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Santorum’s Venezuelan Fears Live On in Romney

Inevitably, Mitt Romney had to join in denouncingObama’s Venezuela remarks. At the end of a litany of Chavez’s misdeeds, Romney says:

And he [Chavez] is seeking to lead -– together with the Castros -– a destabilizing, anti-democratic, and anti-American ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ across Latin America. President Obama’s remarks continue a pattern of weakness in his foreign policy, one that has emboldened adversaries and diminished U.S. influence in every region of the world.

Yes, Chavez has a few other governments in Latin America aligned with him in his ALBA group, but for the most part Venezuela’s influence has been diminishing in the region. If you look at the membership of ALBA, which includes such major powers as Dominica and Nicaragua, this is hardly a regional juggernaut. Perversely, the deposition of Paraguay’s president has provided Chavez and his allies with a new opportunity to make some waves, but these governments simply don’t matter as much as Romney and Rubio want us to believe.

Since Romney has raised the issue of projecting weakness, it’s worth saying a bit more about this. Does it project strength when leading American politicians are so unduly alarmed by a minor regional state that poses virtually no threat to the United States? It doesn’t seem to do that. It conveys to the world the impression that American politicians on the national stage are deeply worried about a state as weak and insignificant as Venezuela. Is such a minor government more likely to be encouraged in its ambitions by being dismissed correctly as mostly irrelevant, or is it going to feed off of public antagonism and vilification by U.S. politicians?

I have drawn attention to Rick Santorum’s obsession with the Venezuelan “threat” over the years because it always seemed a good indication of just how willing he was to overstate foreign threats. The Venezuelan fixation used to be his personal pet cause, but that is no longer the case. Unfortunately, Santorum was simply a few years ahead of the rest of his party. It has apparently become something of an article of faith now among Republicans that Venezuela is a major threat to America, so much so that the presidential nominee feels compelled to echo this view. The only problem for the GOP is that this is a preposterous view to hold.

Update: Florida Republican Senate candidate Rep. Connie Mack joins the pile-on:

Hugo Chavez is a man who has spread anti-American hatred around the globe and has formed partnerships with countries that hate the United States, like Iran and Syria. He has been deeply engaged in supporting narco-terrorists who advance his interests. He has crushed opposition at home, seeking to model the internal workings of Venezuela on the Cuban revolution. His close friendship with Fidel Castro is legendary. And he has worked closely with the Castro brothers in subverting American policy and undermining freedom and democracy across Latin America.

Everything Mack says here is more or less true, and none of it contradicts what Obama said. Obama said that Chavez has not had a “serious impact” on American national security. That’s obviously correct. Chavez is a populist authoritarian with ties to unfriendly states, and he has an interesting in exporting his brand of left-populism to other countries, but that doesn’t mean that he has had much of an impact of American security. The Republican position on Venezuela seems to be the following: “Chavez is unfriendly, has ties to unfriendly governments, and abuses his power at home, therefore Chavez is a massive threat.” That position doesn’t make any sense.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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