Barack Obama : the president as spectator to the world’s democratic uprisings

Obama mouth taped shutFrom the time he hit the campaign trail in 2007, Barack Obama made it plain that he considered America to be too big for her britches when it comes to international matters.  Looking at imperfect nations, you could see him mentally scolding America — “Haven’t you done enough already?” — for bringing so much pain and suffering to the rest of the world.

In the years since his election, Obama has reacted strongly to only three international issues:  climate change, gay rights, and Libya.  The first two are pet issues of the Left.  As for Obama’s enthusiasm about invading Libya . . . well, that continues to mystify me.  Obama’s silence has been most pointed and damaging when it comes to naturally occurring democratic movements within a despotic state.

It’s one thing (usually a stupid thing) for America to waltz in and take out a tyrant; it’s another thing entirely when the nation’s own citizens are yearning to be free, and are willing to face their own government’s guns to gain that freedom.  Under those circumstances, every person who believes in individual liberty should speak up — especially the president of the nation that has long represented itself as the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Obama, however, will not speak.

When brave Iranians challenged the mullahs, Obama was silent.  The mullahs tightened their hold.

When the Muslim Brotherhood filled the power vacuum in Egypt, Obama was silent.  A year of repression ensued.

When brave Egyptians challenged the Muslim Brotherhood, Obama was silent.  The country is now once again under a military dictatorship.

When brave Syrians challenged the tyrannical Assad regime, Obama was silent.  Had he spoken up sooner, a violent, bloody civil war — violent and bloody even by civil war standards — might have been avoided.  When the civil war took a chemical turn, Obama spoke up, only to retreat quickly when called to make good on his words.

When brave Turks challenged Erdogan’s increasingly totalitarian, Islamist rule, Obama was silent.

Today, Obama continues this familiar pattern.  Ukrainian citizens, horrified at the realization that their government is trying once against to drag them back into the Soviet orbit (we know how well that went for them in the 1930s and beyond) are battling in the streets.  Obama is silent.

And in Venezuela, citizens worn down by the repression and poverty of Chavez’s and Maduro’s hard-core socialism are rising up in the streets.  Obama is silent.

Since WWII, people around the world knew that if they sought freedom and called upon America for help, America would help.  Sometimes the help was military, sometimes financial, and sometimes it was moral.

This aid wasn’t for America’s benefit — at least it wasn’t directly for America’s benefit.  To the extent that democracies tend to be the most peaceful form of governments, it was always to America’s benefit to encourage democratic governments around the world.  Nevertheless, America’s first motive was often altruistic.  Because we were the world’s most powerful free nation, we believed that we had a moral obligation to wield that power beneficently.  Sometimes America’s road to Hell has been paved with those good intentions, but our craven retreats from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have all revealed that the post-American vacuum is often infinitely worse than the American occupation.

We’ve learned from our experiments in Iraq and, especially, in Afghanistan, that countries that have always had dictatorships, especially tribal and/or theocratic dictatorships, do not benefit from removing the existing dictator, because another one will always come along.  I therefore wouldn’t recommend interceding directly in a Muslim country ever again. Instead, we should be doing what Saudi Arabia did for Wahhabism:  establishing and funding institutions throughout the Muslim world that are dedicated to teaching the principles of freedom.  This generation may be lost, but perhaps we can save the next one and, along the way, save ourselves too.

Things are different, though, when the cry for freedom (or at least for less tyranny) originates within a country.  Had Obama immediately given moral support to internally grown democratic movements in Iran, Egypt, and Syria, he might have been able to turn the tide.  American moral support in Venezuela and Turkey would have fallen on especially fertile soil, because both are countries that have known some form of democracy.

Obama, however, considers that there is no such thing as beneficent American power.  To him, America’s strength is, by definition, malignant and destructive.  He truly believes that the Iranians are better off under the mullahs, the Egyptians under the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrians under Assad, the Turks under Erdogan, the Ukrainians under Putin, and the Venezuelans under Maduro.  Judging by his complicit silence, there is no tyranny worse than that of being behold to the United States.


A slight biased obituary for Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez, the former tank commander who turned the Venezuelan presidency into a lifetime post from which he could spew his anti-American, antisemitic venom, all the while sending Venezuelan’s oil supply to the world’s bad actors, died today after a long battle with cancer. It remains to be seen whether the Venezuelan people will end up saddled with someone even worse or whether his death will end the country’s unpleasant socialist interlude.

Chavez was born in 1954 in Sabaneta, Venezuela, the second of six sons. His father was a schoolteacher who was closely involved with Copei, the conservative Christian Democratic Party. Chavez’s mother was the more powerful figure in this poverty-stricken family, and she had a very fraught, unhappy relationship with her son. Eventually, Chavez and his older brother ended up living with their grandmother, who filled his head with stories about a distant ancestor who was the Robin Hood of the poor Barinas region in which Chavez grew up.

Another childhood inspiration for Chavez was Simon Bolivar, the 19th century patriot who helped liberate six Latin America countries, including Venezuela, from Spain. Indeed, when Chavez first became president, he changed Venezuela’s official name to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

As a child, Chavez was a gifted baseball player, and his youthful dream to play in America. In fact, he joined the Venezuelan military because an army recruiter told him it was a good pathway to Major League Baseball.

The military suited Chavez. In 1975, he graduated near the top of his class, entering a tank division. It was while he was in the army that the oil boom that had brought so much money to Venezuela went bust. Seizing upon the resulting civilian discontent, would-be revolutionaries infiltrated the Venezuelan military in the hopes of fomenting a Leftist military coup.

Chavez, despite his father’s conservative politics, had swung to the Left. By 1983, he was forming secret cell’s with like-minded military officers. These officers were dismayed when, in 1989, then-president Carlos Andres Perez enacted pro-market reforms. These reforms, however, were followed by a fuel price increase that caused wide-spread looting in Caracas. Within the army, many, including Chavez, believed that Venezuela could be saved only with strong, preferably military, leadership.

In 1989, Chavez exploded onto the national stage when he led army units in an attack on the Presidential palace. The attack failed, leading to Mr. Chavez’s first television appearance. He went on the air to persuade fellow rebels to surrender. His was a “no apologies” approach, as he confidently assured the viewing public that his coup had failed “for now.”

In the wake of the coup attempt, Chavez was sent to prison, but his sentence was commuted in 1994. Upon his release, Venezuelans craving a strong alternative to Venezuela’s famously corrupt government, flocked to him. Chavez, meanwhile, looked to Castro for guidance, while Castro looked to Chavez as a useful puppet to have on mainland Latin America.

When Chavez ran for president in 1998, he won by a landslide. One of his first acts was to call for a constitutional election so that he could run for a second term — and run he did, with a second election win.

Once in power, Chavez doubled down on class warfare and on efforts to expand government into every region of life in Venezuela. Middle-class Venezuelans were sufficiently worried that, by April 2002, they staged a massive demonstration against him. The army refused to shoot the rioters, forcing Chavez to resign. His resignation lasted a mere 48 hours before his supporters from the barrios staged a counter-demonstration that swept him right back into office.

Having resumed power, Chavez purged military ranks and went about breaking the back of his country’s other power center — oil. He succeeded in doing so, but at terrible cost. After he fired 19,000 oil company employees, Venezuela was never again able to return to its former peak oil production. Rising oil prices over the last few years, however, helped offset the decrease in production and kept money flowing into Chavez’s pockets. With this cash flow, Chavez was able to get returned to office two more times. He died during his fourth term in office.

On the national stage, Chavez became a thorn in the flesh of freedom-loving people at home and abroad. At home, he achieved a half-socialist, half-fascist rule, insofar as he nationalized some businesses, while leaving others in private hands but under government control. His policies resulted in devastating inflation and huge foreign debt. Eventually, the only profit center in the country was oil (and, as noted above, Chavez’s policies meant less production of this vital asset).

Chavez’s greatest achievement, and the one that saw him become so popular despite the damage he caused to the economy and civil liberties, was to enfranchise thousands of Venezuela’s poorest, while at the same providing them socialized education, health care, and welfare programs. Typically for such programs, while they looked good, and enticed voters, the net effect was negligible. Crime rose and individual wealth fell. The poor had slightly more education and health care, but much less money and more crime-ridden communities.

Chavez’s (not Venezuela’s, but Chavez’s) two greatest enemies were America and the Jews. He enjoyed hobnobbing on the world stage with some of the world’s worst actors (Libya’s Gadhafi, Iran’s Ahmadinejad, Cuba’s Castro, and Syria’s Assad) in significant part because he felt it gave him a power base from which to challenge the United States’ influence over Latin America. He also tried to create a strong Leftist coalition within Latin America itself, by strengthening ties with Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. One U.S. diplomat called this Chavez’s “Axis of Annoyance.”

Venezuela’s Jews did not fare well during Chavez’s rule. His populist Leftism included fomenting tried-and-true class- and economic-based attacks against Jews.

Once Chavez realized that there was no medicine in Cuba or Brazil that would cure, or even slow, his cancer, he made it clear that he intended Nicolas Maduro to become his political heir. In the upcoming election, Maduro will almost certainly face off against opposition governor Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in last October’s president’s election, but did manage to hold on to his governor’s seat. It remains to be seen whether Chavez’s popularity will rub off on Madura, or if Capriles will be able to break this regime’s hold on the office.

(This post was first published at Mr. Conservative.)