Obama Charm Not Working So Far on World’s Despots
If you thought that merely replacing one American president who spent eight years trying to bend the world to his will with one talking the good game of peace and cooperation would get foreign leaders to stop acting crazy you were wrong.
Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong-Il, Ayatollah Khamenei, Vladmir Putin — they’re all still idiots who hate America because we’re America. It doesn’t matter that the American people sent a message to the world with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. That message could be divined around the world as “Hey, we’re really sorry about the whole Bush-Cheney thing. But check this new guy out, you can work with this new guy …” Instead, we get Putin’s Russia testing the Monroe Doctrine, North Korea taking U.S. journalists hostage, Chavez calling Obama and “ignoramus,” and Iran’s Supreme Leader greeting Obama’s extended hand with the back of his own.
Two of these instances occurred just this weekend. Yesterday, in response to Obama’s conciliatory YouTube message directed at the Iranian People, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had this to say, according to the LA Times:
“We do not have any record of the new U.S. president,” he said in a live television broadcast. “We are observing, watching and judging. If you change, we will also change our behavior. If you do not change, we will be the same nation as 30 years ago.”
The crowd chanted, “God is great! Khamenei is the leader!”
As he spoke, Khamenei glanced cursorily at his notes, suggesting that his words were carefully considered. His remarks were the most detailed and authoritative response by any Iranian leader to several attempts by the Obama administration to reach out to the Islamic Republic.
The White House issued a 3 1/2 -minute video message from Obama early Friday morning greeting the Iranian people and officials on the occasion of the important holiday, acknowledging three decades of strained relations with America and offering a new beginning.
Iranian officials quickly responded by welcoming the address but voicing skepticism about its sincerity. On Saturday, Khamenei recited a list of grievances against the U.S. over the last three decades, including the 1988 downing of an Iranian civilian plane by a U.S. warship in the Persian Gulf, the freezing of Iranian assets, and strong support for Israel and armed Iranian opposition groups.
“They are talking of extending a hand to Iran on the occasion of the New Year and they are congratulating the Iranian people,” he said. “At the same time, they are accusing [Iran] of terrorism and the manufacturing of nuclear weapons.”
And then there’s Chavez. If you want to witness a real hoot, check out The Hugo Chavez Show, a PBS Frontline Documentary. Chavez is this era’s stereotypical Central/South American meglomaniacal, self-absorbed dictator. Today, Chavez unloaded on an American president and it wasn’t GW Bush – from Reuters:
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama was at best an “ignoramus” for saying the socialist leader exported terrorism and obstructed progress in Latin America.
“He goes and accuses me of exporting terrorism: the least I can say is that he’s a poor ignoramus; he should read and study a little to understand reality,” said Chavez, who heads a group of left-wing Latin American leaders opposed to the U.S. influence in the region.
Chavez said Obama’s comments had made him change his mind about sending a new ambassador to Washington, after he withdrew the previous envoy in a dispute last year with the Bush administration in which he also expelled the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela.
“When I saw Obama saying what he said, I put the decision back in the drawer; let’s wait and see,” Chavez said on his weekly television show, adding he had wanted to send a new ambassador to improve relations with the United States after the departure of George W. Bush as president.
In a January interview with Spanish-language U.S. network Univision, Obama said Chavez had hindered progress in Latin America, accusing him of exporting terrorist activities and supporting Colombian guerrillas.
“My, what ignorance; the real obstacle to development in Latin America has been the empire that you today preside over,” said Chavez, who is a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy.
In both cases – Iran and Venezuela – you have leaders who are faced with difficult and structural economic problems and who rely on the price of oil being in the $75 per barrel range to make their countries’s economic engines run. Both fancy themselves the leaders of “revolutions.” What they’re most worried about is the next revolution that may sweep them from power. There is also, however, an element of truth in what both leaders say. U.S. meddling in Iranian internal politics in the 1950s led to nearly 30 years of repression under the American-friendly Shah Reza Pahlavi. U.S. government and corporate meddling in the internal state affairs of countries large and small in Central and South America has a storied history. Chavez, largely due to the largess of Venezuela’s oil wealth and his big mouth, is now seen throughout the region as the newest Fidel or Che.
From the time of Jimmy Carter on, the United States has had the chance to set things straight with the developing world, once our covert operations playground. Old habits have been hard to break, though. Just when we put together a good string of time without getting ourselves caught trying to kill some foreign leader or destabilize a country, we do get caught. We won’t – meaning Barack Obama won’t – live this down until U.S. foreign policy delivers on the promise of the extended hand over the long run.
And, oh, by the way. There will be some leaders we won’t be able to deal with because they’re idiots. Chavez and some others fall into this category. Their own power comes before anything else and they’ll lubricate their masses with American hate rhetoric as long as it takes the target off of them.