|Chavez Goes Shopping
Posted 07/03/2007 ET
London’s defused car bombs, the defeated Senate immigration bill and Hugo Chavez’s sophisticated arms buying world-tour paint a complex and serious security challenge for the United States.
In response to 9/11, the US took the terror fight to Central Asia rather than to wait for the next attack. Unfortunately, America has failed to take a similar approach over two dead-in-the-water policies: immigration and Venezuela.
Last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez departed for a three nation arms buying tour. He negotiated a deal with Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship, for a sophisticated long-range (125-200 miles) anti-aircraft system. Chavez visited Russia to check on his $3.4 billion investment in 24 Sukhoi SU-30 fighters, 35 MI-24 armored helicopters, 100,000 Russian-made AK-103 assault rifles and a license for an assault rifle factory.
While in Russia, Chavez shopped for submarines and indicated he might be interested in a nuclear program. It’s not yet clear why he may buy five Project 636 Kilo-class diesel submarines and four state-of-the-art Project 677 Amur submarines; perhaps he believes the US might blockade or attack his country and submarines will be a deterrent.
While in Russia, he also defended Iran’s right to have a nuclear program and stated Venezuela “might follow suit.” Chavez then left Russia to visit his close ally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who claims Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
What happened in London and Washington last week -- the foiled car bombings and defeated immigration bill -- is related to America’s Venezuela policy because each reflects a naïve “wait and see” approach jeopardizing our security.
The British have waited too long to reform their immigration policies. On Friday, London’s finest defused two car bombs designed for mass murder. Although yet to be confirmed, the would-be bombers may have sought to punctuate the suicide attack that struck London’s tube two years ago. Those homegrown bombers were sons of Muslim immigrants who although legally living in the UK had failed to assimilate and were followers of radical Islam.
America faces a similar homegrown and illegal immigrant danger because it lacks a common sense policy. Fortunately, last week, concerned Americans flooded Senate offices demanding the immigration bill be junked and a serious debate happen before it’s too late.
Hopefully, it’s still possible to fix US immigration policy before post-9/11 America suffers more violence at the hands of radicalized immigrants. However, it might be too late to reverse the damage Chavez has done which has serious economic and security implications for the US. More of the same “wait and see” approach regarding Venezuela would be profoundly stupid.
Chavez is a malignant narcissist, according to Dr. Jerrold Post, who profiled the Venezuelan for the US Air Force. Post suggests that Chavez, who was elected for his second term last December, is a masterful political gamesman and is “increasingly messianic.” These personality traits are likely to compel Chavez to declare himself president for life, Post states.
Chavez has plotted a clear course for Venezuela and Latin America. He wants to minimize Washington’s influence in the world, to set-up a socialist republic in Venezuela and wants much the same for his neighbors. His heroes are “Che” Guevara and Fidel Castro, not known for their democratic roots.
He has consolidated dictatorial control over his national assembly, the courts, and, on May 27, he closed the 53-year-old independent broadcast station, Radio Caracas Television, the only remaining opposition voice of reason.
His muscle comes from oil wealth and a compliant military. Venezuela is home to the Orinoco Belt, which holds the world’s largest reserves of heavy oil. Half of the annual oil revenue flows into Chavez’s government.
Venezuela’s military has been bought off. It enjoys the best weapons high-priced oil affords and, beginning this week, loyal soldiers are expecting an up to 30 percent pay raise. Perhaps that’s why they are willingly saluting and sounding off with the slogan “Fatherland, Socialism, or Death.”
Venezuela’s foreign policy focuses on blaming Latin America’s problems on the US. That’s why he relishes choosing allies that share his anti-Washington views such as North Korea and Iran, rogue nuclear powers, which earn Chavez’s special praises as does his mentor Fidel Castro of Cuba.
Chavez has established Latin American alliances with disaffected states which are financially vulnerable. He helped elect leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales in part by funding social projects like building schools. He has bought a lot of Argentina’s debt and invested in Uruguay. He leveraged his oil wealth to become a member of Mercosur, South America’s trading block. There have also been reports that he cooperates with terrorist groups like Colombia’s FARC and Iran’s Hezbollah.
FARC funds it activities by drug sales. Not surprisingly, in 2005, the US government decertified Venezuela as an ally in the war on drugs alleging that Venezuela has become a key transit point for drugs leaving Columbia and two contributing factors to this assessment were “rampant corruption at the highest levels of law enforcement and a weak judicial system.”
What does a messianic, socialist, anti-US, oil wealthy elected Latin president mean to the US? He is a long-term economic and security liability.
He sits on top of a large, critical and diminishing economic resource -- oil. He has learned from his membership in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries that markets are very sensitive and the US is vulnerable. Perhaps that’s why he has plans to set-up an organization of gas exporting countries in South America in order to expand his influence. It’s noteworthy that technical guidance for that project comes from Russia’s Gazprom. Also, his oil market plans might explain the need for a shiny new submarine fleet.
Seeding militant socialism in our backyard threatens US trade and security. Imagine, Chavez could create proxies to do what Iran has done to Israel and the U.S. in Iraq by fostering Hezbollah-like groups. Instead of advancing radical Islam, Chavez’s cadre could advance a form of anti-US socialism that seeks to disrupt US markets and security by easily infiltrating proxies across our porous border.
Chavez is a serious threat. It’s past time the US government embrace a policy that counters him before he becomes a nuclear power with ballistic missiles and forms violent proxies.
|Mr. Maginnis is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, a national security and foreign affairs analyst for radio and television and a senior strategist with the U.S. Army. |