Obama Speaks the Truth on Venezuela…

…and will likely be excoriated in some quarters on the right as a result.

In an interview with a Miami TV station, the President said:

"We’re always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe. But overall my sense is that what Mr. Chávez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us," Obama said. "We have to vigilant. My main concern when it comes to Venezuela is having the Venezuelan people have a voice in their affairs, and that you end up ultimately having fair and free elections, which we don’t always see."

While there is no doubt in my mind that Hugo Chávez has been bad for Venezuela and has damaged Venezuelan democracy (although he had help from the corruption of his predecessors), the fundamental truth has long been that he has posed no serious national security threat to the United States nor to its basic interests.

The organization of ALBA hardly ranks as all high on the list in the grand scheme of things.   I could certainly make a list of actions that, no doubt, the US government found annoying or problematic, but the notion that Chávez has ever been a serious national security threat has always been a paranoid  and ill-informed view.

FILED UNDER: Latin America, Quick Takes, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. george says:

    Hard to disagree with that. Not good if you’re a Venezuelan, but doesn’t affect us here at all.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Of course Romney disagrees:

    And he [Chavez] is seeking to lead -– together with the Castros -– a destabilizing, anti-democratic, and anti-American ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ across Latin America. President Obama’s remarks continue a pattern of weakness in his foreign policy, one that has emboldened adversaries and diminished U.S. influence in every region of the world.

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Castro himself wasn’t any national security threat to the U.S., right up until the time at which we saw those missiles. The rest as they say is history.

    Publicly announcing that Chavez “has not had a serious national security impact on us” is a naive and faulty move, even if it’s true. When an anti-democratic thug of a national leader who’s sitting on a lake of oil overtly and loudly declares that he hates America and everything for which it stands (at least during the prior administration), and then also starts playing kissy face with an autocratic, terrorist regime that also sits on a lake of oil and to boot is trying to develop nuclear weapons, you need to err on the side of being too aggressive in your commentary rather than being too mellow. Bullies sense weakness. When they sense weakness they get emboldened. In that respect they’re akin to dogs. You have to all times let them know who’s in charge. Otherwise you get bitten. It’s inevitable.

  4. PJ says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Bullies sense weakness. When they sense weakness they get emboldened. In that respect they’re akin to dogs. You have to all times let them know who’s in charge. Otherwise you get bitten. It’s inevitable.

    Mitt Romney put his dog on the roof of his car, would that be so that the dog would know that Romney was the alpha dog? In hindsight perhaps he should have just have given the dog a hair cut?

  5. @Tsar Nicholas:

    Castro himself wasn’t any national security threat to the U.S., right up until the time at which we saw those missiles. The rest as they say is history.

    Numerous responses come to mind, but here are a few:

    1) By that logic anywhere and everywhere (and anyone) is a threat. This is not a viable national security policy stance.

    2) Castro might never have invited the missiles if the US hadn’t overreacted to the revolution in the first/made a conscious decision to isolate the new regime.

    3) Do you really think it likely that some nuclear power is going to be arming Venezuela with ICBMs any time soon?

  6. BTW: it strikes me that it is the national security interest of the US to have a realistic view of threats, rather than seeing threats behind everyone who says means things about us.

  7. @Tsar Nicholas:

    is a naive and faulty move, even if it’s true

    Ah yes, God forbid we should speak the truth.

  8. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Yup, I can’t see Chavez allying himself with those who are hostile to our interests.

    Just can’t see it at all.

    Chavez was given a pass by much of the left — if not embraced — for being anti-Bush. Now that he’s broadened that to anti-US, they’re slowly coming to realize what a lot of us saw a long time ago: the guy’s a pimple on the butt of the world, and sooner or later needs to get squeezed.

  9. Ben Wolf says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Why don’t you suit up and take care of the problem for us? We’re right behind you.

  10. al-Ameda says:

    Okay, get ready for Romney and the opposition message crew to commence using those musty the Neville Chamberlain analogies.

  11. Modulo Myself says:

    Chavez is a brutal autocrat, but after he was democratically elected, the United States supported a coup against him. Generally speaking, once one tries to overthrow another country’s elected leader, you wave the right to complain about lack of respect for democracy.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    Yup, I can’t see Chavez allying himself with those who are hostile to our interests.

    Just can’t see it at all.

    Of course no one is claiming that Chavez isn’t a ridiculous thug, merely that he isn’t a threat to us, which of course he isn’t, no matter who he decides to snuggle up to…

    …the guy’s a pimple on the butt of the world, and sooner or later needs to get squeezed.

    Oh my, such tough talk from an armchair warrior…similar talk got us entangled in the Iraq disaster…

  13. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    the guy’s a pimple on the butt of the world, and sooner or later needs to get squeezed.

    And so pimples represent serious threats to national security? This doesn’t meet my threshold, I must confess.

  14. Console says:

    The US has no existential threats in existence. Even Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be business as usual for the US. Nothing would remotely change in anything we do foreign policywise because no matter what, there isn’t a country on this planet that we couldn’t completely destroy at any sign of provocation.

  15. MM says:

    @Ben Wolf: He proved in the Stolen Valor thread that he has no aspirations beyond being pretend tough on the internet. Actually doing the things that Janos talks about are for others.

  16. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Ben Wolf: (NOT singling you out; you just spoke first) So, your ideas on foreign policy are based on whether or not I am wearing, ever wore, or ever could wear a uniform? I have THAT much power over people here?

    I’d be flattered, if it wasn’t so stupid and short-sighted. What a perfect example of just how empty the ad hominem fallacy is. “He’s not the perfect spokesman for his argument, so it obviously must be wrong.” And it saves you all that tedious effort of actually addressing the topic!

    @Steven L. Taylor: It’s called a metaphor. How about this one: Chavez has, for years, been poking us with a stick. Never enough to hurt, but certainly enough to be annoying. How long do we ignore his annoyances, or at some point do we give him a swat to get him to knock it off?

    “You keep speaking and acting as if we were your great enemy. Would you like us to treat you like an enemy? Have you not noticed what happens when we treat nations like our enemy? Do you need a reminder or two?”

  17. @Jenos Idanian #13: Yes, I recognize it is a metaphor, but my point was quite that the metaphor implies a bit of annoyance, not a national security threat.

    The point of a metaphor is to attempt to explain something using symbolic language. If you picked the right symbol, then I would submit that you are closer to making my point than you are to making the one you are thinking about. Pimples are not a big deal. Ergo: Chavez is not a big deal.

    “You keep speaking and acting as if we were your great enemy. Would you like us to treat you like an enemy? Have you not noticed what happens when we treat nations like our enemy? Do you need a reminder or two?”

    Ok, so how much time, treasure, and blood should be expended to accomplish this goal? That’s the fundamental issue.

  18. Scott says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: But a pimple is not a threat to your health nor is Chavez a national security threat.

  19. Scott says:

    The trouble is that, like us, people in other countries are nationalists first. Chavez uses our words, actions, and opposition to keep himself in power. Our best response is to ignore him, just like an annoying child who knows how to push a parents’ buttons, to use another metaphor.

    By the way, we have a lot of economic ties to Venezuela. How many people know that Citgo is owned by the national oil company of Venezuela?

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Bullies sense weakness. When they sense weakness they get emboldened.

    Saying this… in the context of the US v. Venezuela….

    Is laughable. Tsar, you not only jumped the shark, you did a triple flip half-gainer over the moon.

  21. Anderson says:

    A pimple is indeed a serious threat.

    If you’re an insecure adolescent.

  22. KariQ says:

    It’s important to remember, and never ever question, that every single event that happens and every single individual that those on the right don’t like must be met with a military response. Every single one, without exception. There’s no problem, quandary, or annoyance, that an excessive use of military power won’t solve. Not one.

    Because if we don’t eventually attack every single country in the entire world, then we’re just a bunch of cowards and Chamberlaines quaking before the next Hitler-of-the-Week.

  23. mattb says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: And of course, your reading of Jenos’ metaphor was entirely right. Quoth him:

    It’s called a metaphor. How about this one: Chavez has, for years, been poking us with a stick. Never enough to hurt, but certainly enough to be annoying.

    So basically Jenos is advocating for military adventurism to deal with non threatening annoyances.

    Remind me Jenos, what branch did you serve in? Or otherwise feel free to explain why you are so quick to make other people fight useless battles for you.

  24. mattb says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    So, your ideas on foreign policy are based on whether or not I am wearing, ever wore, or ever could wear a uniform? I have THAT much power over people here?

    No… but there is definitely a trend among a certain group of people to loudly rattle sabers that they themselves have never wielded. And as of late you have been doing a lot of saber rattling.

    Beyond that, you have admittedly stated above that Chavez is at best “an annoyance,” and yet you seem to be the only one here wondering why “we haven’t taken him out yet.”

  25. mattb says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: I saw on the other thread that you stated that you had a medical condition that made you ineligible for service. That adds more context to your comments and I won’t peruse the chicken hawk again.

    That said, I still have huge problems with the entire “annoyance” = “threat” line of your thinking.

  26. anjin-san says:

    Bullies sense weakness. When they sense weakness they get emboldened.

    Yes I worry about this too. There is no telling what Bin Laden and Gaddafi are planning.

  27. anjin-san says:

    Have you not noticed what happens when we treat nations like our enemy?

    They start working on developing nuclear weapons because they are scared shitless?

  28. george says:

    @anjin-san:

    They start working on developing nuclear weapons because they are scared shitless?

    Which is in fact, the only rational action for them to take. If a country with nuclear weapons declares you their enemy, you’re more or less forced to try to develop them yourself.

    Why have most of the Nato countries, all of which could easily develop nuclear weapons, not done so? Because they have a nuclear umbrella (that of the USA) to hide behind. Remove that, and I suspect every one would have nuclear weapons in less than a year. Remove that an threaten them, and they’d have the weapons in months.

    Threatening countries always has the same end result – eventually the threatened countries arm themselves for the inevitable conflict.

  29. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @mattb: Remind me Jenos, what branch did you serve in?

    Put me somewhere between FDR and Obama on the service continuum — I never needed to pull any Clintonesque chicanery.

  30. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Fine, upgrade the pimple to a boil. Sometimes they need lancing.

    In this case, a reminder that we have ready access to all kinds of lances ought to be sufficient.

  31. @Jenos Idanian #13: So how much time, treasure, and blood are you willing to commit to lance a boil?

    And your metaphor continues to be flawed because lancing a boil is a low cost, low-impact health care issue whilst getting rid of a leader of a country is far from a low cost, low-impact foreign policy.

  32. @Jenos Idanian #13: Indeed, the appropriate metaphorical disease would be a malignant tumor that must be excised at high cost and risk but that if left alone would kill the patient.

    Do you really think that is the appropriate comparison?

  33. Anderson says:

    Steven has inadvertently diagnosed Jenos!

  34. OzarkHillbilly says:
  35. mantis says:

    Jenos,

    I find you annoying. Should I find you and shoot you because of that?

  36. Rob in CT says:

    Larison, as usual, is measured and thoroughly sane. Which I’m sure has more than a little bit to do with the fact that hardly any “Conservatives” listen to him.

  37. Ben Wolf says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    In this case, a reminder that we have ready access to all kinds of lances ought to be sufficient.

    Why don’t you pick up that lance and do it for us? People like you are always advocating that others do the dirty work so you can get your Internet Warrior credential, always insisting the rest of us panic over your bizarre obsessions. How about you stop being lazy and do the damned job yourself, if you think it’s so important. I won’t be signing back up to kill Chavez or anyone else for you.

    Were this 1863 you’d be one of the war hawks hiring a poor man for military service in your place as you shout about victory from the safety of Vermont.

  38. David M says:

    @Ben Wolf: Not to mention, the military spending he’s advocating isn’t free. I wonder if Jenos is willing to pay higher taxes for to support the increased spending.

  39. anjin-san says:

    @ mantis

    I find you annoying

    I get the sense that “annoying a liberal” is as good as it gets for Jenos.

  40. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Put me somewhere between FDR and Obama on the service continuum — I never needed to pull any Clintonesque chicanery.

    Chicanery? Dick Cheney received 5 deferments on his way to avoiding service in Vietnam. Bush ducked into the National Guard ahead of many in order to avoid in Vietnam. However, that’s neither here nor Clintonesque.

    Full Disclosure: I resorted to Cheneyian Chicanery – I registered for the draft, had 1 student deferment, then a draft lottery was implemented and thereafter I did not have to resort to Cheneyian tactics to avoid Vietnam.

  41. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @mantis: I find you annoying. Should I find you and shoot you because of that?

    You’re welcome to try, internet tough guy.

    But I trust this “death threat” will be preserved by the attorneys (and officers of the court) who run this site, just in case anything untoward should happen to me.

    But I’m not worried. I know you’re full of crap and don’t really intend that as a threat. You’re no Bret Kimberlin or something; you’re a guy with a big mouth and no interest/ability in taking it beyond the verbal.

    As they say, it takes one to know one…

  42. mantis says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I know you…don’t really intend that as a threat.

    Indeed, because it was a question. You think Chavez is annoying, and thus advocate using force to remove him. I wonder if that logic extends to all things annoying. You of course miss the point, ignore the question, and once again prove yourself an idiot.

    I was in no way threatening you, nor do I wish you any harm. You can, however, go ahead and fuck yourself.

  43. mantis says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I know you…don’t really intend that as a threat.

    Indeed, because it was a question. You think Chavez is annoying, and thus advocate using force to remove him. I wonder if that logic extends to all things annoying. You of course miss the point, ignore the question, and once again prove yourself an idiot.

    I was in no way threatening you, nor do I wish you any harm. You can, however, go f*ck yourself.

  44. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: And true to form, once directly challenged, macho warrior Jenos turns into a whiny little baby, whimpering about lawyers and how he’ll be avenged by them if some anonymous poster brings him to harm. What a sad little cliche of a “man.”

  45. mantis says:

    @wr:

    And true to form, once directly challenged, macho warrior Jenos turns into a whiny little baby, whimpering about lawyers and how he’ll be avenged by them if some anonymous poster brings him to harm.

    Well, he did what you say, but he wasn’t really “challenged.” I’m just wondering if his “kill whatever annoys you” position extends beyond South America.

  46. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @mantis: Hmm… let me re-read my comments, because I don’t recall saying anything like “You think Chavez is annoying, and thus advocate using force to remove him.”

    Nope, just that we ought to keep an eye on him, an ear out, and keep plans ready and options open. And how incredibly stupid Chavez is to keep provoking us.

    Chavez, oddly enough, is showing just how much he trusts our morality and restraint. If he didn’t, he’d be a lot more cautious about pissing us off. Instead, he does things like cozy up to Putin’s Russia and Achmedinejad’s Iran and talk about how evil we are.

    He, like most tyrants, knows he needs an external enemy to distract his people from his dictatorship. And he’s using us as his cudgel.

    I think we should simply ask him if he really wants us to view him as an enemy.

    As for your earlier remark, and my response… I apologize. I should have known that you were just talking out of your ass. I should remember not to take you seriously.

  47. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    let me re-read my comments, because I don’t recall saying anything like “You think Chavez is annoying, and thus advocate using force to remove him.”

    This is the implication of both your metaphors: popping a pimple and lancing a boil.

    Hence my point that your metaphors are problematic.

  48. @Jenos Idanian #13: And BTW, if you are reduced to “keep an eye on him” how is your position fundamentally different that the President’s?

  49. mantis says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I don’t recall saying anything like “You think Chavez is annoying, and thus advocate using force to remove him.”

    Ahem:

    the guy’s a pimple on the butt of the world, and sooner or later needs to get squeezed.

    When you squeeze a pimple, do you not remove it with force?

    “You keep speaking and acting as if we were your great enemy. Would you like us to treat you like an enemy? Have you not noticed what happens when we treat nations like our enemy? Do you need a reminder or two?”

    What did you mean by that. How do we treat our enemies?

    Fine, upgrade the pimple to a boil. Sometimes they need lancing.

    When you lance a boil, do you not remove it with force?

    So yeah, you did say that. It was clear to everyone.

    And how incredibly stupid Chavez is to keep provoking us.

    Your perception of these so-called “provocations” is obviously influenced by deranged warmongers who never saw a problem they couldn’t solve by bombing thousands of people. They see everything as a provocation. Venezuela is hardly a large problem for the US to deal with.

    He, like most tyrants, knows he needs an external enemy to distract his people from his dictatorship. And he’s using us as his cudgel.

    So what? Go to Venezuela and join the revolution or something. We don’t need to start a war over it.

    I think we should simply ask him if he really wants us to view him as an enemy.

    That’s it? What happened to all your tough guy talk? Did you realize how stupid you sound? Don’t worry, it will pass.

    As for your earlier remark, and my response… I apologize. I should have known that you were just talking out of your ass. I should remember not to take you seriously.

    You should take the question seriously, and answer it. But that would require you to be an honest person with half a brain. You don’t qualify.

  50. wr says:

    @mantis: Yes, you’re right. I should have said “when he imagines he’s being challenged, as if any would ever care enough to expend an ounce of energy on him.”

    No disrespect to you. I knew you weren’t offering to meet him in the parking lot outside the 7-11 — sorry if it came out that way.

  51. mantis says:

    @wr:

    No disrespect to you. I knew you weren’t offering to meet him in the parking lot outside the 7-11 — sorry if it came out that way.

    No worries. I just wanted to make myself abundantly clear.

    Besides, mantises don’t hunt that way. We wait for prey to come to us. 😉

  52. G.A. says:

    Obama Speaks the Truth on Venezuela…

    Impossible!!!