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  • Obama and the Dictators

    Posted by David Foster on April 30th, 2009 (All posts by )

    Daniel Henninger:

    In New York this week, I asked a former Eastern European dissident who spent time in prison under the Communists: “If you were sitting in a cell in Cuba, Iran or Syria and saw this photo of a smiling American president shaking hands with a smiling Hugo Chávez, what would you think?”

    He said: “I would think that I was losing ground.”

    Monday’s WSJ carried a letter from an actual Cuban dissident, 29-year-old Luis Fernandez. Writing from Barcelona, Mr Fernandez (“I am a black Cuban and I love my land. I was expelled in 2002 from my medical studies because I was considered a dissident”) describes the sense of betrayal he feels as a result of Obama’s actions:

    I confess, it is very sad to see the president of a champion of democracy like the U.S., standing shoulder to shoulder with leftist populists like Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega. It is frustrating to see the leader of a proven democratic nation smile and shake hands with people who have no idea about democracy and have no respect for other points of view.

    It is outrageous to see the commander in chief of the U.S., who should give the example to others, sitting and chatting in a friendly way with people whose friends put innocent people in jail and who repress any attempts at free association, or any free movement. I give no benefit of the doubt to somebody like President Barack Obama. He missed a tremendous and important opportunity to tell Latin America that the U.S. does not tolerate dictators and does not support repression. He did not say once that his country does not accept the imprisonment of journalists, doctors and independent librarians just for expressing what they think.

    It does not matter to the president that the Castros have inflicted suffering, anguish and pain on millions of people for decades. For Barack Obama, Cuban living conditions, values, and honor are meaningless.

    Meryl Yourish points out that the Jewish community in Venezuela could use some encouragement and support these days…support which is certainly not provided by excessive friendliness with Mr Chavez.

    (Venezuelan) Jews not only fear the petty criminal, but being subjected to abuse because they are Jewish and identify with Israel. Today, the Jewish community is a target of a vicious campaign instigated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who compared Israel’s entry into Gaza to Nazi aggression.

    In fact, on the cover of the most recent edition of PDVSA, the monthly magazine of the Venezuelan state oil company, there is a picture of a concentration camp with a watchtower and barbed wire. Flying over the camp is an Israeli flag. The caption emblazoned across the picture reads “NUEVA ADMINISTRACION” (”under new management”).

    Meryl links Robert Avrech, who says:

    When the President of the United States warmly greets and embraces a Jew-hating tyrant, there are consequences.

    The tyrant’s cruel reign is legitimized.

    The tyrant’s Jew-hatred is legitimized.

    Those who oppose the tyrant are dealt a terrible blow.

    And of course, the lives of victims of totalitarian regimes—the unjustly imprisoned, the tortured, the murdered and the maimed—are devalued.

    Of course, there are times when the leader of a democracy must work with the leaders of a repugnant regime. Even Winston Churchill, a fervent anti-communist, found it necessary to cooperate closely with Joseph Stalin. But this was done under the pressure of the most urgent necessity, and there is no remotely similar justification for excessive friendliness with Chavez and other similar dictators. Moreover, Obama’s whole positioning of the United States–that we have an almost infinite backlog of misdeeds for which he must endlessly apologize on our behalf–gives powerful encouragement to such people.

    UPDATE: WSJ article today on the extent of anti-Semitism…specifically, government-instigated anti-Semitism…in Mr Chavez’s Venezuela.

     

    19 Responses to “Obama and the Dictators”

    1. Shannon Love Says:

      This is another example of how the narcissism of leftist blinds them to the consequences of their actions. Leftist are unable to see any perspective of an event save their own. This is why they usually ascribe the motivations and beliefs of leftist college professors to uneducated non-westerners.

      Leftist see in Obama’s friendly attitude towards these autocrats as a mature willingness to talk seriously with them. They give themselves a little pat on the back for being so willing to listen to anyone and try to talk our mutual difficulties out.

      What they don’t see is how such images play in the autocrats own countries. Seeing the autocrats treated as friendly equals sends a very different message in hierarchal culture based on patronage than it does in ours. It lets the autocrat claim that he has greater power and influence in the world than he actually does. All this reinforces his rule.

      Events that we see as minor acts by a U.S. president can set off avalaunches in other countries. Images of anti-Shah protestors outside the Whitehouse in 1978 helped trigger the Iranian revolution because Iranians assumed that Carter had allowed and therefor endorsed the protestors. Reagan’s “evil empire” comment sent shockwaves throughout Eastern Europe even though no one in West thought much of the comment.

      Leftist can never wrench themselves away from the mirror long enough to develop an understanding of how other people see the world.

    2. renminbi Says:

      This man is clearly sympathathetic to them and wishes he could do the same thing.

    3. fred lapides Says:

      We also know, as leftists, how those to the right perceived the world and what in turn the world thought of us…I would worry about a president who was unable to stand up to a dictator and this is not the case with Obama. I recall Republican leaders shaking hands and smiling at terrible tyrants. To say that Obama is sympathetic is just plain silly …and there is no proof of this whatsoever.

    4. router Says:

      To say that Obama is sympathetic is just plain silly …and there is no proof of this whatsoever.

      i see you that and raise: rev. wright and bill ayers for 20 years

    5. david foster Says:

      FL…there has indeed been too much dictator-coddling by the US, under many different administrations. But previous Presidents have done this when they believed, correctly or not, that an alliance of convenience with said dictator was required to thwart an overriding threat, in the form of Naziism, Japanese racist militarism, or Soviet expansionism.

      There is no such overriding threat that Chavez, etc are potentially helping us to thwart..indeed, regimes such as this are a *big part* of the primary security threat that we now face.

    6. Boonton Says:

      Just out of curiousity, what types of governments do China, Vietnam and even Putin’s Russia have? Were the frequent visits by previous Presidents taken by the characters here to be indicative of support for those regimes (and by visits I mean actual state visits, not simply meeting said leaders at a summit)

    7. jon Says:

      Speaking of Cuba specifically, what exactly do you think should be done? More of the same? We have had a nearly total embargo on all relations with Cuba for 47 years. Has it had any effect on the Castro regime? Does anyone see a continuation of the embargo increasing the odds of the brothers being removed from power? As far as I can see, continuing this policy will just allow the regime to point North and say it’s the fault of the US.
      I think the way to destroy the regime peacefully is with connectivity. Satellite dishes, cell phones, increased visits of Cuban-American citizens. As the Cuban people see the way their relatives have prospered in just 40 years in America, they are going to demand the same thing for themselves. These are people who arrived crafts we wouldn’t consider acceptable for lounging in a pool.

      As for leftists not seeing how their actions may be perceived overseas, I think this applies to the ideologues on both sides.

    8. Boonton Says:

      Meryl Yourish points out that the Jewish community in Venezuela could use some encouragement and support these days…support which is certainly not provided by excessive friendliness with Mr Chavez.

      I’m curious what ‘excessive friendliness’ is? Shaking hands at a summit of numerous leaders is not ‘excessive friendliness’ but proper diplomatic protocol. I suppose the right is at such a low point now that they think the default behavior at such an event should be behaving like a catty high school girl.

      Perhaps they think Obama should haved yelled ‘ewwwww’ run the other way when Chavez extended his hand or maybe he should have gotten all the ‘cool’ leaders to hog one table at the state dinner and not leave any open seats so Hugo would have to eat alone.

      The fact is whatever Venz.’s faults we are not at war with them, they have not attacked us and behaving in a dignified manner is not the mark of a person who has a crush on petty Latin American leftists but the mark of a respectable leader conducting diplomacy properly.

      And to imagine that politicial prisoners rotting away in jail cells base their hopes and fears on such trivial shows just how out of touch with reality the right has become. Did Castro’s victims enjoy the jail cells more during the 8 years “the decider” ran things?

    9. Jonathan Says:

      Speaking of Cuba specifically, what exactly do you think should be done?

      We should make any liberalization of our official relations with Cuba specifically contingent on Cuba’s 1) release of political prisoners, 2) political and economic liberalization, possibly including the holding of elections as long as these aren’t phony elections, and 3) settlement to our satisfaction of all property claims against the Cuban regime by the people and businesses (and their heirs) whose property the regime stole.

      The Cuban regime is a bunch of murderers and thieves who have become enormously wealthy by plundering their own country, which they run like a slave plantation. They will exploit any gestures on our part, and deserve no consideration beyond an official statement from us that we will consider relaxing our embargo when the regime meets our terms.

    10. Jonathan Says:

      And to imagine that politicial prisoners rotting away in jail cells base their hopes and fears on such trivial shows just how out of touch with reality the right has become.

      You don’t have a clue. Such gestures by our leaders, which you in your ignorant comfort consider trivial, are taken very seriously by not only political prisoners but also ordinary people in oppressed populations, as well as by the oppressive rulers and functionaries in such countries. We know that this is true because it is consistently what we hear from ex-dissidents and other people who have fled oppressive regimes, whether the USSR or Cuba or Iran or others. The public behavior of the American President is tremendously important, both symbolically and because it gives clues as to US policy. Obama, by showing deference to Iran’s tyrants and the thug Chavez while ignoring Iranian and Venezuelan regime opponents, has signaled clearly that his priorities do not lie with oppressed people. I’m sure that this message has already penetrated into the darkest political prisons abroad. It always does. It is you who are out of touch with reality in this regard.

    11. Boonton Says:

      So for the record then we don’t have oppressed people in China, Russia and Vietnam?

    12. Boonton Says:

      Despite Jonathan’s assurances to the contrary, throwing a tempter tantrum at a meeting does not cause any shocked dictators to run back home and release their prisoners. And contrary to his feelings, Castro is not lacking any luxuries in Cuba that would be alleviated by lifting our sanctions.

      Not always, but often sanctions work to enhance a dictators power. Power is relative. If you have a tank and I have a gun you have more power than me. If you have a gun and I have a rock, we are both poorer in terms of power but you still have the advantage. With sanctions, people like Castro and Saddam Hussein are able to keep themselves in power longer because they have more control over what little resources are in the country & to the degree goods can circumvent the sanctions they are able to use control of them to use as rewards for those who demonstrate loyalty.

      It might be helpful to stop ranting against Obama and actually address real policies. For example, with Cuba all Obama has done is allowed Cuban Americans to visit relatives as often as they want and send them money. Leave aside the freedom issue (political prisoners in Cuba or not, why shouldn’t a Cuban grandmother in Miami visit her grandchildren as much as she wants?). Jonathan thinks Castro will be made to become a nicer guy by forcing the Cuban people into more poverty. But Castro is not swayed by appeals to sympathy and if there’s a little bit less wealth in Cuba because of the sanctions why would Jonathan think that Castro would share that hardship equally with his people? He would make sure the first to loose are those *least* loyal to him and those who are most loyal would be the last. At least with exchange with the US it will be possible for some people in Cuba to have some economic power that is independent of the island’s communist party.

    13. Jonathan Says:

      Nobody said anything about tantrums. My point is that the US president should not allow himself to be used by Chavez and other similar figures as a prop to give them legitimacy. That is how Chavez used Obama, whether Obama recognizes this fact or not. Obama could have walked away from the handshake. He did not have to smile effusively as he shook Chavez’s hand. He could have argued with Chavez about human rights. Such behaviors would have served our interests. Instead he beamed while warmly shaking Chavez’s hand, which legitimated Chavez at our expense.

      You also miss the point about Cuba, and you mischaracterize what I wrote. Cuba is free to trade with most other countries besides the USA; we are not blockading Cuba. What I am arguing is that we stand on our principles by refusing to deal with the Cuban regime unless it makes good on its thefts of American property and recognizes the rights of the Cuban people. The travel issue is a matter of controversy among opponents of the communist regime, and I am not sure how we should handle it, which is why I didn’t mention it.

    14. Boonton Says:

      used by Chavez and other similar figures as a prop to give them legitimacy.

      Behold me! I shook hands with Obama and gave him a book. Bow before my legitimacy and be awed by my greatness! With this piece of the puzzle complete, the piece the great decider tried to deny me, the world is mine!

      What I am arguing is that we stand on our principles by refusing to deal with the Cuban regime unless it makes good on its thefts of American property and recognizes the rights of the Cuban people.

      What does this have to do with Cuba itself? Drop the embargo for everything but the Cuban gov’t then. As for principles, you’re revealing much about them by what you don’t say. Has China compensated us for the plane they knocked out of the sky at the start of Bush’s first term (and I’m sure there’s other things too)? Have their rights been recognized?

    15. Jose Angel de Monterrey Says:

      ABoonton:
      “The fact is whatever Venz.’s faults we are not at war with them, they have not attacked us and behaving in a dignified manner is not the mark of a person who has a crush on petty Latin American leftists but the mark of a respectable leader conducting diplomacy properly.”
      Venezuela and Cuba are undermining American policy in the region, they are sowing the seeds of the worst kind of anti-americanism ever seen in the world, the kind we all thought did not exist anymore. They have done it successfully in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and other smaller and vulnerable poor nations, they tried unsuccessfully in Mexico and Peru.
      They provided unlimited financial resources for radical anti-american parties and candidates in each latin-american country, they even openly support guerrillas that kidnap and continue to terrorize and destroy nations in the region, they send their so called Bolivarian cells to disrupt and create chaos and violence in those countries, they did it in Oaxaca, they’ve done it in Tegucigalpa and Managua, the Cubans and Venezuelans are highly coordinated. They also support financially all kinds of fake international organizations that are supposed to supervise elections and support democracy and civil rights but in reality only serve the purposes of their agenda. And finally, they support financially the worst kind of anti-american press you could ever imagine, in Mexico, La Jornada and Proceso.
      In addition to all this Venezuela has engaged in an arms race like never seen before, purchasing all kinds of weaponry from Rusia, China and other nations, who incidentally are not amongst the best friends and partners of the United States. Their neighbors, Colombia and Peru and other nations are indeed preoccupied about all those weapons. There have been many wars among the southamerican nations in the past, and there are many territorial claims and engaging in an arms race does not help to maintain peace in the region.
      And then Chavez is also inviting the Russians and Chinese to establish military bases in Venezuela.
      Clearly Chavez and Castro have an agenda, and it is not to be friends of the United States, it is not to democratize their own countries and promote democracy and liberty among their neighbors.

    16. Boonton Says:

      In addition to all this Venezuela has engaged in an arms race like never seen before

      Like never seen before? Why don’t you look at the top of this blog in the upper right hand. There’s a pic there of a guy who used to be President of the US. At that time, he often not only would meet foreign leaders in various summits but also meet one on one (something Obama has NOT done with either Castro or Chavez) with a country that used to go by the abbreviation USSR. Last I checked there was a bit of an arms race going with them at some point. No doubt, though, that was nothing compared to Venezuela’s hoard.

      Clearly Chavez and Castro have an agenda, and it is not to be friends of the United States, it is not to democratize their own countries and promote democracy and liberty among their neighbors.

      Yes. You seem to have a misunderstanding, though. Diplomacy is not only for playing with your Best Friends Forever Club but also dealing with people who you are not on good terms with but not at war.

    17. jon Says:

      Jonathan,

      I don’t want the Castro government to liberalize anything really. I want them out of power. Ideally, I would like the Cuban people to have the opportunity to put the Castro brothers on trial. But most importantly I want the people living in Cuba to be free. So long as the regime can point to the enmity of the United States as reason to make tremendous sacrifice, the Castro regime will be able to survive anything short of military action. We need to put pressure on them the way Carter and Reagan did with the Soviet Union. The Helsinki Accords, Reagan’s continual focus on imprisoned dissidents, and his speech in front of the Berlin Wall forced the Soviet Union to attempt to defend themselves in a substantive manner. They could no longer just cry, “the US hangs black people in the South.”

      We can do this by starting to lift the embargo. But in targeted ways. Communications is a good way. Provide the cellular and satellite connections. Allow for frequent visits and larger or unlimited cash gifts to family. Allow the Cuban people to see the way their families live 90 miles north.

      Another thing we can consider is changing the nature of our outpost at Guantanamo Bay. Instead of being a military base like it has historically been, turn it into a <a href=”http://www.newsweek.com/id/193588″free trade zone. If the Cuban people are allowed to come they can see the American system in action. Small business, local government, etc. Let Cuban-Americans start small businesses to sell all the little necessities of life planned economies can’t create. Even if the Castro regime doesn’t allow the people to go there it puts the onus on the regime for the people’s suffering, not the United States. If it does work, it becomes a Taiwan for Cuba, but with a land border.
      John Boyd said you want to strip your opponents of allies. The most important ally of the Castro regime right now are those Cubans who support the regime for whatever personal reason. The United States needs to get as many of these people as possible to change their loyalties. Once enough people refuse to follow orders, the regime will collapse. Hopefully it will be essentially peaceful like the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

    18. Jose Angel de Monterrey Says:

      Boonton:

      I fail to see what the comparison is between what was happening during the cold war to what’s happening today in Latin-America. I see no analogy there. There was a nuclear stand-off and each party needed to come to the table.
      What’s the stand-off in Latin-America? Why does the United States need to come to the negotiation/apology table? Obama didn’t need that photo with Chavez, Chavez did and it advanced his cause but for pro-american democrats in the region it is really a disgrace. The United States has represented a certain set of values for so long and Obama is just throwing all that away.

      And I understand diplomacy has to work, but it does not require the president of a free and democratic nation to be hugging and embracing dictators, they can simply send and envoy to talk, because that’s all they did. They achieve nothing.

    19. Jerry Says:

      I read Obama’s smile with Chavez as conveying the message, “You unimportant little dog.” The right wing is getting paranoid. Castro and Chavez are a joke compared to the Chinese…