Iran and Venezuela: A Dangerous Alliance
If Iran does not already have nuclear weapons, it is getting very close. There is substantial dispute over how much notice there might be of Iran's actual production of a nuclear weapon capable of missile delivery. It is the position of the United States that there will be substantial warning, yet Israel thinks there will be very little:
"We’re all looking at the same set of facts," one senior Israeli intelligence official said on a recent visit to Washington, talking about the exchanges with Mr. Obama’s national security team. "We are interpreting them quite differently than the White House does."
In the past, Israel has been more perceptive in this area than has been the United States.
Venezuela and Iran have been allies for quite some time, and their relationship has become more intimate. Venezuela recently agreed to provide 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day to Iran. This seems a bit odd; Venezuela has been importing gasoline due to difficulties experienced with its state-run refineries and oil fields and is considering an increase in the (extremely low, subsidized) domestic price of gasoline. According to Venezuelan President Chávez:
[Payment for the gasoline] will be deposited in a fund established in Iran and will serve to finance the purchase of equipment and technology.
Venezuela is also thinking seriously about establishing nuclear facilities:
According to PressTV, a Tehran-based, English-language television channel, Chavez also said Venezuela is working on a plan for a “nuclear zone” in Venezuela, with Iranian assistance.
This, in the context of a declaration by Iranian President Ahmadinejad that "Iran and Venezuela share the important mission of helping oppressed, revolutionary nations and of extending the anti-imperialist front across the planet." From the standpoint of the folks living in the United States and in Latin America, Venezuela with an atomic bomb would be worse than Iran with an atomic bomb. Venezuela hardly needs nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes. Neither does Iran.
In a lengthy article, Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau expressed substantial concern over current strengthening of the Iran-Venezuela alliance, noting that the two countries have grown increasingly close in recent years. The article deals principally with banking and the probable use of Venezuelan banks to launder money from Iran to facilitate Iranian importation of proscribed materials and technology. This problem relates to the banking relations which persist between Venezuela and the United States. However, the article also notes:
My office has learned that over the past three years, a number of Iranian-owned and controlled factories have sprung up in remote and undeveloped parts of Venezuela. These factories have emerged in small towns in interior Venezuela with a lack of basic infrastructure and simple amenities like restaurants and groceries. The lack of infrastructure is offset by what experts believe to be ideal geographic locations for the illicit production of weapons.
The article is scary and should throw into question the recent efforts directed by the United States at appeasing both countries. The hands-off approach of the Obama administration during the recent brutally suppressed and now dying protests against the Iranian reelection of Ahmadinejad and the decidedly hands-on and highly intrusive approach to the so-called coup in Honduras are examples of this appeasement. It appears to be completely irrelevant how free, open, and transparent the scheduled November Honduran elections will be. There appears to have been no softening of the United States position that the results of the elections will not be recognized unless Zelaya is returned to power.
Thus far, the Obama administration has been reasonably supportive of the Colombian government, much to the disgruntlement of Chávez. The United States has also been supportive of Brazil, providing funds for the development of her quite substantial oil fields which may in a few years supplant those of Venezuela -- which have deteriorated substantially under government control. Brazilian oil fields may well surpass those of Venezuela. In Brazil, "the part-public, part-private Petrobras will, with foreign partners, produce 5.7m barrels of oil and gas a day more than double the output of Venezuela." These are good things and have niggled a bit at Chávez's efforts to dominate Latin America. More, not less, needs to be done in this direction. For a start, perhaps the United States could exploit her own vast but untapped oil reserves. To have any significant effect this would obviously require some new oil refineries. "The last new domestic refinery was started up in 1976." Not particularly "green," but that seems to be more an ideological than a practical issue.
The reception of Chávez in Venice as an idol worthy of worldwide adulation -- by journalists as well as by celebrities -- was disgusting. Chávez attended the premier performance of Oliver Stone's new motion picture South of the Border, a glowing hagiography of Chávez. "Stone told reporters that Europe and the world in general need 'dozens of Hugo Chávezes,' that is to say leaders who fulfill their promises." Stone also said, probably with a straight face:
"If you go to Venezuela, 80 or almost 90 percent of the media are against Chavez. They say very harsh things about him and he allows it, he doesn't punish those people and they are still there," while -- for example -- in the United States, "that could not happen."
Wow. Obviously, the Brazilian senate was off base on September 2 in censuring Chávez for "reducing the freedom of the press, one of the main features of democratic governments."
Stone's adulation to the contrary withstanding, there is little if anything to be gained by trying to make friends with Chávez or Ahmadinejad -- they already have too many -- and there is much to lose. Both countries are extraordinarily repressive of their people, and both want their repressive examples to metastasize.
As noted here, the abandonment of Honduras and the demand that she accept reinstatement of Zelaya are likely to give the United States a black eye in those Latin American countries not already in pervasive symbiotic relations with Chávez. It is likely to diminish any lingering hopes that the United States will materially assist them in rebuffing Venezuelan efforts to assert dominion. In the process, should Chávez become stronger internationally, his very substantial domestic problems in Venezuela can to that extent be suppressed.
The United States has shown herself to be anything but a supporter of freedom and the democratic process by her stand on Iran. Her stance with respect to Honduras is worse. Her current posture with respect to Israel vis a vis the Palestinians is delusional and also leaves much to be desired. The current United States position on such matters may well be consistent with President Obama's worldview, but it seems antithetical to the worldview of most United States citizens.
The second President Roosevelt, FDR, is said to have regarded Joseph Stalin as rather like a U.S. senator who could be bought by spending money in his state. FDR was mistaken; President Truman caught on to Stalin rather quickly and got rid of many of the left-leaning advisors of his predecessor. Whatever happened to the Truman Doctrine, supportive of democracy and freedom? President Obama has appeared to search high and low for more left-leaning advisors, whose positions he appears to advance with great relish. The most recent was Van Jones, who resigned under public scrutiny as his "green czar." President Obama has others who could perhaps be characterized accurately as "red czars." There are more than a few.
If the United States is to regain her status as a world power, she needs to remember her roots. Even if she is not to regain that status, she must remember her roots and act in accordance with them. She has a constitution, and to the extent that she ignores it she disgraces those roots.
Trying to make friends with Chávez, Ahmadinejad et al will not succeed unless the people of the United States become willing to accept their views on freedom and democracy. With the exception of a small but significant minority in the United States, that seems unlikely. I think, and certainly hope, that as the vast majority in the United States come to realize what is in store for them should the present domestic and international policies of the Obama administration continue, there will be an expanding realization that a far different path than the present one must be followed.