Well, that Stratfor article I reprinted has vcrisis up in arms. Alek indulges his tendency to look for the fifth leg on the cat, suggesting only a conflict of interest could explain Friedman's piece. John Sweeney, in a delightfully spiteful little hatchet job on his old boss, takes a different tack, claiming Friedman doesn't know what he's talking about and that Chavez does represent a security threat to the US via the Iranian/North Korean connection.
Alek argues, correctly, that Chavez has never placed commercial interests at the top of his agenda. This is true, as far as it goes, but misses the point: what Chavez does place at the top of his agenda is staying in power, and he can only stay in power by spending oil dollars hand-over-fist. But Chavez can only affect US energy interests by exiting the oil market entirely. Doing so would mean foregoing the revenue stream that keeps him in power. Much of the point of Friedman's piece is that this will never ever happen.
John Sweeney comes at it from a different angle. Friedman argues that "Latin American countries in general are of interest to Washington, in a strategic sense, only when they are being used by a major outside power that threatens the United States or its interests." Sweeney retorts that if Friedman wasn't so damn ignorant, he would realize that this is precisely what's happening, via the Iran/North Korea connection.
Sweeney says that Iran and Venezuela signed a secret treaty for nuclear cooperation last year, and adds that Iranian and Cuban geologists are already prospecting Bolivar state for uranium deposits. He says there are secret negotiations underway with North Korea for conventional weapons purchases, and that 100 to 120 North Korean Special Force agents are in Venezuela conducting training on asymetrical warfare. He also charges that Venezuela is currently discretely seeking "one or two nuclear warheads" through these ties.
If these things are really happening, then Venezuela would certainly become a top-tier security threat for the US. The problem, though, is that all we have to go on is John Sweeney's say-so. No documents, no details of the operations, no specifics, not much really. This doesn't mean this stuff isn't going on, it just means that the story can't possibly get any traction if it's this abstract.
Still, the possibilities are intriguing. If Venezuela is really pursuing these avenues, the US will eventually find out. And if that happens, Venezuela will rocket to the top of its geopolitical worry-list. There's just no way the Americans would allow a nuclear armed opponent in the Western Hemisphere. What now seem like oceans of BS about asymmetrical warfare could become very very real indeed. But if this is the game we're playing, we need proof, we need a solid, documented case out in the public domain. Incendiary accusations alone sure won't do it...