Thursday, April 18, 2002

Well, it's not a great week for defenders of Bush foreign policy.

Let's start with Venezuela, where the administration is desperately trying to spin its early support for a failed military coup against elected president Hugo Chavez. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been all over this, and particularly the close involvement of Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Otto Reich, who was dialing up the coup leaders within a day or two after, possibly within hours, depending on which administration spin you believe.

The Bush administration's corner in the blogosphere is busily spinning that the coup was a good thing, and its overthrow, and the return of the "dictatorial" Chavez a bad thing. The OAS, an organization not notably fond of Chavez's policies, gives him pretty good marks on human rights and governance issues, and endorsed his election. But this piece from the Idler, recipient of a coveted link from Instapundit, argues that Chavez is antidemocratic and his return to power is a tragedy based on such charges as

  • His warm relations with Fidel Castro (whose Cuban regime, the Idler fails to mention, is a major trading partner)
  • His warm relations with Colombian rebels. (The United States, of course, hasn't supported Latin American insurgents since, oh, maybe the '80s, when the Reagan administration was selling arms to Iran to get money for them, and there was an illegal propaganda shop being run in the State Department on their behalf by --- who'da thunk it --- Otto Reich)

For this, his democratic credentials are compared unfavorably with the abortive regime of Carmona, who came to power in a military coup, and whose first (and pretty much last) act in office was to dissolve the assembly and suspend the constitution. With "anti-Idiotarians" like these, who needs idiots?

Then there's the Powell trip to the Middle East. No one claims that it succeeded in its stated purpose of bringing about a reconciliation between the parties. Its failure, in fact, was so predictable that many Bush-philes say it wasn't supposed to succeed in its announced purpose, but was rather supposed to do other things.

One oft-heard claim is that the trip was meant to play for time, giving Sharon diplomatic cover to continue his operations in the territories. But diplomatic protests got ever more shrill, and the Israeli border with Lebanon kept on heating up. The best you can say on this score is that while Powell was in the region, no open war broke out.

Another line is that Powell was giving Arafat a last chance to be reasonable, in the expectation that he wouldn't, and that would clear the decks for some unspecified other option. But in Powell's press conference after the trip, he said that Arafat, among other things, "that he will now lead his people down a path to peace and reconciliation and let the international community help him." Hardly clearing the decks for a successor.

Already forgotten is Cheney's earlier trip, in which he was supposed to set the agenda for the upcoming war that everyone expects with Iraq --- and found the Arab governments setting the agenda for him.

There's more being written on all these topics, of course; for more on the Venezuela spin, and particularly on the nonsense which has been flying around for months in the Anglosphere press, see this piece from Narco News. See also this analysis of evidence of collaboration with the coup plotters going back months, and the hints (via Electrolite) that are beginning to appear that the violence which supposedly sparked the coup was staged by the plotters. And a special razz to Bush himself for asking Chavez to "embrace those institutions which are fundamental to democracy, including freedom of the press and freedom for the ability of the opposition to speak", even though the Venezuelan media themselves are embarassed by their own close cooperation with the abortive coup.

Remember we're talking here about the administration that was going to step back from the amateurism of the Clinton administration, with its utopian nation-building projects and meddling in the mideast. Now, in the mideast, it's engaged in continuous mideast shuttle diplomacy (Cheney, Zinni, Powell --- the cast changes but the show goes on), and nation-building in Afghanistan (which they say is something different, but the denial is as tortured as the worst of Bill Clinton). As to putting the grownups in charge, Bush at points last week was notoriously clueless about the policy and statements of his own administration. And then there's the Venezuela business, which seems more and more like the Mad Magazine version of a novel by John le Carré.

So far, this is all just embarassing. But a war with Iraq could make things worse in a hurry. Are we sure they know what they're doing?


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