February 5, 2006

Just how far does Chavez really want to push the envelope?

Is Chavez's vociferous anti-americanism just rhetoric, or is he willing to take steps that really do create a strategic problem for the US? At this point, it's not at all clear...

For the most part, por ahora, Chavez has been careful to confine his anti-gringo stance to the rhetorical level. Making grand sounding anti-imperialist speeches is a safe way to get the rebel aura Chavez so clearly craves. But aside from discoursive fulminations, he hasn't really taken steps that would create serious problems for the US. So is Chavez's anti-americanism all lip? Or is he going to put some meat on the bones of the discourse?

The reason I'm fascinated by Hamas's tour of Latin America is that I think it'll force Chavez to answer these questions. Funding Hamas is not like bankrolling Fidel, that troublesome but ultimately unthreatening Cold War museum piece. Funding Hamas would create a serious problem for the US in the most difficult area of its foreign policy. My sense is that giving money to Hamas would bump Chavez up from the rank of nuisance to that of actual problem for the state department. Is this what he really wants, or was the strategy all along to go for the international public relations boost attached to the status of "Bush's No. 1 foe in Latin America" without incurring any of the risks? His position on Hamas will go a long ways to clarifying that question...

You get a sense for just how hairy this issue is from this press release:
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is urging the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela to bar a delegation of Hamas leaders, who Venezuelan Vice President, Jose Vicente Rangell, said were planning to tour Latin America.

In letters to the Ambassadors of the four nations in Washington, D.C., Wiesenthal Center founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier and associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said, “We urge your government to bar such a visit of representatives of an avowed terrorist organization that dispatches suicide bombers against civilian targets and openly calls for the destruction of the State of Israel….”

They continued, “Further, Hamas’ charter at its core is openly antisemitic and states in part: ‘There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time…. [The Jews] …were behind World War I, World War II… There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it….’ The Charter goes on to declare Zionism to be ‘behind the drug trade and alcoholism in all its kinds.’”

Rabbis Hier and Cooper concluded, “Those committed to peace in the Middle East will help further this goal by standing in solidarity against Hamas unless and until it disavows its terrorist and genocidal agenda.”