For years, George Bush was proclaimed by media pundits and Democrats as the source of our unpopularity around the world. Barack Obama would be a fresh start and his elections promised to restore America’s image-and influence, if not power-around the world. This became an idée fixe during the campaign and prompted many Americans to extend their support to him.
Reality has now intruded on this mirage. Not only has Barack Obama been upbraided by the Iranian mullahs-who have already laid out conditions that they insist on before deigning to talk with Obama- but now Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, has come out swinging: In an interview shown in the past week on the Spanish-language network Univision, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama said that Venezuela's firebrand president, Hugo Chávez, has hindered progress in Latin America, and he expressed concern that Chávez's leftist government has assisted Colombia's biggest guerrilla movement, a group the United States considers a terrorist organization. Chávez responded this weekend by saying that Obama had "the same stench" as President Bush, a frequent target of Chávez's remarks.
"There is still time" for Obama to correct his views, the Venezuelan leader said, but he added: "No one should say that I threw the first stone at Obama. He threw it at me."
The Venezuelan leader said that Obama is following orders from dark forces inside "the empire," as he refers to the United States. "If he doesn't obey the orders of the empire, they'll kill him," Chávez said, without offering details or proof.
I am perpetually surprised that foreign policy “experts” routinely seem to ignore one of the central facts of history. Demagogues have always needed to create imaginary enemies to bolster their own rule; they have found anger as much of a political force as hope and they have tapped into the collective “id” of their populations to justify their own rule and policies.
The election of Barack Obama will not be a panacea for our foreign relations and hope that it will be so is entirely misplaced. Lord Palmerston said it best and I paraphrase: nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests. . When these interests collide-as they always will, or should, between demagogues and democrats-conflict is generated. This is especially true between terror-supporting nations and a nation that prides itself as being the world’s policeman.