Nineteenth century British statesmen believed that the national interest should drive all government policy. Twenty-first century America has no sense of a national interest and therefore has no energy policy, no industrial policy, no immigration policy, and no foreign policy. Maladroit Bush Administration global meddling has empowered the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, created a terrorist threat in Iraq where none existed before, and alienated nearly all of America’s traditional allies. Latin America has been somewhat off the screen but even the somnolent might have noticed that leaders who are highly critical of the United States have emerged in six countries over the past three years. Much of this derives from the impression that the US only desires partners in the hemisphere who are willing to accept Washington’s dominance, a proposition that no one outside of Colombia is buying.
The most irritating South American leader continues to be the thuglike Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, but Chavez, who lost a referendum to perpetuate his power last December, has many political opponents within his own country. Like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, he relies on threats and other blunders by the United States to legitimize and empower himself. Case in point, the US Congress is now considering a motion by Florida Republican congressmen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Connie Mack to declare Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism. Ros-Lehtinen and Mack are closely linked to the Cuban exile community in Florida. Cuban exiles hate Venezuela because it supports the communist regime in Cuba, which makes punishing Venezuela a priority for congress even though the American public can only lose if Chavez retaliates and blocks all oil sales to the US, driving the price of gasoline up by at least ten per cent. Venezuela is rallying behind Chavez because the terrorist label is an affront to national dignity that also bears serious legal and economic consequences. The Venezuelan state oil company Citgo will be hurt initially because its major refineries are in Texas, but it will eventually find new markets for its oil, probably in China.
The State Department is reported to be dragging its feet on the terrorism supporter designation because of the potential damage to the US economy and also because there is no real case against Chavez. The Venezuelan president has played fast and loose with the Colombian terrorist group FARC but there is no actual evidence that he has given them any money or other tangible support. His dabbling with terrorism has also made him somewhat unpopular in Venezuela, but as soon as the gringos began to make threats his popularity rating markedly improved.
Ros-Lehtinen and Mack are willing to sacrifice the US national interest, which is to keep the oil flowing, to appease their own political supporters, many of whom are so fixated on Cuba that they forget where they currently reside. Where have we heard this sort of thing before? The Armenian and Israeli lobbies come immediately to mind. Hyphenated Americans who have dual citizenship or are otherwise passionately attached to another country should opt to live in that other country or leave their transnational baggage back in their former home where it belongs. Our politicians should be intelligent and patriotic enough to ignore those who want the United States to fight their wars for them. Alas, intelligence and patriotism are not in great supply these days.