Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Devil You Know

If nothing else, Hugo Chàvez at least has a gift for the theatrical, you have to give him that.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chàvez took his verbal battle with the United States to the floor of the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, calling President Bush "the devil."

The impassioned speech by the leftist leader came a day after Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparred over Tehran's disputed nuclear program but managed to avoid a personal encounter.

"The devil came here yesterday," Chavez said, referring to Bush's address on Tuesday and making the sign of the cross. "He came here talking as if he were the owner of the world."

Standing at the podium, Chavez quipped that a day after Bush's appearance: "In this very spot it smells like sulfur still."

Chavez held up a book by American leftist writer Noam Chomsky "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance" and recommended it to everyone in the General Assembly.

The leftist leader, who has joined Iran and Cuba in opposing U.S. influence, accused Washington of "domination, exploitation and pillage of peoples of the world."

Note the continued use of the word "leftist", with its usual connotations; indeed, Chàvez is referred to as "the leftist leader" (as opposed to, say, the elected president of Venezuela) twice in just a few sentences. This is deliberate and effective, despite its subtlety and obvious laziness.

Describing the U.N. as an "important world stage" on which leaders represent their citizens, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey, said such personal attacks were "disappointing."

"And I'll leave it to the Venezuelan people to determine whether President Chavez represented them and presented them in a way they would have liked to have seen," he said.

Well, of course he has. They put him there for the explicit purpose of sticking it to The Man. And let's face it -- there's a tangible level of symbiosis here. For a guy like Chàvez, a self-styled populist, there's simply no downside to tweaking the nose of an unpopular American leader who once tried unsuccessfully to depose him. And for Bush, whose raisin det-ree (as they say in Texan) is chasing boogeymen hither and yon, they just don't come much boogier than the Castro-worshipping enabler of the unwashed masses, a guy who refuses to play corporate ball. Hence Ahmadinejad is the current incarnation of Hitler; hence Chàvez is a loose cannon residing comfortably at the top of John Bolton's shit list, along with human decency and Grecian Formula for mustaches.

The bottom line is that Good, for whomever pronounces themselves as such, needs to identify Evil in order to define itself and persist in its aims.

What makes this even more complicated is that now so-called democracy Egypt wants in on the nuke game as well. For energy purposes, of course. Future president-for-life Gamal Mubarak spake thusly:

“The whole world — I don’t want to say all, but many developing countries — have proposed and started to execute the issue of alternative energy,” he said. “It is time for Egypt to put forth, and the party will put forth, this proposal for discussion about its future energy policies, the issue of alternative energy, including nuclear energy, as one of the alternatives.”

He also said in a clear reference to the White House: “We do not accept visions from abroad that try to dissolve the Arab identity and the joint Arab efforts within the framework of the so-called Greater Middle East Initiative.”

Uh-oh, that wasn't in the script. And as if that weren't enough (and by God, don't you think it oughta be?), the Mubaraks have also been taking steps to roll back the Freedomocracy™ which Dear Leader proclaimed is the birthright of all men.

When President Bush called for promoting democracy in the Middle East, he looked to Egypt as a leader in that effort. But with all the chaos in the region, and with the United States in need of strong allies, the administration has backed off on pressing for democracy here.

Instead, it has witnessed the country reversing earlier gains, arresting political opposition figures, beating street demonstrators, locking up bloggers, blocking creation of new political parties and postponing local elections by two years.

Of course, the current American regime may want to take pointers from the Egyptian thugocracy before taking pains to downplay its relationship with them. But basically we're shelling out $2bn/year for the Mubaraks to pass along the most populous country in the region as a family heirloom, and announce that they want to join the nuke club as well. The nuclear wannabes have seen quite clearly that NPT non-signatories such as Israel and India get treated very well in negotiations, while signatories who are making at least token efforts (such as Iran) to comply get pushed around and threatened with war. If we wanted to further demotivate compliance, it'd be hard to come up with a more effective way.

Which brings us back to that wild and crazy guy, Hugo Chàvez. Considering that Brazil and Argentina already have their own nascent nuke programs underway, it's only a matter of time before Chàvez follows suit and either buys his way into the Mercosur Nuke Club, or uses his comical rhetoric to convince them to band together to stick it to Whitey one more time. This is just the start, and considering Chàvez' power to destabilize oil markets to at least some extent if need be, we may simply have neither the diplomatic skills nor the cojones to stare him down.

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