me of something that John Negroponte told me, in an interview last year. (Negroponte, remember, was Bush’s intelligence chief, and other things.) He said, “I think one of the great things Mr. Bush did was not give Hugo Chávez the satisfaction of reacting to his various provocations. My sense is that that bothered Chávez. I don’t think Mr. Bush ever mentioned his name, frankly” — which was appropriate, according to Negroponte.

Barack Obama, of course, is a different deal. When he came into office, he clasped Chávez’s hands in a soul-brother handshake, and called him “mi amigo” — “my friend.” Of course, Chávez is a friend of no democrat. But Obama’s behavior is the kind of thing that wins a fellow the Nobel Peace Prize.

Back to David Frum:

The United States has stood by as Chavez degraded democracy in Venezuela, abused human rights and supported terrorism against neighboring Colombia. The U.S. has hoped that Venezuelans themselves would act against the economically incompetent leader who has transformed his nation’s oil wealth into worsening poverty for most Venezuelans.

Sunday’s round of voting in Venezuela has exposed the limits of the U.S. strategy — and reminded the world again of the brute realities of Chavez’s rule.

That has the ring of truth. So, what should the United States do? As a general principle (not that this is super-specific policy advice): Stick up for democracy, decency, liberalism (not the McGovern kind), everywhere.

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