Jewish World Review January 16, 2008 / 9 Shevat 5768
Chavez, Ahmadinejad are dangerous, but both have suffered setbacks
By Mark Bowden
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Sometimes the best way to deal with your enemies is to just leave them alone.
Take Venezuela's blowhard president, Hugo Chavez, and Iran's piously pugnacious Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both are dedicated anti-Americans who are flush with oil money and cannot seem to make much of the opportunity. Both furnish fresh reasons for us to rejoice that our enemies are dumber than we are.
I find myself actually warming toward Hugo, whose brazen effort to get the Venezuelan people to anoint him dictator was slapped down in a nationwide referendum last month. In addition to his clever rhetoric - who can forget his comment about a whiff of "sulfur" in the U.N. chamber after President Bush had departed? - you have to like a would-be tyrant who tries to cement his ascent to president-for-life with a national vote, and then loses.
He still bears watching, if only for entertainment value, but any dictator who abides by the results of a real election is a vast improvement over the 20th-century variety.
Chavez did not take this path out of the goodness of his heart. He has fresh memories of an attempted coup in 2002, and as the election showed, his ambition to rule a la Fidel Castro faces serious opposition. He dares go only so far. He is becoming a bolder caricature of himself, looking less like a Latin American Hitler and more like Charlie Chaplin.
In an interview last week with supermodel Naomi Campbell, the latest in a parade of lefty celebrities granted audiences with him, Hugo invited her to feel his muscles. Naomi dubbed him her "Rebel Angel."
His most recent effort to further the cause of pan-Latino socialism was clumsy but produced results. In December, he made a great show of brokering the release of three beleaguered kidnap victims in Colombia, playing on his solidarity with the world's least popular, least adept, and least noble revolutionary movement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, or FARC. Accompanying the Rebel Angel on this mission of mercy was Hollywood's most famous political fabulist and doper, Oliver Stone himself, who is (or was) planning to make a documentary film of the humanitarian triumph.
It fizzled when the guerrillas reneged on the deal, which came as a surprise only to those who have been paying no attention to Colombia whatsoever. One of the hostages the guerrillas had promised to hand over to the Rebel Angel they did not even have - a child born to a kidnap victim in a "relationship" with one of her captors. The tawdry and murderous FARC hadn't released the child; they apparently had simply lost interest in him, discarding him at age 1, half dead with malnutrition and disease, and with a broken arm. Now 3, he was found to be living with a foster family in Bogota.
Hugo managed to get the boy's mother and another hostage out on Thursday, bringing great joy to two families and saving face, but not before discovering how slippery and unreliable his abductor-allies are. He attributed the setbacks not to the FARC, but to the Colombian government of president Alvaro Uribe, which had warned him in advance that the FARC was not to be trusted.
Ahmadinejad's setback was not quite as self-inflicted. There were reports from Tehran last week that Ahmadinejad might be on the outs with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The country's spiritual tyrant has been distancing himself from the former student revolutionary turned politician, whose leadership has made sensational and occasionally bizarre international headlines. Ahmadinejad has proved expert at lowering the hemlines of the nation's women, but less so at lowering the country's spiraling inflation. Despite sitting on one of the largest deposits of oil in the world, Iran continues to import gasoline and sputter toward economic decline.
The Iranian president is the inadvertent (but predictable) victim of the recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, which found that the country's secret nuclear-weapons program had been suspended in 2003.
There is a wonderful lesson in this. The estimate contradicted the Bush administration's warlike rhetoric about Iran. This no doubt caused some red faces in the White House, which had been selling a wholly different story, but it had the additional and inadvertent effect of pulling the plug on Ahmadinejad, whose game for the last four years has been provoking the United States in order to raise his stature at home.
It worked like a judo move. The sudden and unexpected removal of pressure from our side caused Ahmadinejad to fall on his face. He has found himself without The Great Satan as a foil for his rhetorical nonsense. My hopeful guess is that Iran's leadership will tilt back in a more moderate direction in coming years, and Ahmadinejad will go back to making trouble with his Revolutionary Guards.
There is a persistently juvenile quality to him and the guards that dates all the way back to the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, an act that has done more to damage Iran's standing in the world than any in modern history. The deadly game of chicken with the U.S. Navy in the Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 6 was more of the same. Ahmadinejad and his ilk are dangerous, but mostly to themselves and Iran, a fact that at long last may be dawning on even the mullahs in charge.
When your enemy is paddling toward falls, just wave.
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Mark Bowden is author of "Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam" and a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.
05/31/07 Apply pressure, and wait
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