Kevin Sullivan makes a good observation:
Hugo Chavez also failed to make himself of strategic value to the United States, and instead made it his business to thumb his nose at an American regional strategy still very much influenced by a Cold War frame of reference. He repeatedly touched — nay, bear-hugged — the third rail of U.S. Latin America policy, Cuba, and built a national identity around resisting so-called American imperialism. Though his boosters would have us believe that he was punished and isolated for “speaking truth to power” — which, by the way, he most certainly did not — his real crime was simply speaking in the first place. Had he stayed quiet and kept the oil spigot open, his economic mismanagement and undemocratic tendencies may have been overlooked by Washington.
One of the other reasons why many American hawks chose to obsess over Venezuela and the threat it supposedly posed to the U.S. was that Chavez liked to identify himself with virtually every other pariah state around the world. This was part of his posturing as an anti-American leader, and it involved some Venezuelan support for other authoritarian states, but the importance of these connections was frequently blown out of proportion in the same way that Chavez’s importance in the hemisphere was. Years before his death, Chavez’s influence in the region was on the wane, and he had been passed by a more successful cadre of elected leftist leaders in other countries that addressed many of the same social and economic problems without the abuse of power, corruption, and epic mismanagement. Chavez fed off of the undue, largely hostile attention that Americans paid to him, and he ended up acquiring more fame than he would have been able to do on his own. The fact that so many Americans were so preoccupied with and in some cases actually frightened of him probably amused him to no end and gave him some unneeded encouragement. The obsession with him demonstrated how easily many Americans can be goaded into imagining that mostly irrelevant, clownish leaders pose a threat to us simply because they make long-winded speeches attacking our government. The greatest trick Chavez ever managed to play on Americans was that he convinced many of us that he mattered to us.
Sullivan was responding in his post to a recent comment from Jeffrey Goldberg, who once again completely misrepresented something that Stephen Walt said in order to attack him. Walt wrote:
I was no fan of Chavez, but excess attn he got was mostly because USGov exaggerates importance of anyone who defies Washington.
— Stephen Walt (@StephenWalt) March 6, 2013
Goldberg then completely distorts this to make it sound as if Walt said that the U.S. exaggerated Chavez’s “faults” as a ruler:
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) March 6, 2013
Walt clearly said nothing of the sort. You’ll notice that Goldberg ignores that Walt was referring to Chavez’s importance, and effectively accuses him of trying to minimize Chavez’s bad record on human rights, which Walt obviously did not do. Walt was making the abbreviated form of the argument I just made.