There is an unwritten rule that Americans, while abroad, should not criticize their president. It is unfortunate that the current president does not have the same consideration for his countrymen when representing them in his travels overseas. How else, then, to explain his affectionate and enthusiastic handshake for Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad?
The president acted as a prop for a hardened, America-hating dictator. His propaganda photo with the dictator sent Chavez's book soaring to the top of the Amazon.com sales list. If only it were an isolated incident. President Obama has shown himself too eager to please despots while abroad, as evidenced by his deep bow to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah at the recent G-20 meetings in London. He lately has spent a lot of time and effort reaching out to leaders and governments with a history of hatred toward the United States, including the aged Castro brothers and other thugs like Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Fidel and brother Raul, having wreaked ruin on their country for the past five decades, are minor nuisances at this point, but Obama’s would-be pen pal Ahmadinejad is busy trying to develop a nuclear arsenal that would lend chilling credence to his professed desire to wipe Israel off the map.
The Chavez handshake is of a piece with the president’s continuing effort to apologize for America’s transgressions, as defined by his hard-Left base and most of Western Europe. By expressing his desire to press the “reset” button, Mr. Obama hopes to wipe the slate clean and create a fresh start with every nation we may have offended in any way—including North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. The president has expressed similar penance for each and every Muslin nation that, according to Mr. Obama, we have failed to treat with sufficient sensitivity and understanding of their religion and culture. Our disrespect for their way of life, the president has intimated, is the chief cause of the rift between the Muslim world and the West.
Part of that “reset” effort, the apologies, the urgency to please, is an extension of the new administration’s renunciation of the previous one. Obama has missed no opportunity to take overt potshots at his predecessor, from his inauguration speech to the present. Chavez seemed only too pleased to create a feel-good moment with Mr. Obama, unlike his treatment of President Bush, calling him a “devil” and abusing the hospitality of his host country while delivering an insane diatribe to the United Nations. (Chavez held aloft a book on imperialism by Noam Chomsky while making his remarks.)
At a press conference following his UN screed, these were the words of the man whose grip Obama returned with such gusto: “The United States empire is on the way down and it will be finished in the near future, for the good of all mankind.” Perhaps these words don’t sound especially harsh to a man who sat for 20 years in a church that spews racist lunacy.
To be sure, the United States must work to develop and maintain the trust of a Latin America in which democracy has endured only in fits and starts, a region that has featured dictators and unstable governments for so many decades. Chavez is none of those things; he is a bully and a hoodlum who has cemented his position as dictator-for-life.
It should come as no surprise that the administration is anxious to disavow previous foreign policy as wrongheaded and ineffective. This administration is confident in this effort because it considers itself more enlightened than perhaps any of its predecessors since FDR. The same attitude pervades Obama’s policies in general: most of what came before him should be swept aside and government must be refashioned to his worldview. But his vision of a government of unprecedented size and power over its citizens, an experiment in social engineering and wealth redistribution, is quickly wearing thin.
The more immediate problem facing the country is the damage that can be done before Americans come to their senses. Foreign relations is a principal area in which the harm created can long outlast the politicians responsible for it. By giving Hugo Chavez a propaganda photo, Obama has sent a signal to Latin America that we will make no distinctions in the region between tyrants and democrats who support human rights.