U.S. policy towards Hugo Chávez’s increasingly ugly antics in Venezuela has been one of failed reverse psychology – that the less attention is paid to him, the less reason he would have for misbehavior. This consideration of Chávez as an annoyance rather than a threat was illustrated very clearly last year when Miraflores invited Russian nuclear frigates to participate in war games right there in the Caribbean, but really much more attention and energy was devoted to the photo shoot and press conference, so that the Venezuelan leader could wax poetic about Russian bases and missiles (and distract attention from the fisticuffs).
The Russians wanted to send a clear message to Washington – to see howthey like it when somebody messes around in their sphere of influence,with sometimes direct comparisons to U.S. military relations withGeorgia. But it was a failed provocation,as nobody at the Pentagon had previously considered Venezuela to be amilitary threat – after all, they maintain an open trade policy withthe country, they buy the majority of the country’s oil and do all therefining, and even Barack Obama is reading Eduardo Galeano books andtalking about the need to make amends for Washington’s tragic historyof imperial abuses toward Latin America.
Obviously that isn’t working out so well. But with all the latestrevelations – such as the Swedish report accusing Venezuela of passingrocket launchers to the FARC, the GAO report on the rapidly decliningcooperation on narcotics, more and more arms from Russia, and now, theblockbuster disclosure by Rodrigo Sanz, Venezuela’s Minister of Mining, that indeed the government is openly and willingly help the Iranians procure uranium, it might be time for a policy rethink.
Inasmuch as we have see comments about how there just isn’t enough “bandwidth” in the State Department to craft meaningful and effective policies toward countries like Russia and Venezuela (with all diplomatic resources invested in the more marketable foreign policy puzzles of Iraq, Iran, and Israel-Palestine), a revelation like this drives home the level of threat and danger we really have with President Chávez’s foreign policy.
In a recent conversation I had with well known political scientist on Venezuela, he told me that Chávez is undertaking these efforts in a desperate search for a higher level of confrontation with the United States – not open armed conflict, naturally, but the creation of sanctions would be tremendously useful for him to shore up his position and reinforce his narrative as a persecuted victim. But do the Iranians know that?
Caracas Chronicles, one of my favorite Venezuela blogs, breaks down this new challenge to the border between annoyance and threat that Chávez appears to be crossing. Check it out here.